Beating the Offside Trap

Beating the Offside Trap®

Beating the offside trap in soccer is a subset of defeating the concept of offside in general.  During the course of normal play, back defenders are usually expected to delay and retreat as part of a usual approach to defense.  This allows strikers to time their runs into the space between the opponents and the goal, based on the location and speed of the back defenders.  Accordingly, to beat the offside trap in soccer, a striker must remain in an on-side position just as the ball is passed to him.

In executing the trap, however, the back defenders don’t retreat but actually move up, thereby changing the space behind them and placing the strikers in an offside position. Please review “Introduction to Offside – Law11,” to ensure an understanding of offside position.  Then review “The Offside Trap” in order to ensure an understanding of how the defense performs the trap.

To beat the offside trap, attacking players must first recognize that the trap is being pulled against them and then; second, adjust their play to not be called for offside and; third, to use the space behind the defenders to their advantage.  Recognition can come from effective scouting or from simply realizing that offside is being called a lot because the defenders are pulling the trap!  Either way, the adjustments are made because of effective coaching.  This applies to encountering the trap during both run-of-play and free kicks.

Patience is then required on the part of these offensive players to a.) simply not run into offside positions, b.) if forced into an offside position, not interfere with play, and c.) execute the tactics to be employed to beat the trap.  If one sees that the trap is being pulled, an attacker can run back with the defender.  If one is forced into an offside position, an attacker can simply stop and not make an attempt to play the ball.  If possible, players still ahead of the defenders or behind the ball can attempt the following:

Dribble Through

The player in possession of the ball fakes a pass or initiates a “self-pass,” in order to try to create a situation where the defense implements the trap.  If the defense takes the bait, the ball handler proceeds to dribble into open space or take on a defender one-on-one.  Either way, offside will not be called if a pass is not made.

Beating the Offside Trap – Dribble Through

Through Pass

As with a traditional through pass, the attacker receiving the ball must be in an onside position at the moment the pass is made.  Two things are critical.  First, the potential receiver must recognize that the trap is being pulled and maintain a position that keeps a next-to-last defender in line.  Second, the player in possession of the ball must recognize the proper teammate to pass to and send the pass before they may go into an offside position.  The receiver may come from anywhere on the field and their run may be of any type in order to break free.

Beating the Offside Trap – Through Pass

Horizontal or Lateral Run

A horizontal or lateral run, which may be from the outside-in or the inside-out, must first be made by staying ahead of the next-to-last defender.  Then, just as the pass is made, the run is broken toward goal, left or right as appropriate, at almost a 90-degree angle.

Beating the Offside Trap – Horizontal Run

Checking Run

A teammate, upon recognizing that the trap is being executed, immediately turns and runs back toward the ball carrier.  This can result in either immediately receiving a pass or then turning back toward goal.

Beating the Offside Trap – Checking Run

Pass Short

A teammate simply sets up near the ball carrier, well ahead of the defenders, that may cause the trap to be implemented or create the environment for a give-and-go.  In addition, this has the advantage of providing time for other attackers to implement their runs, including a long-ball option.

Beating the Offside Trap – Pass Short

Deep-Lying Run

In this case, a midfielder sprints past the defenders as they move up.  This is usually a straight, vertical run.  Again, timing of the ensuing pass is critical to ensure that the pass is made before the midfielder runs into an offside position.

Beating the Offside Trap – Deep-lying Run

Bending Run

This is similar to a horizontal or lateral run except that the attacker intentionally starts the run back toward the halfway line in order to stay ahead of the defenders.  This has the advantage of staying in an onside position without having to react to the location of any given defender.

Beating the Offside Trap – Bending Run


Similar to a simple short pass, the back pass buys time for attackers to react to the trap and to initiate their runs.  This also has the same advantage of creating additional time and space for a long ball.

Beating the Offside Trap – Back Pass

Delay for Time

Square passes and possession play use time that negates the effect of the trap.  Attackers return and the team returns to normal play.

Beating the Offside Trap – Delay for Time

Delayed Run

Certain attackers may simply wait to make their runs.  Often, this causes defenders either to “forget” about their presence or to assume that they are not going to be involved in the play.

Beating the Offside Trap – Delayed Run

Use of a Designated “Non-Runner”

Especially applicable to free kicks, an attacker who would normally run for goal as the ball is kicked, fakes lining up to do so but instead comes back to the kicker to receive a pass short of their defender.

Beating the Offside Trap – Designated “Non-Runner”

Soccer Coaching Tips:

  • Various fakes may be used prior to a free kick in order to try to get the defenders to show that they are going to use the trap.
  • Very often, one of the defenders on the team trying to implement the trap “doesn’t get the message” and fails to move up. This may effectively leave a number of attackers in onside positions.  It is important that attackers recognize that the trap has failed and to immediately take advantage.
  • If you are successful at beating the trap, the striker with the ball will immediately find themself one-on-one with the goalkeeper. The striker must be fully prepared to beat the keeper and score.
  • Having successfully beaten the trap once, the opposing team is often less likely to use it again.

© John C. Harves