Every four years a strange event occurs. Nope, it’s not leap year or the presidential elections; it’s the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup. This is something that is, and always has been, quite foreign to majority of the U.S. population. So if you fall into this category, don’t feel ashamed; you’re not alone, my friend. This article will hopefully clear up some myths and actually get you excited about the most popular sports tournament in the world.
Rules: From the Clock to the Flop
Why do most Americans not get into soccer? The main reason is most likely lack of exposure. Though soccer has been popular over the years, it’s mainly used as a training sport for other team sports such as football. Most people play soccer, usually at a young age, then play other sports in junior high and high school. That being said, a lot of Americans have a basic understanding of soccer, yet there are still a few rules that are a little tricky.
Yeah, it counts up. It starts at 0 and goes up to 90 minutes, with a halftime at the 45-minute mark. Also, unlike most American sports, the clock doesn’t stop during breaks in the game. It’s the referee’s job to keep tabs on these breaks and then add them on after the 90th minute. The time added is completely determined by the ref and usually is around one to two minutes.
Offside in soccer is really not as complex as everyone makes it out to be. I’m going to compare it to hockey, since hockey’s offside rules are similar. In hockey, a player can’t cross the blue line before the puck and then receive a pass or touch the puck. In soccer, the rule is the same, except there is no “blue line”; instead, there’s a defenseman. Think of this defenseman as a moving blue line. If an opposing player is behind that defenseman, he can’t be passed to, or an offside will be called.
No, I’m not talking about simply putting the ball in the goal; I’m taking about the whole point process and how advancement is determined. Unlike tournaments in the U.S., FIFA goes off what is called aggregated goals. The whole process can be very complex, especially when several draws (ties) are thrown in the mix or a team is completely blown out. The main thing to remember is that total goals over a round of matches matter more than goals in a game. Basically, whoever has the most goals in the end of the round will advance (though there are many more factors that go into it, such as head-to-head victories).
Diving or “flopping” is defined as an attempt by a player to gain an unfair advantage by diving to the ground and possibly feigning an injury, to appear as if a foul has been committed. This is the top thing I hear Americans complaining or joking about. In the U.S., our sports are based on masculinity and toughness, and to be caught flopping is a mortal sin. This is the reason so many Americans have a hard time wrapping their minds around a sport where “flopping” is part of the game. Yes, flopping to draw a penalty has always been around, but it isn’t going anywhere – so lighten up a little bit and make a few jokes.
For a much more in-depth look into the actual FIFA rules, feel free to check out their official rule site.
A Very Brief History
The U.S. soccer team has appeared in the World Cup 10 times since 1930. Their first year in, they got third place, which remains their best finish to date. The U.S. qualified again in the 1934 and 1950 tournaments, only to be shut out over the next four decades due to not qualifying.
After 40 years of not qualifying, the U.S. team finally made it to the 1990 World Cup. This brought soccer back to America, and even though Team USA lost every game in the first round, soccer was back in the states. The sheer excitement of making the World Cup carried over the next few years, eventually peaking in 1994.
The World Cup USA in 1994 took what had been building over the past four years and turned it into the newest trend. Soccer fever had hit the states! America made it out of the first round, but would eventually lose to Brazil, who went on to take the whole tournament. Despite getting knocked out in the second round, the soccer high in America was insane. The U.S. has since qualified for every World Cup, and soccer has been on the rise in both youth participation and in the fan base.
2014 World Cup Brazil
As you know, the 2014 World Cup has been in full swing over the past few weeks, and there is plenty more still to come. What you may not also know is that the U.S. is in what soccer fans call the “Group of Death.” This means that the U.S. team is in the most competitive and difficult group. So, if you haven’t had a chance to catch a game yet, here’s what you missed.
Game 1: Ghana
The U.S. team started out with a bang against Ghana, scoring within the first minute, which was the fifth fastest goal scored in FIFA history. Clint Dempsey scored in 29 seconds, making it a 1-0 game until the 82nd minute, when Ghana’s André Ayew tied it up. Four minutes later, John Brooks Jr. knocked one in for the lead and the match. This was a huge win for the U.S. being in the “Group of Death.”
Game 2: Portugal
This time it was Portugal who came out swinging first, getting their first goal in within six minutes. The game would go back and forth through the 64th minute, when Jermaine Jones scored and tied it up. About 15 minutes later it was Dempsey again who gave the U.S. the lead against a very dominant Portugal team. With less than 20 minutes to go, the U.S. looked like they were going to hold off Portugal, and they did through regulation time. That’s when those weird extra minutes I was talking about above came in, giving Portugal an extra five minutes which led to a goal and a heartbreaking draw for Team USA.
Game 3: Germany
The U.S. may have lost the battle, but they beat the odds in the “Group of Death” and are advancing to the Round of 16. The game started out looking very even until just after the half, when Germany’s Thomas Müller got one goal in the 55th minute. The game remained back and forth for the remainder of the match, but there was a tremendous weight lifted off the shoulders of the American team as the news of Portugal beating Ghana arrived, which automatically moved the U.S. team to the Round of 16. Their next game will be Tuesday, July 1, and America will most likely play the winner of Group H, which looks like it’s going to be Belgium.
Want to chime in with some of your own World Cup stories or clarify some of the “confusing” rules? Feel free to comment below and let us know how you feel.