Aerial photo of a professional soccer field

Here is a run down of a couple soccer basics, with a few not-so-basic elements as we swim through the murky rules of the 90-minute game.

Positions and Roles

Obviously, the first thing to notice about the game of soccer is the number of active players during a game. You’ll see 11 players – one goal keeper and ten players out on the field. Four positions exist: goalkeeper, defenders, forwards and midfielders. The goalkeeper can use her hands, but obviously she’s not going to be running the field. Goalkeepers are restricted to a certain area marked off by painted lines which form a rectangle. Defenders are playing in front of the goalkeeper. Yes, you guessed it, their job is to defend the goal. There are defenders who play on the left and right sides of the field and some who play more central. Now your forwards are the players who generally score the goals. If they aren’t scoring, then they are helping to set up their teammates for a goal, like my girl Tobin Heath. Last but not least are the midfielders who must be absolutely worn out at the end of each game. They are the runners, and they play the entire field both on the attack and on the defense.

Power of Versatility

USA soccer logoThe US Women’s Soccer Team is incredible because all of their players are versatile. Alyssa Naeher, Adrianna Franch, and Ashlyn Harris are the goalkeepers. Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press, Mallory Pugh are all forwards. The defenders are Emily Sonnett, Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn, Ali Kreiger, Abby Dahlkemper, Tierna Davidson, and Crystal Dunn. The US midfielders are the fast and furious Morgan Brian, Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, Allie Long, and Sam Mewis. One thing you should note is that the team has several midfielders who could easily play forward and vice versa. Also, you’ll notice more than 11 people here, but that is because each team can name up to seven substitute players. This 2019 US Women’s Soccer Team is truly an exceptional group of athletes.

What Does That Mean?

Okay, I’m going to put myself out on a limb, wave my vulnerability flag, and hope for the best while peeking through one eye out at the world. Why? Because I did not understand, until very recently, what a goal differential is all about. So, I asked a soccer loving friend of mine to explain it to me as if I were 5-years-old and was still struggling with math (which I very often feel is the case).

Basically, he then sent me a video chat using Marco Polo. As an aside, Marco Polo happens to be my most favorite chatting app ever because I really need to see people when they are talking to me and wave my hands around incessantly. Anyway, so MG broke it down for me in under two minutes, and I had a complete light bulb “ah-ha” moment. Trumpets sounded somewhere in my brain, and I immediately felt loads smarter. I am now definitely smarter than a 5-year-old. Okay, maybe not definitely, but close.

So for those of you out there who, for a moment, felt bad about the insane US victory over Thailand, feel bad no more. There is a legit reason why a mercy rule simply cannot apply in this scenario.

Goal Differential = How many goals you score minus how many goals you give up

So if you win three games, 3-0, 3-0, 3-0, then you essentially have a goal differential of +9.

Right now, the US has a goal differential of +13 because they kicked some serious ass a couple days ago and racked up a world record number of goals. So if the US wins all of their games, they won’t have to worry about anything. Let’s say that they win two games and tie one, let’s say that they tie against Sweden. And let’s say Sweden wins two games and ties one. Then the US and Sweden would both have 2-0-1 records; two wins and one tie. Should something like that happen, the tiebreaker would be the teams’ goal differentials.

Very much hoping that made sense.

Has the goal differential tiebreaker every really mattered? Yep, it sure has. In 2014, the US Men’s Soccer Team was able to one-up…er three up Portugal due to their goal differential which was 0, Portugal had -3.

There you go, that’s why Coach Ellis let the US team annihilate Thailand a few days ago when they played.

Thank you, next?

Alain Hoxha, Referee, Austria (06)No, really, FIFA has another interesting rule to tease out. Did you know goalkeepers are only allowed to be in possession of the soccer ball for six seconds, before they must bounce it? Yes, regulation states if the goalkeeper is in possession of the ball for more than six seconds and they do not bounce it, they will be penalized. Even if they hold for six, bounce, and then hold for seven and forget to bounce the second time. If there isn’t a bounce after a six second interval, the referee will/should penalize them.

See, I told you my math skills were improving. This time limit rule is part of Law 12 in the rule book. If you decide to download the full guide (found below), it’s 200+ pages, you’ll find this part of Law 12 on page 103.

Quick “cheat sheet” of terminology

There is some crossover language between basketball and soccer. Any guesses?

Yes, dribbling. The main way of moving the ball through tight spaces, in both sports, is to dribble. There is also a footwork move done in both sports which I find to be similar, but they go by two different names. Basketball fans know the term “Juke,” right? It’s kind of this hip twist fake-out the players do on the court. Well on a soccer field, this is called the “Cruyff” move. Both of these moves require a fake-out moment. With the “Cruyff,” the player uses one leg to step forward in a way that makes them appear to be readying for a kick. However, they end up stepping through and past that motion with the other foot, therefore kicking the ball in a different direction. So different, but similar, in my humble opinion.

Two other fake-out terms used in soccer are the “scissors move” and the “zico move.” When I write about soccer, there is almost always a place where I mention fancy footwork and this is why. The zico is a pretty intense move, because it not only involves using both feet to distract and confuse your opponent, but it also includes a spin. That’s right, a spin. Want the tutorial? There are plenty of them on YouTube. Like the one I find to be impressive which can be found below.

Overtime halves?

One thing different about soccer than other games is how the overtime is handled. If a game goes into overtime after the 90-minutes, an additional 30 minutes will be added. The additional time is not added in one lump sum or until someone scores, it is added in the form of two 15-minute halves.

Offsides, but on the field, sometimes

Ok, stay with me here, this one is confusing. According to the nifty soccer law book, a player is offsides if s/he is nearer to their opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second to last opponent. The player who is offsides will only get a penalty if the ball is passed forward to them. Should this happen, the defending team gets a free kick. This being said, ONLY the team in possession of the ball can ever be called offsides. Murky enough for you?

The beautiful game needs colorful flags

One more oddity for you before you turn on the next game. Much like Nemo when he was told not to touch the boat, the soccer players are told not to touch the corner flags. It’s literally written into the “law book” for soccer education. In fact, if for some reason the flags go missing from their corners before a match is meant to begin, the refs will postpone the game. These flags are super important. Of course my first thought was to put on a Harry Potter invisibility cloak and go manage some mischief, but they played Quidditch, not soccer. That was in the air, and there were flying brooms and such. It just wouldn’t be the same.

Interested to know more laws of the game? You can read the cliffnote versions on The International Football Association Board website. Or you can download the complete novel on FIFA.com.