An American’s Guide to Understanding Soccer

The rules of soccer can be difficult to understand if you’re watching a game for the first time, but the good news is that the basics of soccer are easier to grasp than you might think. Whether you’ve watched a few games but struggled to keep up or you’re new to the sport entirely, here are the rules you need to be aware of with help from the team at Infogol.

The Basics of the Game

Before you can gain an understanding of how the game is played, there are a few things to consider. First of all, unlike other sports, the rules of soccer are very conservative. They are referred to as The Laws, which can only be changed by a meeting of representatives from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so changes are rare. The Laws of the Game can be found via FIFA, which is the international governing body for the World Cup – the largest tournament in soccer.

The Soccer Field

In soccer language, the field is referred to as the pitch and minimums and maximums are used to ensure that fields fit within certain dimensions. The length needs to be between 100 and 130 yards and the width between 50 and 100 yards, though this changes for top tier games where the rules are stricter.


Soccer games last 90 minutes, plus stoppage time, with two halves of 45 minutes each. Stoppage time is what the referee adds at the end of each half to make up for pauses in play, since the clock doesn’t stop in this sport.


The referee is responsible for controlling the whistle in soccer and the cards – in this sport, there are yellow and red cards. If the referee doles out a yellow card, it serves as a warning to a player for breaking the rules. If the incident is more serious, a red card will be held up which means the player has to leave the game, furthermore, if a player receives two yellow cards in a game they are ejected from the game.

Player Positions

There are 11 players on each side in soccer, with three substitutes allowed from players on the bench. Soccer is broken down into a basic formation of 4-4-2. This refers to ten players and a goalkeeper. The goalkeeper or ‘goalie’ is the only player allowed to use their hands when the ball is in play and their role is to prevent the ball from crossing the goal line, so the opposing team doesn’t score. The defenders are the first four players in front of the goalkeeper, though the field players can play in any formation the coach wants. The second set of four in the 4-4-2 formation are midfielders, who take on the attacking and defensive roles. Unlike in American football, the positions aren’t set in soccer – midfielders can defend and defenders can attack. Finally, the ‘2’ refers to forwards which are the players expected to score goals. They play from an offensive perspective and the formations are designed to get control of the ball to attacking players so they can do their job more efficiently.

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