Guide to Soccer

May 26, 2021
There’s much more to this sport than meets the eye of Bend It Like Beckham and She’s the Man (though let’s be real, those are cinematic masterpieces).
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Guide to Soccer

The GIST

Soccer is played on a field called a pitch with nets on both ends. Each team has 11 players (including a goalkeeper). A game is made up of two 45-minute halves. The object of the game is to score goals by kicking or heading the ball into the other team's net.

The soccer ball cannot be touched with hands or arms unless you’re the goalkeeper or completing a throw in. Consequently, the game is known as “football” pretty much everywhere except North America. This name, of course, makes much more sense in comparison to NFL or CFL football, a sport played primarily using your hands.

How is it organized?

Soccer is a wildly popular global sport mostly due to its accessibility: You only need a ball to play it. As a result, almost every single continent has its own professional soccer league (which can get a little confusing). The most popular men’s leagues are the English Premier League (EPL), Spanish La Liga, and North America's Major League Soccer (MLS).

Unlike other sports with a regular season and playoffs, in most major soccer leagues, teams collect points for wins or draws and the season's champion is simply the squad with the most points at the end of a season.

However, in MLS, the league's 29 teams play 34 regular-season matches, with points determining the 18 teams to make the postseason knockout tournament, where those top squads battle for the championship, aka the MLS Cup.

And because soccer is a worldwide sport, there are huge international tournaments where players represent their countries rather than the professional clubs they play for. The biggest competition? The FIFA World Cup, which is played every four years.

Women in Soccer

Women's soccer, which has had a strong following in North America for decades, is growing worldwide. Arguably the best league in the world is the U.S.–based National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), which has 14 clubs that compete from March through its November playoffs.

  • Though NWSL rosters boast some of the best players from around the world, other countries' investment in the women's game has seen other leagues grow in both popularity and in competition level, including England's Women's Super League (WSL), France's Division 1 Féminine, and Spain's Liga F.

Another major tournament to have on your radar is the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League. The tournament is an international competition between the best club teams from across Europe, and yes, there is a men's and women's edition.

The Global Girlies

While national men's teams have been scoring big in international tourneys for nearly 100 years (the men's World Cup began in 1930), the women's game is significantly younger, with the first official FIFA Women's World Cup kicking off in 1991.

  • The beloved USWNT has won four of the nine editions, more than any other country. But with parity — and, thanks in large part to the USWNT, equal pay — rising in the women's game, the competition is fierce, and that American dominance is and will continue to be tested.
  • One team fighting for (more) international glory? Canada, of course. CanWNT won Olympic gold at the delayed 2020 Tokyo Games, and they're hungry for more. We the North, baby.

Stuff to Know About Soccer

  • Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, being played in over 200 countries!
  • No one knows exactly when soccer was created, but the earliest versions of the game can be traced back 3,000 years. Woah.
  • Even though the British call the sport "football," the term soccer was actually coined...in England. Make it make sense.
  • Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo has the most international goals in the men's game, but it's the women who own the back of the net: Canadian icon Christine Sinclair is the global goal-scoring GOAT with 190 international goals, while USWNT legend Abby Wambach holds the No. 2 spot with 184 goals — both dozens more than Ronaldo. HYFR.