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Terminology Tuesday: Soccer Vocabulary Explained (Part One)

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From the Laws of the Game to braces, howlers, and derbies, learn the language of the beautiful game.

March 31, 2018 - Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States - Minnesota United Forward, Darwin Quintero (25) greets supporters during halftime at the Minnesota United vs Atlanta United match at TCF Bank Stadium.

(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)
March 31, 2018 - Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States - Minnesota United Forward, Darwin Quintero (25) greets supporters during halftime at the Minnesota United vs Atlanta United match at TCF Bank Stadium. (Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

The home opener is five weeks away, spring break is right around corner, and that means...

...it’s time to go back to school. Soccer is a deceptively simple sport. Twenty two guys try to put the ball in the goal without using their hands, right? There are plenty of nuances to the game, though, some of which are thrown around without explanations.

Let’s explain some common soccer jargon:

Laws of the Game: The governing document of the game.

These laws, much like our own Constitution can be amended or clarified as the game changes over time. Some changes are big, like changing when a goalkeeper can pick up the ball on a back pass or how long they can hold the ball. Other changes are just clarifications, like stating a player cannot hold their shoe or throw it at the ball. (Both result in direct free kicks, but not a handball.) Some laws are very clear and meant to be interpreted as such, like offside. Others are left intentionally vague to be interpreted at the referee’s discretion, like dissent.

Brace/Hat Trick: A brace is two goals, a hat trick is three.

Darwin Celebrates
Darwin Quintero celebrates after scoring a goal during Minnesota United’s 1-1 draw with Sporting Kansas City
Tim C McLaughlin

Pitch: The field of play. Generally about 70-80 yards wide by 110-120 yards long. The smallest pitch in MLS is NYCFC’s at Yankee Stadium, which clocks in at 70x110, however, Sporting KC’s Peter Vermes has insisted it’s only 68x106, almost 500 square yards smaller.

Offside: Offside occurs when the player receiving the ball is beyond the second to last defender at the time the ball is played forward to them by a teammate. Usually the two players are the goalkeeper and a defender, but it can be any two players if the keeper is off their line. Also, offside cannot occur if the receiver is behind the ball, making the a cross from the end line especially handy. Offside only occurs when the receiving player is in the attacking half of the field and cannot occur on goal kicks, throw-ins, or corner kicks.

Yeah, it’s complicated, and still creates some debates.

Gaffer: Boss, in our case, Adrian Heath.

Three Year Plan: ...?

Derby: Pronounced ‘Darby.’ In Spanish, ‘Clasico.’ A fierce rivalry brought on by mutual hatred from proximity, being equally good, or entering the league at the same time. Sometimes, there’s a self-explanatory name, like the Manchester Derby between Manchester United and Manchester City. But then there’s El Clasico (Real Madrid-FC Barcelona), El Superclasico (Boca Juniors-River Plate) and others.

Ultras: Fans known for their next-level support of their club. In the most extreme cases they create a hostile environment for the opponent with chanting, smoke, and flares. Some groups can be violent, but most are peaceful.

Tifo: A large banner made by supports displayed before games. The banner can show off pride for the city or the team, or poke fun at the opponent.

Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography

Golazo/Screamer: A beautiful goal. Screamer is typically reserved for a thunderous shot from distance, but golazo is much more broad in terms of the goals that fall under it’s umbrella.

Howler: Even though this sounds a bit like screamer, these terms are mutually exclusive. Howler refers to a huge mistake or blunder, typically by a goalkeeper.

Had a ‘mare: Very similar to howler, but this is more often used to describe the performance of an outfield player. Short for nightmare.

The D: The ‘D’ shaped arc at the top of the 18 yard box. This outlines a 10 yard arc from the penalty spot, enforcing the rule that no defensive player may be within 10 yards of the ball on a set play. This mark is also handy for defenses as a mark to line up on to hold an offside line of set plays.

The 18/The 6: ‘The 18’ refers to the penalty box, which is 18 yards high by 56 yards wide. Direct free kicks inside the box result in penalty kicks. ‘The 6’ refers to a smaller box inside the 18. Goal kicks are taken from the 6 and defensive free kicks, drop balls, and indirect offensive free kicks are taken from the nearest point on the 6. This gives space for defenders to take kicks, but also means that no offensive play can restart within six yards of the goal, as the sides of the box are six yards from each post.

Goalkeeper hand rules: One of the biggest changes to the Laws of the Game was when goalkeepers were limited in their use of hands. Goalkeepers used to be limited only by the number of steps they could take with the ball. They could hold it, take a few steps, dribble it, pass it to a teammate, throw it in the air, catch it again, and take a few more steps with the ball. All legally. In 1997 the law was change to limit the goalkeepers’ abuse of the law. Now, goalkeepers have six seconds with the ball in their hands (a rule that is rarely, if ever, enforced) and can pick up passes from their teammates that aren’t intentional back passes with the feet. Picking up an intentional back pass, setting the ball down and picking it up again, or holding the ball too long results in an indirect free kick.

Drop Ball: If the referee has to stop play for any reason, play is restarted with a drop ball. The most common occurrence of this is head injuries, but someone running on the field, lightning, or a stray dog can also trigger a drop ball. Generally the defensive team just plays the ball back to the goalkeeper of the team that had possession, but there have been a few occasions where common courtesy was not so common.

Have other questions about the game? Don’t know what an empty bucket is or why Rasmus Schuller is suddenly playing where we’ve previously seen Alexi Gomez and Romario Ibarra? All your soccer, MLS, and Loons related questions can be answered in our Countdown to the Home Opener series as we get ready to welcome New York City FC on April 13th.

Have specific terms you want covered? Let us know in the comments or on social media — we’ll make sure to add it to a later piece in this series.