Soccer is played on a field called a pitch with nets on either end. Each team has 11 players (including a goalkeeper). The object of the game is to score goals by kicking or heading the ball into the other teams’ net. A game is made up of two 45 minute halves. The soccer ball cannot be touched with hands or arms unless you’re the goalkeeper or completing a throw in. Consequently, the game is known as “football” pretty much everywhere but North America. This name, of course, makes so much more sense in comparison to NFL or CFL football, which is a sport that primarily uses hands. SMH at whoever came up with that name.
How is it organized?
Soccer is a wildly popular global sport mostly do to its accessibility — you literally just need a ball. As a result, almost every single continent has its own professional soccer league which can get a little confusing. The most popular men’s leagues are the English Premier League (EPL), Spanish La Liga and Major League Soccer (MLS). MLS is played in North America.
Unlike other sports with a regular season and playoffs, teams collect points for wins at home or away, and goals home or away, so that at the end of the season a champion can be named. Playoffs start after the season champ is determined. On top of that, because soccer is a worldwide sport, there are huge tournaments where players represent their countries rather than the professional teams they’re signed to. These are the World Cup (played every four years) and the Euro Cup (also every four years but in the even-numbered year between World Cups).
Women in Soccer
Unlike men’s soccer, which is well established in Europe, women’s soccer is most popular in North America. The best league in the world is the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) with all teams based in the US. Some other leagues include the FA Women’s Super League in England and D1F which stands for Division 1 Feminine in France. The reigning NWSL champs are the North Carolina Courage.
Women’s soccer is even more important on the international stage in tournaments like the Olympics and the World Cup. Here at The GIST, we are obsessed with our Canadian women’s team. Most recently they are two-time bronze medallists in back-to-back Olympics and were ousted in round of 16 in the 2019 World Cup. Not too shabby. Our fearless leader, Christine Sinclair (Portland Thorns FC), is Canada’s all-time top scorer and second in the world for international goals. Get it, girl!
Stuff to Know About Soccer
Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, being played in over 200 countries!!
No one knows exactly when soccer was created, but the earliest versions of the game can be traced back 3,000 years. Woah.
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Soccer is made up of two 45 minute halves.
If the game is tied there is an overtime period of play. This is sudden death (aka last goal wins). The length of overtime depends on the league/tournament. Not, not nervewracking.
If the game is STILL tied after OT, the game will go into shoot-outs. Each team selects five players to take “penalty shots”. These shots are taken between the six and the 18 yard box. You would think that being so close to the net would be easy but LET US TELL YOU there is so much pressure on these players, it’s actually pretty easy to mess up.
If a foul or handball (someone touches the ball with their hand, which is very not allowed in soccer) occurs within the 18 yard box (that big box drawn around the goal) then a penalty kick is awarded. The team that was fouled gets to select a player to take a penalty shot when all eyes are on the player, the ball and the goaltender. No pressure.
Soccer is NOT a full contact sport (i.e. no body checking!), but sometimes it can get v. aggressive. When a player is fouled (think pushed with excessive force, tripped, held, punched, kicked, hair pulled — you name it), a free kick is awarded to the opposing team.
These kicks can be indirect, meaning someone else besides the original kicker needs to touch the ball before there can be a goal, or direct, meaning the kicker can score a goal directly off the free kick (think winning goal scene in Bend it like Beckham).
Soccer has a rule that stops offensive players from hanging out near the opposing teams net and waiting for the ball to come to them (aka cherry picking). Unlike hockey, offside does not have a defined line. The line that creates the offside is the last player on defence. So when an offensive player on one team is BEHIND the last defender on the opposing team BEFORE their teammate with the ball passes it to them, they are offside. Watch this clip to see offside in action.
This is the one time players other than the goalie get to touch the ball with their hands. When one team kicks the ball out of bounds, the opposing team will get to throw the ball back in bounds with an overhead toss. Two hands on the ball, over the head, both feet on the ground and back into play.
Unlike most other sports, soccer doesn’t stop the time of a game at every whistle. Sometimes it can take a bit of time for players to get off the field if they’re truly injured, OR to stop acting like they’re hurt. Such drama kings (yes kings, it’s mostly the men who fake injury as a stalling tactic). Referees will sometimes need to add time at the end of a half or game to make up for this.
Yellow cards are used as a warning that a player has been OFFICIALLY cautioned for bad behaviour (a bad foul, talking back to the referee, a purposeful hand ball etc.). After one yellow card, the player can continue playing. After two yellow cards, it’s basically considered a red card (see below) and you’re kicked off the pitch. And your team has to play with 10 players as opposed to 11.
A red card is for the most serious foul. A red card is normally given for violent conduct or purposefully obstructing a goal scoring opportunity (sometimes red cards are given for purposefully using your hands to stop a goal). This is very not cool in soccer and it will get you permanently evicted from the game. Bye, Felicia!
When a team has possession of the ball, they’re the one that’s actually controlling the ball, passing it around to each other, moving it up the field towards the goal, etc. and the other team is working to try and get possession back. It’s the name of the game.
This is some real fancy footwork. Basically, while the ball is in mid-air, a player facing away from the net does this nifty lil’ move where flip upside down and kick the ball towards the net while falling back. Like they’re on an upside bicycle. Check out this jokes clip.
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Why are men’s soccer players so dramatic when they get injured?
They truly are a bunch of drama kings aren’t they?! The main reason they get so dramatic is that they want to “draw a call” from the referee. The idea is that if they act dramatic, then maybe the ref will call a foul to give them possession and/or give their opponent a yellow or red card. Sometimes they fake an injury too if they need to slow the game down and have a lil’ break. So we guess drama = strategy? Although, as fans, it can be annoying to watch.
Why is soccer so much popular in other countries (across Europe, South America) versus North America?
Soccer has been around for centuries. Some researchers have even traced soccer back to ancient China, Greece and Rome. But, it was England that really took soccer to the next level and transformed it into the game we know and love today. Because of its overseas roots, the game’s popularity of course grew the fastest over there. Soccer is the fastest growing game around the world for both genders. It’s also the cheapest game to play. Get a ball, use whatever you have lying around to create a goal and you’re good to go.
Is there any strategy behind corner kicks?
Oh yes. There’s strategy behind all “set plays” in soccer. A set play can occur anytime the ball is stopped, including a throw in. With corner kicks, there are copious amounts of strategies. Sometimes teams try to curve the ball away from the net, some curve the ball in toward the net and some aim for the short pass. When a player is crossing the ball from a corner kick, they’re generally aiming for the ball to end up between the six and 18 yard box and to have the ball in the air so that their player can head the ball in, but also far enough away from the goalie that they can’t just catch it.
What is this whole “extra time” rule? I don’t get it?
A soccer game is made up of two 45-minute halves, but the clock doesn’t stop when the whistle is blown like with other sports. That means, even when there’s a delay in the game due to something like an injury or a substitution, the time keeps running. At the end of each half, time is added roughly to the amount that had elapsed due to delays. So it gets very intense if the score is close!
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The GIST’s Guide to the Women’s World Cup
Who run the world? Girls. Seriously though. It’s time for the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
The FIFA World Cup is the largest and most prestigious tournament in women’s soccer. Similar to the men’s World Cup and the Olympics, the World Cup takes place every four years.
This year’s World Cup is taking place in various cities across France from June 7th to July 7th. Oui oui. France has a six hour time change to EST meaning that a lot of games are going to be taking place while you’re at work — a perfect excuse for an extra long lunch or coffee break.
Twenty-four countries qualified for the World Cup (with the host country receiving an automatic berth) including Canada (more on those queens later).
How’s it organized?
The twenty-four teams are divided into six groups (A-F) with four teams in each group. The way FIFA decides the group is by completing a draw. You may be wondering: “WTF is a draw?” Of the 24 teams in the tournament six are seeded: USA (defending champs and World Ranked No. 1), Germany (No. 2), France (No. 3), England (No. 4), Canada (No. 5) and Australia (No. 6).
These seeded teams are put into the goblet of fire pot first, and drawn out (hence the name ‘draw’) one by one to see what group (A-F) each team will be in. The seeded teams are selected from the pot first so that the best teams don’t face each other during the group stage. The remaining 18 teams are then drawn and placed into one of the six groups.
The World Cup is a round-robin tournament, so each team plays every other team in their group once. The top two teams in each group, as well as the four best third-place teams overall, advance to the round of 16 (aka playoffs). *Hilary Duff’s Sweet Sixteen plays in the background*
The Canadians were drawn fifth and are therefore No. 1 in Group E. The other countries in their draw include the Netherlands (No. 7), New Zealand (No. 19) and Cameroon (No. 46). Their toughest match will be against the Netherlands, who are the reigning European champions. But the Canadians have never lost against the Netherlands so we’re saying, BRING. IT. ON.
Speaking of Canada, what do I need to know about the team?
This year’s Canadian women’s team is one of the best rosters we’ve seen Canada put together. They have a perfect combination of wise veterans mixed with energetic young guns.
Canada has never medalled in a World Cup (men’s or women’s). The women’s team’s top finish was back in 2003 where they placed fourth. Their next-best performance was in 2015 when the World Cup was hosted in the homeland (more specifically in Vancouver, B.C.) and Canada lost in the quarterfinals.
HOW-EV-ER don’t count this team down and out. The Canadians have earned a bronze medal at the last two Olympics (2012 London and 2016 Brazil) so they definitely have the chutzpah to make it onto the podium.
Christine Sinclair: To no one’s surprise, the team is being captained by Christine Sinclair. This tournament is Sinclair’s fifth — count it, FIFTH — straight World Cup appearance, tying a Canadian soccer record. Unbelievable. She’s also just three goals away from tying American legend Abby Wambach for most international career goals ever. Can you say, #GOAT?
Shelina Zadorsky: Alongside superstar Kadeisha Buchanan, Shelina Zadorsky (friend of The GIST!) runs the defence. Thanks to Zadorsky and Buchanan’s height, feistiness and tackling ability, barely anything, or rather anyone, gets by these two.
Jessie Fleming: Fleming plays centre midfield for Canada and, get this, made her national team debut at the ripe age of 15. 15!!! She’s now 21 years old meaning she’s already played six years for the squad. Like, are you KIDDING me? Watch out for Fleming’s nifty moves and absolutely stunning passes.
Ashley Lawrence: Is a speed demon. She plays left or right midfield and uses her speed to get by her opponents and cross the ball over to the forwards. She plays for Paris Saint-Germain in France throughout the year so with the World Cup being hosted in France, it’s kind of like she has home-field advantage.
Nichelle Prince: is making her World Cup debut for Canada! But, she’s not easing her way into anything as a starting forward. At the ripe age of 24, Prince already has 10 goals in 50 international games. Nichelle Prince? More like Nichelle King (although we prefer Queen).
Steph Labbe: Is Canada’s goaltender! Labbe won the bronze medal with Canada in the 2016 Rio Olympics. You may also remember Labbe because she was famously rejected from playing for a men’s pro soccer team because she was a woman not because she wasn’t good enough. SMDH.
Honestly, we could write this entire guide on the players. We’re totally obsessed with this team. And we think you will be too. Get to know the team here.
Other teams to watch
The U.S.A: The U.S.A. are the defending champs, the world No. 1 ranked team and are expected to win back-to-back. And, similar to our Canadian women’s hockey team, the U.S. team is our arch nemesis. Yes, these women might play on the same pro teams together, but when they put their national colours on, all of that camaraderie goes out the door.
Outside of the top six teams (listed above), other teams to keep an eye on are:
Japan: Japan came second at the 2015 World Cup. So while they’re not ranked in the top six, don’t underestimate them.
Sweden: Back in 2016, these tall blondes (okay yes, we’re stereotyping) placed second to Germany at the Rio Olympics. Yet again, they’re not ranked in the top six for the World Cup, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see them move on to at least the quarterfinals.
Brazil: Speaking of Rrrriiiooooo, let’s talk Brazil. Brazil almost medalled on home soil in 2016 (they lost in the bronze medal match to Canada) so you better believe they’ll be out for blood after just missing the podium.
Players to keep an eye on
Outside of the Canadian team, there’s a lot of exciting talent to keep an eye on including:
Australian Sam Kerr,
Brit Lucy Bronze,
Dutch Woman Lieke Martens (who Canada will be playing against in the round robin)
and German Dzsenifer Marozsan (you’re on your own with how to pronounce this one).
Standing in solidarity
There are two key stories you have to know heading into the women’s FIFA World Cup.
The first? Ballon D’or winner, Ada Hegerberg, will not be playing for Norway’s national soccer team in protest of a lack of respect to female soccer players by the Norwegian Football Federation (NFF) in comparison to men.
Hegerberg’s name might sound familiar because in 2018 the 23-year-old became the first female to win the Ballon D’or — an award given to the best soccer player in the world. She was also infamously asked by DJ Martin Solveig if she could twerk when she was onstage receiving the award. Yes that actually happened.
Turns out Hegerberg hasn’t played for Norway since 2017 (her club team is Lyon) due to the lack of respect to female players. Norway started paying its men and women equally in 2017, but Hegerberg says the lack of respect goes beyond salary and that the national team has a long way to go before she’ll play for them again.
The second? On International Women’s Day (IWD) this year, members of the 2015 U.S. women’s national soccer team (USWNT) sued the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) for gender discrimination. Mic freakin’ drop.
The team claims the USSF paid them “lip service” about gender equality and that the federation pays the much less successful men’s team way more than the women’s team. For example, in 2014 the USSF paid the men’s national team (USMNT) performance bonuses totaling $5.4M USD for losing in the round of 16. Just one year later, the USSF paid the USWNT only $1.7M for WINNING the entire tournament. SMDH. And, fun fact, that Women’s World Cup final game was the most watched soccer game — men’s or women’s — in American TV history.
All American women are playing in the world cup; however, if the USSF won’t pay the players the salary or bonus they deserve, it seems as though corporate sponsors like Adidas and Luna Bar will.
The GIST's Guide to The EPL
Alright, people. It’s time to steep your tea, butter your crumpets and blast “Wanna Be” by the Spice Girls. Why? Because the English Premier League (EPL) season is starting!
No. We’re not talking about a hot new show on Netflix. We’re talking about EPL soccer. But, before we go any further, you gotta know that because Europeans are simply fanatical about soccer, the EPL is just one of the MANY soccer leagues in Europe. The other most popular and competitive leagues in Europe include: La Liga in Spain, Serie A in Italy, Ligue 1 in France, Bundesliga in Germany and many more. If you give a heck, you can learn more about those leagues here. Many people (including us), argue that the EPL is the best league in the world.
How’s it organized?
The Premier League is the highest division in the English soccer league system and consists of 20 teams. The League runs from August to May and each team plays 38 games — one game at home and one game away against each team. Most of the time, the games are played on the weekends. Teams receive three points for a win, one point for a draw, no points for a loss… and 100 points to Gryffindor!
Now, this league doesn’t act the same as the professional leagues in North America. Across the pond, just as they drive on the
wrong other side of the road, they do things differently with soccer. The English soccer league system is set up as a pyramid, with the Premier League on the top, the next best league below it and so forth. It also uses a relegation and promotion system. What TF does that mean? At the end of the season, the bottom three teams in each division get relegated to the division below and the top three teams get promoted to the division above. As a result, the teams in the Premier League are “fluid” year to year. Learn more about this system here.
The best of the best
The reigning champs are Manchester City aka Man City or just “City”. Short ‘n’ sweet. In 2018, Man City absolutely crushed it finishing with 100 points — the most in EPL history. Other teams that are consistent front runners include Chelsea, Manchester United (YES another team in Manchester and YES they have nicknames too — Man U or United), Arsenal, and Liverpool.
Moving on to the players, these are some of the biggest stars in the game:
David De Gea: One of the best goaltenders in the world. YEP, the whole wide world. He plays for Manchester United and on the global stage for Spain.
David Silva: This Spaniard is a midfielder and truly a puppet master of the game. Not only can he use his fancy feet and flawless passes to control the play, he’s also a decently productive scorer. Silva plays for Manchester City.
Harry Kane: It’s likely that Kane’s name rings a bell because he was the captain of England’s FIFA World Cup team AND because he won the golden boot (award given for the most goals) in the tournament. Oh you fancy, huh! This striker is unsurprisingly also a goal-scoring star for his team, Tottenham Hotspur.
Kevin De Bruyne: It’s Man City again! This Belgium stud is the best man on the squad. He plays midfield and has a complete game — meaning he can score, he can defend, he can lead, he can pass... do we NEED to go on?! We’re big fans.
Mohamed Salah: Last but not least, we have striker Mohamed (Mo) Salah who plays for Liverpool. This guy’s moves on the pitch make us *swoon* just as much as his smile. We promise you, Mo is almost as much fun to watch as the “Men Tell All” episode on The Bachelorette.
As popular as soccer is in many parts of the world, it’s not that popular for women to play professionally. For example, the Women’s Super League, which is the highest division in women’s soccer, just started in 2011 and only has 11 teams. Further, the league has some funky rules that say most of these players are “semi-professional” only. As a result, the annual average salary tends to be v. low at under $45K CAD... which is BELOW England’s national salary. Can you say #WageGap?
Channel your inner trivia diva by spitting these facts:
- Turns out North American sports having nothing on the EPL. The Premier League is actually the most watched sports league in the world with an approximate 4.7 billion TV audience. Casual.
- Players in the EPL make a lot of dough. In the 2017 season, the average annual salary for an EPL player was $4.4M CAD.
- Queen Elizabeth II’s favourite team is Arsenal. Although the Royals shouldn’t really pick a favourite, apparently at an event at Buckingham Place in 2007, the Queen spilled the beans to the Arsenal Manager about his team being her favourite. Oh Lizzie, you gossip you.
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