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Everything you wanted to know about soccer, but were afraid to ask: Terminology

Terms and tactics to know to become a more educated soccer fan.

Hello, and welcome to Soccer for dummies. Or Futbol for football fans. Or Footy for Americans. Or how to enjoy a soccer game without feeling intimidated and overwhelmed. Regardless of where you come from, I hope to bring a little more clarity and a deeper understanding as you support Columbus Crew SC.

Becoming a soccer fan in the American sports culture can be tricky. Like many of you, I had a basic understanding of soccer thanks to PE class and youth rec leagues: put the ball in the goal and don’t use your hands. But understanding anything further than that can be a little trickier. There are many barriers preventing the average American sports fan from gaining a deeper appreciation of the “beautiful game.” But one that I found particularly challenging was a lack of depth of knowledge. The average soccer game can move relatively quickly without much time to explain jargon for the uninitiated like in a football broadcast. In the next couple of articles, I want to help explain some of the finer points of soccer, soccer strategy and how specifically it pertains to the Crew.

I will start with some of the basics but will assume you are coming to this with at least a gym-class level of knowledge. Let’s start by defining some terminology you might hear during a broadcast that you might need more clarification on. You may know most, if not all, of these terms, but I found myself wondering “what part is the 18-yard box” etc, and hope this can serve to clear some of that up.

Terminology to know:

The Field (Or “pitch”): Most soccer fields are 75 yards wide and 120 yards long, making it significantly larger than a football field. The weird thing about soccer is the field can range from 65-80 yards wide and 110-120 yards long. Things like the “halfway line” and “center circle” are fairly self-explanatory. But a couple of field markings you may not know:

- Touchline: The length-wise boundary. When the ball goes completely over this line, it is out of bounds. Fun fact: it’s called a “touchline” because it is the only place where players can touch the ball with their hands (during a throw-in).

- Goal line (or end line): Apart from the obvious delineation of when a goal is scored, it is also the width-wise boundary of the field.

- Penalty area or “18-yard box”: The larger rectangular area in front of each goal. Inside this box, the goalie can use his/her hands and any defensive foul will result in a penalty kick (taken from the dot at the top of this box).

- Goal area or “six-yard box”: The smaller rectangular area directly in front of the goal. In this smaller box is where a goalkeeper can take his goal kicks from.

The ideal soccer field, or “pitch”

Set Pieces: Plays that start from a dead stop. Including:

- Corner kick: This happens when the defense is last-touch on a ball that goes out of bounds over the goal line. The kick is taken from the closest corner to restart play. The ball is either crossed towards the goal to attempt a goal or passed to a nearby player to restart play. Here is an (slightly biased-AWESOME) example. And here is another.

- Goal kick: When the offense is last-touch on a ball that goes out over the goal line. Taken from within the goal area, usually by the goalkeeper.

- Direct free kick: This happens when there is a severe foul outside of the penalty area. The kick is taken from the spot of the foul. A goal can be scored directly from this kick without touching another player.

- Indirect free kick: The same as above, but for less-severe fouls, and a player cannot score a goal without touching another player.

- Penalty kick: One offensive player vs. goalkeeper. Taken from the dot at the top of the penalty area. Given when there are fouls committed by the defensive team inside the penalty area.

- Throw-in: This happens when the ball goes out over the touchline. The last team to touch it forfeits possession to the other team. It must be a two-handed, overhead pass.


Probably the most confusing, and biggest question I hear when non-soccer fans watching a match. Often the center of controversy in the review of goals, offside seems to be the “what is a catch?” of soccer. With the introduction of Video Assistant Review in most of soccer, it seems to have only created more controversy. So let’s see if I can clear things up:

According to the FIFA rulebook, a player is in an offside position if:

- He or she is nearer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-to-last opponent when the ball is passed.

Imagine a line spanning the width of the field at the location of the second-to-last defender (this includes the goalkeeper as a defender), any offensive player who becomes an active part of the play must have any part of his or her body that can play the ball (feet, head; not hands) behind that line when the ball is passed forward, otherwise, the play is offside. Here is a picture from FIFA’s own rule book to serve as a guide:

FIFA’s definition of Offside

Similar to instant replay muddying the waters of baseball and football close calls, VAR seems to only make the offside call more confusing by forcing refs to enforce it to the minute detail. Every week, leagues around the world have multiple goals called back after the fact due to offside after VAR review. So if you find yourself still a little unclear on what is and isn’t offside, you’re in good company. Many of soccer’s top officials still struggle with it!

Other terms to know:

- Clean Sheet: A shut out; otherwise known as zero goals allowed.

- Kit: A soccer uniform; shirt, shorts and socks.

- Park the Bus: The soccer equivalent to prevent defense. This usually is employed when a team takes an early lead or is playing a clearly superior opponent. That team will drop the majority of tis players back defensively to absorb any offensive pressure and bleed clock to win the game.

So that’s a start. Comment below with soccer concepts (especially Crew-related) you may not fully understand. Not that I can guarantee to be able to help.... but I can try. Class dismissed, see you next time!