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Beginner’s Guide to Watching Soccer

What to Look For During a Match

Soccer: Minnesota United FC at New York Cosmos Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

In roughly one month, MNUFC will officially begin play in Major League Soccer (MLS). Some of you may have grown up playing/watching soccer and know all the ins and outs. Some of you may be completely new to the sport and are curious about the “new” team in town. For those of you new to the game, my hope today is to provide some insight into things to keep an eye on while watching a match.

I am going to age myself here to give you an idea of my background and how I go about watching soccer. Bear with me and it will all make sense. I am 39 years old. Some of my earliest memories of life are of watching the Minnesota Kicks and the Minnesota Strikers. Yes, I’m that old. I played both soccer and baseball growing up. I was a pretty decent player in both sports. It may still be this way, but for my age group, at the age of 13 I had to make a decision, either baseball or soccer. I wouldn’t be allowed to play both due to the time constraints and Minnesota’s short summer season. Baseball was my first love and I chose to play that, thus ending my soccer playing days.

Once I was finished playing, I was essentially done with soccer. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the sport, it’s just the fact there was no where to watch it. MLS launched my junior year of high school. For those of you who remember MLS 1.0, well, it was essentially unwatchable. It wasn’t good, friends, it wasn’t good at all. So the only soccer fix I could get was basically the men’s and women’s World Cups every four years. Soccer just wasn’t available like it is now.

I just got back into soccer within the past few years. It was completely by accident as well. Flipping channels one night I came across a Seattle-Portland match and I was instantly hooked. For one, the atmosphere was absolutely insane. For those of you who haven’t seen Seattle’s BoomBoomClap, I highly recommend it. Secondly, I was shocked at the level of play of MLS 2.0 compared to what I remembered about MLS 1.0. Before I knew it, I was tuning into every match I could watch. I couldn’t get enough. Shortly thereafter, Dr. McGuire purchased the Thunder and rebranded the team United. I started attending matches at Nessie and that was that. I was all in and found a new sporting passion. The level of play of MLS 3.0 has been ratcheted up even higher and the Loons are joining an extremely tough league. If you are new to Minnesota United FC, this is an exciting time to start following this team and league.

At this point you are probably wondering why I am telling you all of this. The reason being, is because I didn’t grow up with the game. I admit, I can’t sit here and breakdown a match X’s and O’s wise. I don’t know why a team should use one formation over another. I am getting better at understanding all of that but I still tend to look at different variables when watching a match compared to someone who does know all of the X’s and O’s. That’s what this is all about. A viewers guide from one novice to another in a bullet point format.

  • For starters, I tend to watch games like a hockey game. To me, they are essentially the same sport but one is played on grass, the other on ice. Watch how they move the ball around, especially in the final third of the field. If they push the ball back towards midfield, don’t get frustrated and wonder why they didn’t shoot, just know there wasn’t a shooting lane and they are setting back up for another attack. It’s no different than hockey when the puck is moved back to the blueline. Always try and remember, even though there is that giant goal to shoot on, once you get 15-20 players crammed in the final third, the shooting lanes become extremely tight. It’s not as easy as it looks.
  • On counterattacks, again watch how they move the ball around. Are they pushing the ball out wide to the sideline or are they pushing the game through the middle of the field? Either scenario will tell you where the Loons think they have an offensive advantage.
  • Speaking of counterattacks, another thing to look for is whether or not the Loons are pushing the play to a certain player. For example, if they are feeding the ball to Miguel Ibarra every time up the field, they probably feel he will be able expose his man at some point and create a scoring opportunity.
  • Defensively, I look to see if they are staying with their mark or are they getting beat 1v1. Are players getting good clearances and relieving the pressure or are they just blindly putting the ball back in play without truly relieving the pressure. Again, think of hockey. When a defender is clearing the puck from the crease, are they blindly throwing the puck away or are the calmly looking for the best place to clear the puck? It’s the same concept.
  • Positioning is a big thing I look for during a match. I don’t always follow the ball and I tend to watch the entire field to see where everyone on the Loons are positioning themselves. It’s not always about where the play is at but where the play is going.
  • Ultimately what I tend to look for is how are they playing? Are they sitting back in a defensive posture and letting the opposition come to them? Are they pushing the attack and taking the game to the opponent? Or are they exchanging counter-punches up and down the field?

Those are just some of the main things I tend to look for when watching a match. I hope this helps anyone new to the game and MNUFC. One thing I have learned while being at matches is don’t be afraid to engage the person sitting next to you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. One of the best parts of being a Loon fan is how open and welcoming everyone is. If you are new, welcome to the Loon Army.

I’d like to know what everyone looks for when watching a match. What else can someone new to the game look for? Please share what you look for in the comments section.