A brace of goals … an offsides trap … ghosting to the far post … a half-chance … gaining the ascendancy … a clean sheet.
The media coverage of the World Cup has brought us a variety of terms that could be confusing to a casual soccer fan who may not pay much attention to the sport other than every four years when the World Cup takes over the airwaves.
The casual fan knows there are 11 players on the field for each team, 10 field players and the goalkeeper, and the objective is to score more goals than the opponent.
Goals are extremely hard to come by. Broomball may be the only sport that has fewer goals.
Don’t worry, no description of broomball is forthcoming, but hopefully the following will help novice fans gain a better understanding of World Cup soccer.
Soccer purists will tell you that it is healthy to have a low-scoring sport because the games stay closer longer and you learn to appreciate goals more.
One of the primary reasons scoring is difficult in soccer is the offsides rule.
The offsides rule states that an attacking player cannot be closer to the opponents goal line than the ball and the second-last defender or the last two defenders when the ball is played to him. The goalie is usually the last defender.
He can be even with the second-last defender, but he can’t be ahead of him even by the slightest of margins.
In other words, no goal-poachers allowed.
Players can’t be offsides if they are in their own half of the field, and they also can’t be whistled for offsides on a throw-in, corner kick or goal kick.
And if the pass is made backwards to him, he can’t be offsides.
He also can’t be offsides if the ball is mistakenly passed to him by an opponent.
An attacking player can be in an offsides position as long as he doesn’t receive the ball from a teammate or interfere with the play. If he stands in front of the goalkeeper, even if he never touches the ball, that is ruled to be impeding the play, and the offsides whistle will blow.
If you have watched Costa Rica, you have noticed that they like to utilize an offsides trap.
What that means is the fullbacks coordinate their movement so when a member of the opposing team is approaching the ball to pass it, they all move forward together which leaves the potential pass recipient in an offsides position at the time the ball is played.
The only problem with that ploy is that if one of the backs doesn’t move forward at the right time in unison with his fellow backs, that could leave the potential pass recipient in an onsides position. And it could result in a clean breakaway on the goalie which would yield a goal more often than not. So it can be a risky strategy.
Teams play a variety of formations depending upon their strengths and weaknesses, and the first numeral refers to the number of fullbacks.
A team that plays a 4-4-2 plays with four fullbacks, four midfielders and two strikers (forwards).
A team that plays a 4-5-1 uses four fullbacks, five midfielders and a forward.
Goalkeepers aren’t included in the number although they are the most important players on the pitch.
So whoever came up with the numerical formation was probably a forward who didn’t like goalies.
Pitch, by the way, is another term for field. I think we can thank the English for that one.
Fouls are called for a variety of reasons: tripping an opponent, kicking, charging, interfering, pushing, holding, slide-tackling without touching the ball, spitting or touching the ball with your hand.
Did I mention biting an opponent also is frowned upon?
Trying to figure out a handball infraction is fruitless. Every referee has his own interpretation unless a player purposely sticks his hand out to impede the ball.
Then it is cut and dried.
Players get yellow cards for violent infractions, repeated infractions, handballs and fouls that prevent the opponent from getting a good scoring chance.
If a player gets two yellow cards in a game, he is given a red card and banished from the field. And their team plays shorthanded for the rest of the game.
Referees can also bypass a yellow card and issue a red card for an excessively flagrant foul or a blatant effort to stop a scoring chance.
The terminology in soccer is unique. Let’s go back to the first paragraph.
A brace of goals is when a player scores two goals in a game.
Having a player ghost to the far post means he went unnoticed and uncovered.
A half-chance is a scoring opportunity that isn’t a high-percentage one. For example, it may be a shot from a difficult angle that simply requires a routine save.
Gaining the ascendancy means a team has taken control of the game and is applying pressure.
A clean sheet is another term for shutout.
If a team is on the front foot it means that team is keeping the opponent pinned in its own end.
Conversely, if a team is on the back foot , it is under siege and spending most of its time defending.
If an announcer said a team’s final ball is lacking that means the final pass or cross that could provide a good scoring chance isn’t sharp or precise.
If you hear the term service, it refers to a pass or cross.
A through ball is a well-placed pass that sends an attacking player in on goal.
Finally, if you attend a soccer match, you will hear the word “unlucky,” which you won’t hear in any other sport.
I’m not sure why soccer players are unlucky and players in other sports aren’t.
That’s not to say football, baseball and basketball players are lucky.
They just aren’t unlucky.
Hopefully, the United States team will be lucky in Tuesday’s knockout round game against Belgium. Or at least not unlucky.