As we said in the previous section, soccer is a fairly simple game. However, to keep the game competitive as well as safe for all competitors, there are a number or rules and restrictions in place. To see the full rules of the game you can visit the IFAB website for the official, up to date rules of the game. However, I will highlight several of the most important rules.
First, soccer is a game played with the feet, or head, chest, thighs, really any body part other than the hands. If a player uses their hand, arm, or sometimes shoulders to play the ball the referee will blow his whistle to stop play and issue a freekick. A freekick is where the ball is stopped and placed on the ground and the team which is awarded the freekick can kick it anywhere they like and the opposing team must be at least ten yards away from the ball. Interestingly, that ten yard rule is the reason the field shown on the How to Play page has a circle in the middle of the field to make sure opposing players are at least 10 yards away from the ball when the game begins as this is considered a freekick. It is also why there is a half circle, called the arc, at the top of the penalty area to make sure opposing players are at least ten yards away when a penalty kick occurs.
A penalty kick is a special kind of free kick that, as mentioned in the previous section, is awarded whenever a foul is committed inside the penalty area. The fouled team places the ball on the penalty mark, a spot ten yards from goal halfway from either side, and is allowed to shoot on goal with only the goalie defending the goal.
Other types of fouls that can end up in a penalty kicks are when a defender pulls back an attacking player, either by an article of clothing or by grabbing their body, or when a player slides in and tackles a player without getting the ball. If the tackle is considered reckless or dangerous it can also result in a free kick even if the ball is won in the tackle. If these reckless or dangerous fouls are considered excessive enough they could result in a yellow card or a red card depending on severity. Like technicals in basketball, a player who receives two yellow cards is removed from the game. A single red card is enough to send a player to the showers. However, unlike basketball or other american sports that feature ejections, in soccer you are not allowed to replace the ejected player, instead the team must play the remainder of the game down a player (or several if more than one red card is issued to a team). This makes each card a significant event in the game, as losing a player can hand the other team a significant advantage and also force the down team to work harder and tire easier as they work to cover the missing player.
Up to this point we have only mentioned defensive fouls, but the offense can also commit fouls. Like the defense an attacker can be called for a handball and give a free kick to the defense. They can get a foul for being too physical, forcefully bodying a defender of the ball can be considered a foul if its from behind or otherwise in an excessive manner. Attackers are also not allowed to run into or otherwise challenge a goalie once they have the ball in their hands.
The offense can also be offside. The offside rule is seemingly one of the most confusing rules for American fans but if you bowl it down it is ultimately quite simple: An attacker in the opposing teams half of the field must have two defenders between themselves and the goal when a pass is played to them OR they must be behind the ball when it is played. In almost all cases one of the two players between the attacker and goal will be the goalie, so they only really need one defender between themselves and the goal. The second possibility, the backwards pass, should be very familiar to many American sports fans as it is essentially the same rules governing laterals in American Football. Be behind the player passing the ball to you and you’re good to go! We will discuss this more in our Defensive Tactics page, but some defenses will try and make sure all their players are stepped up high up the field to try and “trap” an attacker offside. They must be careful, however, especially if the defender is quick because the farthest they can step up is halfway sine a player can never be offside in their own half, even if the defenders have all stepped up.