Soccer 101 - Overview

If you have ever felt overwhelmed trying to learn more or become a fan of the world’s most popular sport; you aren’t alone, and you shouldn’t feel ashamed about it. Worldwide soccer is far more intricate than any American sports league and it takes time to learn about the various leagues and competitions associated with the sport.

While it may feel daunting to learn about all the differences between international soccer and other sports, there are many comparisons that can be drawn for the concepts to be more easily understood. Here are some main differences between soccer and American sports leagues:

1. Promotion/Relegation

The worst team(s) in the league at the end of the season are relegated to a lower division, while the best team(s) move up a division to take their spot. The number of relegated teams is typically 1-4 depending on the league. Contrary to American sports, “tanking” is not an option in soccer.

Comparison: (Ignoring farm systems) The champion of AAA baseball gets promoted to the MLB while the San Diego Padres get relegated to AAA.

2. Domestic Competitions

These are the games that are played against teams within your country. Unlike American sports; however, each country has multiple competitions - typically a traditional league season and a single-elimination tournament played between teams from all of the leagues in the country.

Comparison: It’s a less-important March Madness tournament going on during the season - being eliminated from the tournament does not affect your position in the league or conference.

3. No playoffs

(I’ve already written an editorial on this) Most world soccer leagues do not have playoffs. Since teams play each other an equal amount (once at home and once away), the standings/table at the end of the season are an accurate reflection of who the best team in the league is. The inner-country and continental cups make up for a lack of “playoffs” in the league.

Comparison: Think of every league within a continent as an NCAA conference, except there is more prestige that comes with winning your conference/league in soccer than the NCAA. The top teams from every country qualify for the Champions League (we’ll get to that next) the following season.

4. Champions League

Each continent has a competition called the Champions League that pools together the best teams from each league the prior season. For example, the North American (CONCACAF) Champions League would pool the top teams from the USA, Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, etc.

Comparison: March Madness functions very similarly to this. The leagues/conferences with the highest prestige receive the most entries in the tournament while smaller countries/conferences may only have a single team participate.

5. Transfer/Transfer Windows

While American sports have trades and free agency, soccer has transfers. Players are purchased and sold rather than being traded (You could consider them trades of a player for cash). It’s very rare that trades/player swaps take place.

Comparison: Instead of Anthony Davis being traded to the Lakers, the Lakers would’ve had to purchase him at an amount set by the Pelicans. This one is difficult to compare as American sports have salary caps while most soccer leagues do not have salary or transfer caps.

6. International games

Players commit to play for both a domestic club and for the country they were born in or are a citizen of. Since they play for club and country, it is plausible that club teammates could play for rival countries (or vice versa).

Comparison: The olympics in hockey pool together the best players from every country - many teaming up despite playing for rival teams in the NHL. The main difference between international soccer and other sports is that the World Cup is far more important than soccer’s Olympics.

The status of soccer in America

Finally, once I’ve written about the differences above in detail, I will write a post detailing the state of American soccer on a global stage. I’m sure there are many casual fans that wonder about the disparity of success between us and other countries around the world.

Buckle up, y’all. 7 posts later we are all going to be soccer gurus :)

Author: Living in Southern California, Robert Sweeney has been a fan of soccer since he played as a young child. Since then, he’s become a diehard Tottenham and US National Team fan. Rob enjoys writing about the impact soccer has had on his life in hopes that it betters others as well. Twitter: @robsweeney11