American fans are increasingly interested in World Cup, U.S. national team
The USA-Portugal game was the most-watched soccer match in U.S. history
CNN offers list of common terms for Americans to know for Tuesday's Belgium game
Glossary includes terms offside, pitch, boot, kit, nil, cracker and Starting XI
Though soccer is the world’s most popular sport, Americans have been slow to bite.
Our sports plates are full, after all, with options ranging from golf and X Games to national spelling bees and basketball, but in recent years, many Americans have added helpings of international soccer to the buffet.
Last week’s USA-Portugal World Cup match was reportedly the most-watched soccer game in U.S. history with about 25 million viewers. To put that in context, the NBA Finals averaged about 15.5 million viewers per game.
Thus, throughout June, newly initiated American fans have been pestering their soccer-loving pals – be they American or expat – to explain some basic concepts.
But no more!
As the United States prepares to take on Belgium in the Round of 16 on Tuesday – and millions of Americans begin pronouncing Eden Hazard’s last name like they might say “fire hazard” – CNN is delighted to serve up its definitive glossary of the Beautiful Game’s more nebulous vernacular.
Try dropping these gems into conversation Tuesday, and impress your pals. Show them you are ready to sit down at the banquet table.
Advance – It means “to go to the next round” but not necessarily “to win.” After bemoaning a tie with Portugal, Team USA fans rapturously celebrated a loss to Germany – because the team advanced.
This only mattered in the first round of the Cup, so you can throw it out the window in the knockout stage. There are only wins and losses now, as each game will go into extra time (defined below) and perhaps penalty kicks to determine who advances.
Offside – American football may be to blame for the difficulty in explaining this soccer rule. It’s really easy to explain in football, right?
To break it down in soccer: At the very instant a ball is passed, the recipient of that pass – and anyone who could be deemed part of the play – needs two of the opposing team’s players between him and the goal. The goalkeeper can be one of those players (and usually is). It’s worth noting a player cannot be offside in his own half of the field.
FIFA – In English, it stands for International Federation of Association Football, and it’s the governing body for the sport. Some may say they term “governing” is used loosely.
Man of the match and Golden Boot – Political commentator Ann Coulter brought these up, and while we shouldn’t take sports cues from someone who thinks basketball fans use the term, “throw bricks,” let’s address her odd assertion that “individual achievement is not a big factor in soccer.”
Every game has a man of the match, he being the “individual” who contributed most to his team’s performance. FIFA also awards the Ballon d’Or (Golden Ball) to the world’s best player every year. Also, the top scorer in each World Cup is given the Golden Boot.
In the chase for the latter, Colombia’s James Rodriguez, Germany’s Thomas Muller, Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Brazil’s Neymar lead the World Cup’s 100+ goal scorers with at least four goals each – thereby also negating Coulter’s claim that “almost no one scores anyway.”
Boot – It’s a soccer shoe.
Pitch – It just means field. No biggie.
Kit – It’s a jersey, but not the one that spawned Snooki. It’s a team’s shirt, national soccer federation shield on the front, name and number on the back. Easy.
Game clock – Yeah, the one on the scoreboard (or corner of your TV screen, as it were) doesn’t really count. After each half’s allotted 45 minutes pass, only the referee knows how much time is left.
Stoppage time – The number of minutes that the referee loosely tacks on to the original 45 minutes of each half.
Extra time – In the knockout round, because there are no draws, any game that’s tied after 90 minutes of regulation has two 15-minute periods added. No matter what, both periods are played. If the game is still tied after extra time, it goes to penalty kicks.
Cracker – A crispy bread-like soup accoutrement. That’s a joke. It’s a hell of a shot, usually from considerable distance. Think Tim Cahill’s volley versus Netherlands, Lionel Messi’s curling game winner against Iran, Wesley Sneijder’s equalizer in the Mexico game, James Rodriguez’s first goal against Uruguay and, of course, Jermaine Jones’ keeper freezer against Portugal – those are crackers.
Dive – When a player feigns being fouled to earn a free kick or penalty kick, not dissimilar to flopping in basketball. The ref is supposed to distribute yellow cards for what’s formally known as “simulation,” but the field is so large and crowded, players can get away with dirty thespian tricks. Some are more notorious than others. Not naming any names, ahem, Arjen Robben, ahem, Luis Suarez.
We should also point out that while soccer gets an ugly rep for the dives, it’s not always an act. Soccer players are quick and have plenty of room to get up to full speed – FIFA has clocked Ecuador’s Antonio Valencia at 22 mph – so when they knock legs and tumble to the ground like they’ve been shot with a 12-gauge, they might actually be hurt, though not mortally. They wear pads only over their shins, so it can smart for a minute or two when they get kicked in the knee or ankle.
Nil – Rhymes with pill. Zero with one less syllable. It’s fun to say. Go ahead and try it: USA 4-Belgium nil. See?
Friendly – It looks like a normal game, but it’s a practice match to be taken more seriously than a scrimmage. They’re generally played among qualifying campaigns and the World Cup and offer managers a chance to tinker with lineups. The rules are generally the same as a regular game, though they often allow more substitutions.
Starting XI – No, not starting “shee.” Those are fancy Roman numbers. Starting eleven is what they call the players selected to start the game. Only three may be substituted over the course of the match.