In the fall of 2016, US Soccer introduced “build-out lines” for small sided youth games in order to help teach young kids how to play the ball out from the back in an unpressured setting. The build-out lines are painted on the filed exactly halfway between the midfield line and the edge of the penalty area (some complexes have them as a solid line while others have them as a dashed or dotted line). It’s a commendable idea in terms of long term player development but it’s really and truly a nightmare for referees to have to deal with. Here’s a variety of reasons why.
The first and perhaps most significant rule (for the players) is that once the goalkeeper has the ball (or it goes out for a goal kick) the attacking team must retreat to behind the build-out line. Once the attacking team is behind the build-out line the goal kick can be taken or the keeper can play the ball by throwing or passing the ball out (punting is not allowed). Once the ball is put into play, the attacking team can then cross the build-out line and go after the ball. Again, this is in some way a commendable effort by US Soccer to teach kids at an early age the importance of playing the ball out from the back. Here’s where this part of the rule has the potential to be a problem for the referees. Say that the keeper catches the ball and instead of waiting for the attacking players to get across the build-out line, immediately plays it and it gets stolen by an attacking player who scores. What happens then? The parents and coaches go crazy (which is something that happens way too much anyway so this extra, unneeded stress is not appreciated) and berate the referee because the attacking players weren’t on the other side of the build-out line. Here’s the thing though: it’s not the job of the referee to make sure the keeper waits for everybody to get back across. The ball is in play when the keeper plays it. If the keeper choses to play it quickly, that’s not the referee’s problem.
The biggest issue with the build-out lines though is how it affects the way the ARs will call offside. Calling offside has always been relatively simple for an AR. If the attacking player is in the attacking half of the field, ahead of the ball and behind the second to last defender, it’s offside. But now with these new build-out lines there’s a catch to that. The catch is that from the midfield line to the build-out line the attacking player cannot be offside, even if all of the criteria for being in the offside position are met. The reasoning behind this is not clear but one possibility is that it helps to offset the disadvantage of not being able to cross the build-out line to attack in the first place. For ARs, especially ones that are new to being referees, this is a nightmare. The best thing to do in this situation is probably just to run the line the way it’s meant to be run and just mentally note the build-out lines and remember that there is no offside between midfield and the build-out line.
Funnily enough though, in some cases, the younger and newer referees are having an easier time adjusting to the build-out lines than the older, more experienced referees. This is not to say that it’s been too much of a challenge for the older referees, but as the saying goes, “You can’t teach and old dog new tricks.” Jokes aside, the idea behind the build-out lines is a nice try by US Soccer to help player development, but all it’s really doing is causing problems for the referees.