18 June 2010

Soccer for Soccer Virgins and Reluctant Fans: Team and Tourney

This is the second part of this series. Check out the first part of this series: Rules and Slang.

For those of you set aside 97 minutes last weekend, you were lucky enough to witness the American tie against heavy favorites, England. Naysayers claim it was a gift due to the fluky goal, but make no mistake about it: US earned the draw.

Considering the fact that more Americans are watching international soccer since 1994, I expect that many new fans may have some trouble grasping some of the terminology. For you intrepid and patriotic souls, here's a glossary to help you follow the game.

Ties and Tournament Stages

Some of you must surely be asking, "How on Earth can a tournament--meant to determine the best team in the world--allow a game to finish tied?!" It is a valid question, and the answer lies in the differences between the Group Stage and the Knockout Rounds.

The World Cup begins with the Group Stage, in which 8 groups of 4 teams each who fight to emerge from their groups in a round robin tournament (the US is in Group C, with England, Slovenia and Algeria). In a system that NHL fans may find somewhat familiar: teams earn 3 points in the standings for each victory, 1 point for each tie, and 0 points for each loss. Each team plays each other team in their group once. At the end of the round robin, the two teams with the highest point totals advance to the next round.

Editors note: There's a good reason why a win is worth three times as much as a draw, and it has to do with making "playing for the draw" less attractive, thus improving the rate of scoring and the pace of play (especially in the later minutes). NHL teams actually do play for the tie when the incentives are right.

The next round and rounds thereafter are Knockout Rounds, and are single elimination: win or go home. If after the full 90 minutes (plus stoppage time, which was discussed in the first part of this series) the game is tied, then the teams play two 15 minutes overtimes. In the past they used to play Golden Goal--which is just a fancy soccer way of saying Sudden Death--but the rules now call for playing both overtimes regardless of goals scored. If it remains tied after that, then there is a Penalty Kick Shootout to determine a winner.

Positions

  • Goalkeeper (also known as Goalie, Keeper, or Netminder): the only players on the field allowed to use their hands, but only within the penalty box, and never when receiving an intentional pass from a teammate. The American at this position is Tim Howard who fights on despite a cleat to the ribs against England.

  • Back Line: the defense. This usually consists of two Center Backs, a Left Back and a Right Back. From left to right, the American starters are Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit and Steve Cherundolo.

  • Midfielders: generally consist of a Left Wing, Right Wing and two Central Middies. These players are charged with pushing all the way up the field (on offense) and tracking all the way back on defense. From left to right the US starters are Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark* and Landon Donovan. Interesting fact: players in these positions can often run up to 8 miles in a single game.

  • Strikers (or Forwards): there are typically two whose job is to hang near the back of the opposing defense in attempt to stretch the field and create goal scoring opportunities. Ideally, the strikers are the best goal scorers on the field. Starting for the US are Robbie Findley* and Jozy Altidore.
*While Findley and Clark started against England, there are several other players who may see starts during the World Cup.

Team Nicknames

Many of the teams in the World Cup have nicknames associated with their team. For a comprehensive list visit here, but in the meantime here are a few of the ones you can expect to hear:
In mere minutes, the Yanks take to the pitch in a match that may determine whether they move on or go home. Either way, you should now be at least somewhat knowledgeable when it comes to the "World Sport." If the US fail to move on, take advantage of this to impress your soccer-deaf friends. Enjoy!

(Photo Credit: Daily Mirror)

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