3-5-2: A formation that includes three defenders, five midfielders, and two forwards and reflects the standard numerical convention for referring to team tactical shapes. The goalkeeper is not usually included.
3-4-2-1: A more recently-developed formation that includes three defenders, four midfielders, two more attacking-oriented midfielders, and one forward.
4-4-2: The most common formation in many parts of the world, it includes four defenders, four midfielders, and two forwards.
4-3-3: A formation that includes four defenders, three midfielders, and three forwards.
4-2-3-1: A more recently-developed formation that includes four defenders, two defensive midfielders, three attacking-oriented midfielders, and one forward.
AFC: The Asian Football Confederation, the confederation in charge of Asian soccer.
Aggregate score: A form of keeping score in knockout tournaments in which teams play two-match series in each stage of the tournament, with each team hosting one of the matches in its home venue. The combined score of the two matches is the aggregate or total, which decides which team will advance to the next stage of the tournament.
Association: Originally used by England’s Football Association, the term is applied to the national governing body for soccer in a country. The word ‘soccer’ is taken from ‘Association.’
Backs: Refers to defenders. In a four-back set, two center-backs play between the left back and right back.
Booking: See Caution.
CAF: Confederation Africaine de Football, the confederation in charge of African soccer.
Call-up: When a player is asked to play for a national team.
Cap: An appearance in a game for one’s national team. At one time, it was common for a player called into a national team to be given a cap to mark the occasion.
Caution: When the referee shows a player the yellow card, usually in response to an action that is not in the spirit of fair play. A second caution in a single match results in the player being shown the red card. See also Red Card.
Clean sheet: See shutout, another way to refer to a goalkeeper or defense preventing the other team from scoring.
Concacaf: The abbreviation of the Confederation of North, Central American, and the Caribbean Association Football that is the governing body for soccer in the region.
Concacaf Champions Cup (CCC): The North American region’s top club competition, comprised of clubs from across the continent which qualify, via various domestic and international achievements, for an annual knockout tournament contested via two-legged home-and-away series until a single-game championship final at a neutral site. Known as Concacaf Champions League from 2008-23, CCC reverted to its original name ahead of an expansion and revision from 16 participants to 27 starting with the 2024 edition.
Confederation: One of six regional bodies that govern groups of national soccer associations. See also Concacaf, CONMEBOL, CAF, AFC, UEFA, OFC.
CONMEBOL: La Confederacion Sudamericana de Futbol, the Confederation in charge of South American soccer. Also known as CSF.
Corner kick: Awarded when the defending team plays the ball over the end line, a corner kick is taken by the attacking team from next to the corner flag. Just as is the case with a free kick, the ball is kicked from a stopped position and defenders must be at least 10-yards away.
Cross: A pass from near the touchlines that is directed towards the area in front of the goal. A cross is usually intended to be headed or volleyed with the foot into the goal by a teammate.
Defender: A player positioned in front of his goalkeeper who is primarily focused on stopping the opposition’s attackers from scoring.
Direct Kick: After a foul, a team is awarded a free kick, in most cases, a direct free kick. A direct kick can result in a goal; a player can use the kick to take a shot directly on the goal and score. See: Free Kick.
Dismissal: Ejection from a match as a result of being shown a red card.
Division: Most domestic leagues have multiple divisions, separate leagues based on performance where clubs can move between divisions through promotion and relegation. Major League Soccer in the United States is one of few professional leagues with only one division.
Domestic league: The home league based on geography. Normally, FIFA requires clubs to play in the league of the country where they are located. Major League Soccer, for example, is the domestic league of the United States.
Draw: A game that ends tied.
Dribbling: When a player runs with the ball at his or her feet, directing the ball with small, quick touches.
Elite Clubs National League (ECNL): A competitive national youth league comprising over 100 member clubs who field teams in regional and national play from Under-13 through U-19 age groups. Founded in 2009 as a girls’ equivalent to the since-disbanded US Soccer Development Academy, ECNL added boys’ divisions in 2017. It is sanctioned by US Club Soccer.
End line: The lines extending from the goal line to the corners of the field. If the defending team puts the ball over the end line, the attacking team is awarded a corner kick. If the attacking team puts the ball over the end line, the defending team is awarded a goal kick.
Equalizer: The tying goal in a game.
Extra Time: The overtime period used to decide tied, or drawn, games. Most leagues let draws stand, but in some knockout competitions, a 30-minute overtime divided into two 15-minute halves is used. From 1993 to 2004 FIFA implemented a ‘golden goal’ extra time format where the first team to score in extra time wins, followed by a ‘silver goal’ format in which a team leading after the first 15-minute half of extra time was the winner. That system was scrapped ahead of the 2006 World Cup amid concerns that it encouraged excessively defensive tactics.
Federation: See Association.
FIFA: The acronym of Fédération Internationale de Football Association, World football’s governing body, made up of the member confederations and associations, is responsible for staging international competitions like the World Cup and setting the international standards for soccer.
Fixture: A scheduled match See match.
Forward: A player positioned at the front of a formation responsible for leading the attack.
Foul: A stop in play when the referee judges a violation against an opposing player. The team that suffers the foul is awarded with a free kick unless the foul is committed by a defensive player inside his own penalty area, in which case the foul results in a penalty kick.
Fourth official: Stationed on the sideline near the center of the field, this official signals substitutions and the amount of time added by the referees at the end of each half.
Free kick: A kick given to the team that has suffered a foul at the spot of the infraction. The kicker is given a ten-yard buffer between the spot of the kick and the first opposing player. A free kick is usually direct, meaning the kicker can score without the ball having to touch another player before it enters the goal. An indirect free kick is used for minor fouls in or near the penalty area that require the ball to touch another player before crossing the goal line.
Friendly: An international match that is not a part of an official competition. Also refers to club games that do not officially count in league or competition standings.
Game Winner: The goal scored that results in a win for the team. I.e., if the score was previously 1-1, whoever scores the goal to make it 2-1 scores the game winner (even if the same team continues to score and the final score is, e.g., 4-1). If a team wins by 1-0, the sole goal scorer also scored the game winner.
Goalkeeper: The player positioned in the goalmouth that tries to stop the ball from crossing the goal line. The keepers are the only players on the field allowed to use their hands, but only inside the 18-yard penalty area. If a keeper uses their hands outside of the penalty area, the other team is awarded a free kick.
Goal kick: Awarded when the attacking team puts the ball over the end line, this is a set kick taken from the defending team’s own six-yard box.
Ground: Another word for a soccer stadium, mostly used in reference to European stadiums.
Header: When a player strikes or deflects the ball with his head to pass or shoot.
Indirect Kick: A free kick that must be touched by one other person (from either team) before it can result in a goal. This kick cannot enter the goal straight off the shot and be called a goal. Indirect free kicks are awarded for fouls like offside, obstruction, re-entering the field without the referee’s permission, dissent and other verbal offenses. In indirect kick situations, you will see the ‘tap’ strategy where one player will tap the ball a few inches to a fellow player, who will then take a direct shot on goal. See: free kick.
Injury time: See Stoppage time.
International: 1. A match between two national teams from separate countries. 2. A player that plays for his national team.
International Football Association Board (IFAB): Global body that determines the Laws of the Game for soccer. IFAB was founded in 1886 to agree standardized laws for international competition, and today is comprised of eight members, four from FIFA and in a nod to history, one from each of the United Kingdom’s “pioneering football associations”: the football federations of England (The FA), Scotland (SFA), Wales (FAW) and Northern Ireland (IFA). Each British association has one vote and FIFA has four; IFAB deliberations must be approved by three-quarters of the vote, or at least six of the eight votes.
Keeper: An abbreviation, See Goalkeeper.
League: A blanket term meant to cover the multiple divisions that make up most domestic leagues.
Leg: Each of the two matches in a home-and-away knockout format.
Leagues Cup: A tournament between all MLS and Liga MX teams with a group stage and then playoffs.
Linesmen: The two officials stationed along the sidelines who monitor the offside rule and point out fouls to the referee.
Major League Soccer (MLS): This is the top professional playing league in the United States and Canada. The league is currently made up of ten teams in two divisions with each team playing 34 regular season games with nine in each division advancing to the MLS Cup playoffs.
MLS Cup: The championship for Major League Soccer, determined by playoffs seeded on regular season results.
MLS Next: Major League Soccer’s youth league, comprised of academy teams from MLS member clubs and select non-MLS youth clubs competing across Under-13 through Under-19 age groups. Launched in 2020, MLS Next aims to identify young talents and develop them into future professionals.
MLS Next Pro: Major League Soccer’s reserve league, designed to bridge the gap between the academy (MLS Next) and first-team levels of play. Currently comprised of MLS clubs’ second teams, with plans to add independent clubs in future years, MLS Next Pro began play in 2022.
Match: A regulation game. A standard international game features two 45-minute halves with the referee keeping time on the field. The clock does not stop until the end of the half, with the referee adding time to account for injuries and stops in play. Also known as a game, tie, or fixture.
Midfielder: A player positioned between the forwards and defenders, midfielders control traffic in the middle of the field and the transition between attack and defense.
National team: The team for a given country that participates in international competitions. A national team is comprised of a country’s top players as selected by the national team coach.
National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL): The United States’ professional women’s soccer league, the successor to Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS, 2007-12) and the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA, 2001-03). Founded in 2012 and launched in 2013 with eight member clubs, NWSL fielded 12 clubs during the 2023 season and will welcome two member clubs in 2024, with plans to continue expanding in the future.
OFC: Oceania Football Confederation, the Confederation in charge of soccer in the Oceania region, which includes New Zealand and other Pacific island nations. Australia was originally an OFC member but joined AFC (Asia) in 2006.
Offside: A violation that occurs when an offensive player is closer to the opponent’s goal than both the ball and the second-to-last opposing player at the time that the ball is passed to the offensive player by his or her teammate. Players cannot be called offside if they are in their own half of the field or if they receive the ball from a throw-in, corner kick, or goal kick. When a player is called offside, the opposing team is awarded a free kick.
Penalties: A way of deciding tied games. Each team nominates five penalty takers who alternate taking penalty kicks. If the two teams are still tied after each has taken five penalty kicks, they continue alternating in the same fashion until one team has a goal more than the other after both have taken the same number of kicks. The shots are taken in rounds up to five. If the teams are still tied, extra rounds of penalties are added to determine the winner. Also known as a penalty shootout or penalty kick shootout.
Penalty kick: A kick taken from 12 yards in front of the goal, usually as a result of a foul that takes place inside the penalty area. When a penalty kick is taken, no player other than the shooter and opposing goalkeeper can enter the penalty area until after the shot is taken. Further, the goalkeeper cannot advance from the goal line until after the shot is taken, although the goalkeeper is allowed to move from side to side.
Penalty area: The 18-yard rectangle in front of the goal where the goalkeeper is allowed to touch the ball with his hands. Also the area where harsh fouls committed by the defending team result in penalty kicks.
Pitch: Another word for the field of play.
Promotion: In multiple-division leagues, advancing from a lower division to a higher division.
Red card: A referee shows a player a red card to signal that the player has been banned from the rest of the match. A red card can be shown for a single serious offense or as the result of being shown a second yellow card in the same game. After a player is shown a red card, the player must leave the field of play and cannot be replaced by a substitute, meaning that his or her team must finish the match with one player fewer.
Referee: The only on-field official in charge of assessing fouls, allowing substitutions, and keeping the official time, among other things.
Relegation: In leagues with multiple divisions, moving from a higher division to a lower division.
Sending off: An ejection resulting from a player being shown a red card. See also Red card.
Shot: A shot is any attempt to score by a team. The shot can result in a wide or high ball (over the goal), a keeper save, a deflection by another player or the post, or a goal. A shot is not necessarily a shot on goal.
Shot on goal: A shot on goal is any shot that results in a goal or a keeper save or a field player’s block. All shots on goals count as shots, but not all shots are shots on goal.
Shutout: When one team finishes without a goal, normally used in reference to the goalkeeper or defense recording a shutout. A statistic used for goalkeeping. Technically in a 0-0 draw both goalkeepers recorded a shutout.
Sideline: The sides of the field designated by the touchline.
Spot kick: Another word for a penalty kick because of the dot drawn on the field to mark the place from which penalty kicks should be taken, 12 yards/11 meters from the goal line. See also Penalty kick.
Stats: Short for ‘statistics,’ stats refer to a player or team’s ‘accomplishments’ throughout any given game. For instance, during games, statisticians keep track of shots, saves, fouls, etc., to create stats sheets to follow the players’ progress. Individual and team stats can have a great bearing on playing time, game outcome, all-star selections, team rankings, and more.
Stoppage time: Time added by the referee at the end of each half to account for injuries and stops in play.
Striker: A term that can be used interchangeably with forward, though it sometimes refers specifically to a forward that is his team’s primary scoring threat.
Sweeper: In some formations, a single defender that plays between the goalkeeper and the other defenders.
Tackle: A move where a player attempts to win the ball by sliding towards the ball. If the tackling player touches the ball first, he is allowed to make contact with the player controlling the ball. If the tackling player strikes the player before the ball, a foul is assessed. A tackle from behind is always a foul regardless of whether the tackler managed to get to the ball first.
Through ball: A pass ‘through’ the defense into space intended for a teammate to run onto it.
Throw-in: A way to restart play when the ball goes out over the sidelines. The team that did not last touch the ball last is allowed an overhead throw with a run-up from the sideline.
Tie: Though commonly used in the United States to indicate an even score, in regards to world soccer tie is usually used to mean a match which has been scheduled, for example “quarterfinal cup tie.”. See also Match.
Touchline: The line surrounding the field of play, made up of the sidelines and the end lines.
UEFA: Union des Associations Européennes de Football (Union of European Football Associations), the confederation in charge of football in Europe.
United Soccer League (USL): The preeminent lower-division soccer organization in the United States, USL operates three men’s professional and semi-professional leagues: the USL Championship (second division), USL League One (third division), and USL League Two (including both amateur and professional players; formerly known as the Premier Development League). Headquartered in Tampa, Florida, USL also operates the W League (semipro) and Super League (professional) women’s competitions, and the USL Academy and Super Y League youth competitions.
USSF: United States Soccer Federation, the governing body of soccer in the US
United States Youth Soccer Association (USYSA): The largest governing body among youth soccer programs in the United States (www.usysa.org), the USYSA creates rules for all levels of youth play and also coordinates activities and events among teams, including state tournaments, ODP programs, and soccer development programs. Founded in 1974 and based in Frisco, Texas, USYSA’s top levels are its annual National League and National Championships competitions.
US Club Soccer: A newer counterpart to USYSA founded in 2001, this member association and governing body is based on a ‘club-centric’ model and operates a range of state, regional and national leagues and tournaments. Member clubs field teams in multiple age groups across various recreational and competitive youth levels as well as adult offerings; US Club Soccer’s adult teams are allocated one spot in the Open Division of the US Open Cup.
Lamar Hunt US Open Cup (USOC): One of the United States’ oldest tournaments in any sport, the Open Cup dates back to 1914 and is open to all levels of the country’s adult soccer pyramid. A single-elimination annual cup competition comparable to England’s FA Cup or the Spanish Copa del Rey, the Open Cup offers six-figure prize money and a slot in the following year’s Concacaf Champions Cup to its winner.
Video Assistant Referee (VAR): A match official who assists the referee by reviewing officiating decisions using video footage and providing guidance to the on-field referee. VARs can be located on site at the match venue or work remotely at a centralized location. Different leagues and competitions operate under varying Video Review regulations, but the VAR’s input is generally sought for major decisions involving goals, red cards, mistaken identity when awarding bookings and the like, with the focus on identifying and correcting “clear and obvious” errors or oversights.
Video Review: The overarching term for the systems in which VARs utilize video replay footage to identify and correct officiating errors or oversights.
Wall: When several defending players stand in a line between the ball and the goal in order to deflect a free kick. The wall must be set up a minimum of 10 yards (9.15 meters) away from the spot of the free kick.
Work permits: For soccer, this refers to the necessary documentation to play professional soccer in a foreign country where a person doesn’t hold citizenship. Normally used to describe that situation, as in “the club wants to sign the player but they’ll need to secure a work permit.”