Soccer for Dummies: Offsides, goals and strikers?

So your roommate just got onto the soccer team and asked you to go to his games, but you’re not sure whether to cheer when the ball bounces off his head. You don’t know why everyone’s so stoked about the World Cup, or even what that means exactly. You feel left out when everyone is yelling at the referee and you don’t know whether he has made a bad call. The Anchor’s Sports for Dummies series is back, this time with the help of avid soccer fan Miguel Castelan Hernandez (’23), to help you grasp the finer points of soccer. 

Goals and Rules

Most people know that the “goal” of the game (pun intended) is to move a round ball to one end of the rectangular playing field and into a goal net in order to score points or goals. The team with the most goals wins the game. There is one major caveat: no player is allowed to move the ball with their hands except for the goalkeeper, who protects the net. Even the goalkeeper can only use their hands inside the penalty area. A game has two 45-minute halves with a break in the middle, for a total of 90 minutes. It begins with all of the players on each team lining up on either side of the center circle. Each team sends a representative to the center spot, where they flip a coin and give the first kick to the winner of the coin toss. Time can be added onto the clock if the two teams have an equal number of points at the end of the 90 minutes, but in most circumstances, the game will end in a draw if this is the case.


Soccer is played by two teams, which usually have eleven players each.  Different teams are distinguished by jerseys in different colors and patterns, and each player on a team has a unique number. According to Castelan Hernandez, these numbers sometimes follow a pattern: “#9 is a striker. A lot of really huge players in history have played with #10 […] #6 is usually the best midfielder, or #8.” But what do all of these terms mean? Of the eleven players on a standard team, there is a goalkeeper, three other defensive players, who help protect the net, four midfielders, who work on controlling the ball when it is in the middle of the field and three offensive players, who stay as close to the other team’s net as possible. All of these players work together to control the ball and score as many goals as possible while preventing the other team from scoring.

Fouls, Penalties and Accidents

Unfortunately, not every player follows these rules all of the time. Some of the most common fouls are tripping or shoving other players or touching the ball with a hand. If a player commits too many of these fouls in one game or commits a serious foul, the referee can show a yellow or red card. While a yellow card is a warning, a red card means expulsion from the game, and two yellow cards in a single game automatically result in a red card. Of course, not every injury in a soccer game results from an intentional foul. If a player is injured accidentally and has to leave the field, it is common for the opposing team to surrender control of the ball as a gesture of goodwill. Another common foul is an “offside,” which occurs when a player is closer to the opposing team’s goal than both the ball and the opposing defensive players. Perhaps the most common penalty occurs when the ball goes out of bounds. Depending on where the ball leaves the field, players from the team who did not kick the ball out of bounds are given control of the ball in different ways.

Fan Culture

Soccer is indisputably the most popular sport in the world, though it is more commonly known as “football” in other countries. The World Cup is one of the most widely watched events in the world, and it has historically been used as a way of establishing friendly connections between different cultures. When asked what he loves most about this sport, Castelan Hernandez said, “Definitely the community. It’s a sport that, no matter where you are in the world, everyone else enjoys it. […] When I went to Germany I could start up a conversation, like, ‘Mexico is playing Germany today!’ And then they’d roast the crap out of me, and Mexico lost 4-1, but it was fun to talk about and I made a friend.” Those who want to join this community should know that fan culture differs vastly based on location, level of skill, and audience demographics. Games can get very loud and intense if attended by a large and dedicated crowd — “There is a lot of screaming, particularly at the ref,” Castelan Hernandez notes. Many casual fans also enjoy the game, however, and those who wish to participate in fan culture can try wearing their team’s colors or jerseys or using face and body paint.

Final Thoughts

It isn’t rocket science to participate in soccer on Hope’s campus. If you want to check out the school soccer team, try looking on InHope for a schedule of upcoming games or checking the bookstore for t-shirts and jerseys! For those who are interested in the sport on a broader level and want to learn more about it, Castelan Hernandez recommends checking out the official website for the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and tuning in to both professional and local games. Because the soccer community is so large and widespread, there’s sure to be a place in it for you if you’re interested. Whether you’re playing by yourself, attending live games, or yelling encouragement at a livestream on your laptop, it’s easy to get involved and take your sports education to the next level.

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