When the Columbus Eagles play the team’s first match since July of 2019 this weekend, the game may look different than an Eagles Women’s Premier Soccer League or a Columbus Crew Major League Soccer matches. This Saturday, the Eagles start their inaugural season in the Premier Arena Soccer League against the Cincinnati Sirens.
While the players and team name are the same, the game itself is different. It’s still soccer — played with feet, try and score goals — but there are some areas that may take some getting used to.
To help supporters that are new to arena soccer, Massive Report gives you some key differences, what to expect and another color of card for referees. This will not be an all-encompassing list but will give new fans an idea of what to expect when the Eagles take the field.
The Field of Play
Right away there are a few things that will stick out. First, the dimensions of the field. Arena turf is a fraction of the size of a normal soccer field. The NCAA requires a playing field width of between 70 to 75 yards and a length of between 115 to 120 yards. PASL requires a width of between only 75 to 100 feet and a length range of 150 to 210 feet, roughly a third of the size.
With that comes the second obvious difference. Since the field is narrower, there are not be 22 players competing at the same time. Each team competes with a maximum of six players: one goalkeeper and five field players. Goalkeepers also cover a smaller goal, spanning 14 feet instead of the 24 feet required by FIFA.
One similarity is a captain’s armband. Both teams have a captain designated on the field, but not in the goal. It has to be a position player.
Arena soccer has similarities to both professional basketball and American football in how the matches are timed. PASL teams play four quarters, each lasting 15 minutes. The clock continues to run, even for stoppages in play, until the fourth quarter when the final five minutes are stopped for referee calls. As the matches wind down, the winning team can’t run the clock down with injuries, substitutions or other delay tactics.
In the regular season, a tie at the end of the fourth quarter ends the match. Playoff contests go into sudden-death, or golden goal, overtime, meaning that if a team scores a goal, the game is over. If the game is still tied at the end of overtime, there’s a best-of-three penalty kick shootout that keeps going until a team wins.
Coaches also have one 60-second timeout they can use one per half. It can be called by either the coach or any player that’s legally on the field.
Fouls that get called in non-arena soccer are mostly the same in the PASL. Players can’t use their hands, expose their cleats in a tackle or tackle an opponent when they’re in on goal.
Offsides is also not a rule, but that doesn’t mean that a forward will hang out by the defending goalkeeper and wait for a ball to be passed their way because it means one less defender against the offense. Also, while there isn’t offside, a similar idea applies with the three-line pass rule.
Like ice hockey, there’s a middle line in PASL going down the center width of the field and then lines on either side of the center circle. Arena soccer players cannot pass from their defensive third, over the center line and into the opponent’s defensive area. Passing over two lines is fine, but not three.
In outdoor soccer, referees will sometimes assign a yellow or red card to the offender of the foul if deemed bad enough. PASL officials have the same yellow and red cards, but don’t adjust your television or computer display settings if a blue card comes out. A blue card the offending player is going to a penalty box for two minutes, just like ice hockey. What results is a power play for the other team and an odd-player advantage. On the power play, if the team with an extra player scores before the two-minute penalty is up, the penalized player comes out of the box at the time of the goal and the teams are back at full strength.
Yellow and red cards have the same meaning in the arena game, with a yellow causing a power play for five minutes and a red meaning that player is ejected. Even on an ejection, a player will go to the penalty box for two minutes to give the other side a temporary advantage. In addition, teams also have foul limits. If either team commits eight team fouls, a player has to go into the penalty box for two minutes.
During the game, shootouts occur on specific fouls. The first is if an attacking player is fouled from behind and there is one or no opposing players between the attacking player and the goal. The second is if the foul is committed by someone on defense and they’re the last defender before the goalkeeper. Lastly, if a blue, yellow or red card offense takes place in the penalty box.
The player that takes the shootout will start on the defensive team’s line, with their teammates behind them near the halfway line. Opposing players must be outside of the center circle on the opposite side of the halfway line. The opposing goalkeeper keeps one foot on the goal line until the ball moves forward. Once the ball is kicked, the game continues with the team that was fouled having a fast-break advantage.
If the team with the advantage is fouled during the shootout, that’s when a penalty kick is awarded.
Unlike WPSL or MLS, PASL allows unlimited substitutions and the arena game reconnects with ice hockey in how players enter and leave the field of play.
Substitutions can happen during gameplay, as long as the non-goalkeeping player is between the team lines and not in possession of the ball. What does this mean for team strategy? The first thought might be that rest is given more frequently. Instead of seeing a match slowdown in the final 15-minutes, which is sometimes the case in the outdoor game, fresh legs can be brought in more frequently.
The goalkeeper can also be substituted but does not have to be between the lines. Often a losing team will pull its goalkeeper late in the game and substitute in an attacking player to have a power play-like advantage.
Again, this is not an all-encompassing list of differences between Arena and outdoor soccer. These are the biggest rule differences that will pop out this weekend when the Columbus Eagles welcome rival Cincinnati Sirens to town. Watch the match on EagleTV, on the Columbus Eagles website, at 3 p.m. ET Saturday to learn even more about the PASL and the start of their 2021 season.