Have you recently been invited to a World Cup party and you’re not really into watching soccer? I am here to help you.
My credentials are as follows: I have only recently gotten (rather deeply) into soccer fandom in the last five years. Before that, I knew nothing, I thought soccer was mind-numbingly boring, and I last played as a three-year-old on a town rec team.
Quick note: I’m not a purist about calling it soccer or football. The word “soccer” is actually an English word, even though it’s largely an American term now. It was originally used to differentiate soccer from rugby. Fans and players called it “association football,” shortened to “assoc.” So we should not be fussy about this, everyone.
We’re going to start out slowly with a glossary, and then build to some more advanced items.
Pitch – playing field
Match – game
Kit – uniform
Keeper – goalie
Clean sheet – a shutout; your opponent didn’t score; this achievement belongs to the defensive players and the keeper.
Post – these are the vertical poles that support the goal
Crossbar – this is the horizontal bar across the top of the goal
Set piece – this is a structured play, like a free kick or a corner kick.
Cross – a long pass across the front of the goal, for the purpose of setting up a scorer.
Brace – this is the goal that puts you up two on your opponent. If you’re winning 2-1, the goal that puts you up 3-1 is the brace.
Nil – zero, nothing. A score of 0-0 is “nil-nil.”
Assist – the last person who touched the ball before the guy who scored gets credit for an assist.
Yellow card – this is a warning for rule-breaking, usually a hard collision or the like. If you get two yellows, that’s the same as a red — you have to leave. A yellow just means you’ve been warned.
Sent off – given a red card.
Red card – immediate dismissal from the match, and your team cannot replace you — they have to play with one fewer player (“down a man”). If you’re given a red and you didn’t have a prior yellow, it’s called a “straight red.” This usually only happens when there’s violent conduct or some other grievous offense.
Technical area – this is the box where the manager stands. The two managers stand on the same side of the pitch, which makes for some funny confrontations sometimes. Nobody actually wants to fight, but they want to look like they do.
Free kick – this is when the ref sets the ball down and a player kicks it into play. It happens when there’s a foul or rule infraction on the other team.
Penalty area – (also called “the box.”) This is the large box around the goal.
Penalty kick – this is a free kick taken from the top of the penalty box, and it’s limited to the player who shoots and the keeper. Everyone else has to stay back. Sometimes matches end in penalty shootouts, where five players from each team get a penalty kick. This is a terrible, heart-wrenching affair. I once sat next to a keeper’s mom while her son went through a penalty shootout on the pitch in front of us. She said “I’m going to throw up” a lot of times.
Corner kick – when the ball goes out of bounds at the end of the pitch, a corner kick is given. Most of the players line up in front of the goal, hoping to get a header once the ball is in bounds. Usually, the guy in the corner is one of the team’s best passers. Sometimes he gets lucky and curls it right into the goal, which I have just learned is called an “Olimpico.”
Nutmeg – when a player kicks it through an opponent’s legs, it’s called “nutmegging” him, or for short, “‘megging.”
Rabona – this is when a player stands on his front leg and kicks the ball from behind with his other leg. I always question my eyesight when I see this happen.
Simulation – everyone likes to make fun of soccer players for “flopping” — pretending to be injured. It happens a lot. But you can get carded for “simulation,” that is, faking it. I HAVE A LOT TO SAY ABOUT THIS. But I will save it for the in-person conversation at my house someday. (Want to come over?)
Extra time – soccer keeps the clock running all the time, so if play stops for an injury, a penalty, or a flop, the refs keep track of how much time has gone by and simply add it on at the end of the period (Soccer has two halves). They do not display how much extra time there is until just before it begins. (The fact that the clock keeps running is one reason why the sport has had trouble catching on here in the USA — there’s not enough time for commercials!)
A Friendly – this is a match that, essentially, doesn’t count. It’s not part of a tournament.
Stuff You Should Know
The Host Team is the First Team Listed, Not the Second Team Listed.
In other sports, it’s “Away Team AT Home Team,” ie, “Falcons at Panthers.” But in soccer, it’s “Home Team HOSTS Away Team,” ie, “Charlotte hosts Chelsea,” so Charlotte is the home team. This was perhaps the hardest thing for me to get used to. Dumb, but I just couldn’t get it through my head.
The Offside Rule
This is the thing that Americans love to make fun of and pretend not to understand. Guys, it’s just not that difficult. We have one in hockey, and soccer is just a little bit different. Here’s the gist:
When the ball is moving forward to the goal, the “most forward” offensive player (usually the striker) cannot run past the last defensive player until the ball is kicked forward by his teammate.
So when the ball is advancing, that line judge on the sidelines is looking at the most-forward offensive player. The official calls offside if that player passes the defenseman on the other team before the ball is kicked forward.
That’s it. There are some additional little bits that come into play sometimes, but basically, that’s the whole thing. Easy, right? Let’s stop pretending we’re not smart enough to get this.
Positions and Formation
Positions in soccer are as follows: forwards (a striker is a forward), midfielders, and defensemen. Plus the keeper. The keeper wears a completely different uniform (kit) than his team, so that can be really unhelpful and confusing. Just try to pay attention in the pregame.
Also in the pregame, they will probably cover the formation of the teams. Expect to hear a lot of numbers here. The numbers are the amount of people in each position. So if a team is playing a 4-4-2, it looks like this:
The numbers will always add up to ten because each team starts eleven players counting their keeper.
Things You Could Say to Make it Seem Like You Know What You’re Talking About
“Do they usually play in this formation?”
This will give your friends a chance to talk about other times they’ve seen the team play. They will probably respond with things like, “Well, there was that one match against Germany where they played a 4-2-3-1.” You don’t need to say anything in response. Just nod.
“He got ball.”
You can say this when the whistle has blown and there’s a dispute about a foul. Does it look like the player hit the other player with his cleats? If not, you can call it a clean tackle, or say “he got ball.” Someone might yell at you or argue, but that’s ok. That’s what makes this fun.
“They need to clean up their lines.”
This refers mostly to the defense, though it could apply to any line of players on the team. If a team is playing good defense, their players are in a line from side to side. They stay relatively even with one another. If they need to “clean up” their lines, it means they are all out of formation.
VAR stands for “video-assisted referee,” and it’s a relatively new addition to world soccer. In the USA, we would call this “instant replay.” There are some refs that sit in a booth and communicate with the officials on the field about penalties and calls. Most fans loathe VAR. If you want to dispute a call or goal on the field, it might be funny to yell “VAR!”
“They’re parking the bus.”
If a team scores early, sometimes they stay back by their goal and major on defending. They don’t try to advance and score again. This is referred to as “parking the bus.”
OK, that’s it for now. If you have any suggestions on how I should endure the match between the USA and England on the day after Thanksgiving, please comment below.
After the World Cup is over, I’ll be back to try to convince you to watch Premiere League. Cheers!