Understanding Soccer For Beginners

Understanding Soccer For Beginners

With the arrival of David Beckham on American soil, we soccer fans are hoping our favorite sport will get a much needed boost in popularity. Soccer is a great game but is often overlooked in America.

As is the case with most things though, Americans will not embrace something that is new, different, or that they do not know much about. So, let me help you get caught up to speed with a crash course in some of the soccer rules and play that could potentially turn off or confuse viewers.
Obviously, even if you hate the game you should already be aware that in soccer you cannot touch the ball with your hands and the objective is to kick the ball in to the opposing team's goal as much a possible. However, there are several other important rules that need to be understood before fully appreciating the great game of soccer.

Off Sides - First, let's get the big one out of the way. If you have ever seen a goal scored in soccer but then immediately the officials rule it a "no goal," most likely you have just witnessed off sides. Off sides is the most confusing rule to someone not familiar with soccer. A basic understanding of soccer positions is required to understand off sides. There are two goals each equipped with a goalie and two teams of players playing different positions around them. In soccer, there are defenders, who stay back around the goal, forwards, offensive players who try to score goals, and mid-fielders who play both defense and offense wherever they are needed. Offensive players are not allowed to be between the goalie and his closest defender.

If an offensive player is in this area and plays the ball, he is considered off sides and the defenders are given a free kick. This rule prevents teams from placing a good goal scorer right in front of the goal just waiting for the ball. It keeps the games more interested and requires fast breaks, good passing, and planned attacks to score as opposed to stationary players by the goal twiddling their thumbs waiting for opportunities. The off sides rule also allows defensive players to put strategy into the game of soccer. When the ball is on the opposite end of the field, defenders will often play and "off sides trap." That is, the defenders will all push forward toward the middle of the field. This leaves a large gap of field between the goalie and his closest defender; a gap in which no offensive players can be. However, this strategy can backfire if you are playing a team with good fast break ability.

Throw Ins - When the ball is knocked out-of-bounds along the sidelines, it is returned to play by the team who did not knock it out. The ball is returned to play via a throw in. A throw in must be performed by holding the ball with both hands, pulling it behind the head and hurling it over the head with both hands still contacting the ball. Also, the throwing player may not lift his back leg when throwing. If a hand falls of the ball, it does not come across the head, or the leg is lifted, a throw in is awarded to the other team.

Corner Kicks - When the ball is knocked out-of-bounds along the end of the field, the ball is returned to play differently. If a defensive player is the last to touch the ball before it goes out, then the offensive team is awarded a corner kick. In this situation, an offensive player takes the ball to the corner of the field and kicks it in. Often for corner kicks, offensive players will fill the goal area hoping to be in the perfect place to redirect the corner kick into the goal using their heads.

Goal Kicks - On the other hand, if an offensive player is the last to touch the ball before it goes out, then the defensive team is awarded a goal kick. In this situation, a defensive player takes the ball to the edge of the box drawn around the goal and kicks it onto the field to resume play.

Slide Tackles - Soccer is not a "contact sport" per se but it does allow some controlled contact. The most obvious example is the slide tackle. In soccer, players are permitted to slide into another player who has the ball in an attempt to strip the ball from them. However, the sliding player must begin his slide from an area visible to the player with the ball. Also, the sliding player must not slide with cleats up or kicking at the player. The momentum of the slide should be the only driving force behind the ball stripping attempt. If at any time the slider comes in from behind the player with the ball, with cleats up, or kicking, a foul is called and the player with the ball is awarded a free kick.

Yellow Card - Besides slide tackling, there are various other fouls that can be called for dangerous and rough play. A yellow card is a stern warning given to a player who either commits a strong foul, repeatedly commits fouls, or conducts himself with unsportsmanlike behavior (arguing, cursing, etc.). A yellow card is the refs way of saying "you better watch out, I have my eye on you." If a player is given two yellow cards in one game, it turns into a red card.

Red Card - The red card is the big daddy of all punishments. It is given to a player who commits enough fouls to warrant two yellow cards in one game or a player who commits a flagrant or overly dangerous foul. A red card is similar to an intentional foul in basketball. A red card results in the player being escorted from the game as well as not being allowed to play in the team's next game. Red cards are a serious punishment and thus do not show up all that often.


Hopefully this soccer primer has cleared up some of the lesser known rules of soccer which sometimes prevent spectators from enjoying this great game. Now, get yourself a snack, look up an MLS game on the TV, print out this article as a cheat sheet, and start enjoying your new favorite spectator sport.

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