A Beginner's Guide to Soccer
Soccer is by far the world's most popular sport, with over 240 million people playing around the world, according to the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).
Despite its global notoriety, the top league in America (the MLS) receives far less attention than other US sports. While the NFL is the most lucrative league in the world, with over €14 billion in revenue in 2019, the MLS sits in just 14th place with roughly €1.5 billion that same year. But even at just a tenth of the size, soccer still fills countless stadiums in the states, week after week.
Now, although the sport is built upon basic principles, the game can get quite confusing at times. Even the most avid fan may not fully understand the offside rule, but don't fear, we're here to help!
Whether you're a professional soccer player or a complete novice, there's always something to learn. So today we're going to run through all the basics of soccer, from the rules and regulations to the pitch layout and player positions. By the end, you'll be able to watch your first game or place your first wager, with all the knowledge you could possibly need.
The basic principle of playing soccer is just like most other sports - to score more points/goals than your opponent to win the game.
Each team has 11 players on the field: 10 outfield players and 1 goalkeeper.
A soccer game is 90 minutes long and split into two halves, each 45 minutes. Although extra time may be added after the 90 minutes to account for any stoppages of play. In knock-out round circumstances, if the score is tied after the regulation period, overtime will be played for 30 minutes, with two 15 minute halves - followed by a penalty shootout if the score still remains tied.
There are four referees in soccer. One head-referee that judges all on-field calls. Two assistant referees who are positioned on either sideline, mainly handling offside calls and points at which the ball goes out of bounds for throw-ins and corners. One 'fourth official' who is stationed near the team dugouts and oversees substitution signalling, as well as other duties assigned by the head-referee.
There are 22 players on the field at any given point - 11 for each team. Certain players will be assigned specific responsibilities during the game, but this depends entirely on what formation is chosen by the coach/manager, as they are free to align their players in any way they prefer.
Of course, every team has a goalkeeper, whose main responsibility is stopping the other team from scoring a goal by preventing the ball from crossing the goal line. Besides this, goalkeepers are also responsible for goal kicks, which is how play restarts when the ball goes out of bounds behind the goal.
The classic formation is a 4-4-2. This is seen as a balanced alignment which does not favour a unique style of play, instead leans towards a more traditional playstyle. In a 4-4-2, the positions are as follows:
Goalkeeper: Protector of the goal.
Two Fullbacks: Positioned on the left and right of the defensive line of players.
Two Center Backs: Positioned in front of the goalkeeper, commanding the center of the defensive line of players.
Two Central Midfielders: Positioned in the center of the pitch, shifting between defensive and offensive responsibilities.
Two Wide Midfielders: Positioned on the left and right wings of the pitch, responsible for commanding the sidelines, both offensively and defensively.
Two Strikers: Positioned at the forefront of the team, leading the offense as they progress forwards and mainly responsible for scoring goals.
The formation played will vary from team to team and game to game. Some coaches prefer certain play styles that suit certain formations, while some teams could contain a star player that a specific formation will be best for.
Every MLS game is played on a soccer field that is a minimum 70 yards wide and 110 yards long, but specifics will vary depending on which venue you attend.
The image below highlights some key aspects of the field, but the important things to note are:
Center Circle: This is where the kick-offs occur at both the beginning of the game and the start of the second half.
Penalty Area: The penalty area is rather self explanatory by name - it dictates the point at which a foul will result in a penalty instead of a free kick. Any foul committed outside the penalty area, simply results in a free kick of the ball for the team that is fouled.
Six-yard Box: This is the smaller area shown within the penalty area. This indicates where the goalkeeper must take the goal kicks from.
Corner Kick Points: In each corner of the pitch, there will be a small quarter-circle that dictates where the soccer ball should be placed for a corner kick to be taken.
The offside rule has always been a point of difficulty for even the most enthusiastic fan, but in reality it is quite simple (minus a few rare and unique situations).
If the player is standing beyond the final defender in the opposition's half of the field, then they are considered offside. If they receive the ball in an offside position, the referee will blow the whistle for a stoppage of play and a free kick is awarded.
A penalty shoot-out occurs when two teams have a tied score by the end of overtime.
The first step of a penalty shootout is a series of five consecutive shots for each team from the penalty spot. Whichever team has the most after 5 attempts, wins the game. If they are still tied after 5 shots, then the shootout goes to sudden death, where the first team to score while the other team misses is crowned the victor.
Fouls in soccer either result in a free kick or penalty, depending on where the foul is committed. The referee may choose to penalise the player responsible, by showing them a yellow or red card, or simply give them a verbal warning for more minor offences.
A red card signals an immediate ejection from the game, while a yellow card is a mere warning. If a player receives two yellow cards, it is followed swiftly by a red card and an ejection for the rest of the game.
The reason a foul is called may be for a variety of actions, but tends to come from two common occurrences:
- Illegal tackling: most simply defined as making contact with the player before the ball when tackling.
- Hand ball: when an outfield player deliberately touches the ball with their hand/arm.
When a foul occurs, the referee doesn't always have to stop play and award a free kick or penalty.
At their discretion, they can allow play to continue if the team that is fouled has possession and a good opportunity to progress the ball to their advantage. This is done to encourage the continuous flow of the game that makes soccer unique to sports like baseball and football.