In soccer, a free kick is something likely to be administered to a spectator who repeatedly asks his or her neighbor which player is the quarterback.
With the current blossoming popularity of the game in America, it is time spectators in this country -- which is the only country, incidently, that applies the name "soccer" to a game the rest of the world calls football -- learned the rules the way those European and South American screaming crowds of 200,000 a game know them.
It's only a matter of time before America has screaming hoards of loyal fans storming onto soccer fields across the country, as they've been doing for a century in the rest of the world. Herewith a guide to what you'll be screaming for:
THE rules -- There aren't many. A scant 17 govern the game of soccer (compared to the 118-page NFL Official Rule Book). The object of the game is to dribble (passing the ball between the feet while running), kick, pass (with the feet, shins, thighs, chest or head) or somehow maneuver the ball into the opponent's goal, thus scoring. Eleven players on each side (including the goalkeeper) are divided any way the coach chooses into three lines; fullbacks (or defenders); halfbacks (or midfielders), and forwards (also called strikers or attackers).
The rules define a couple of no-nos: No touching the ball with hands or arms, no timeouts (two 45-minute halves for pros and adults, shorter halves for kids under 14); and no more than three substitutions per pro game.(Substitutions are usually unlimited in adults' and kids' games).
THE INS AND OUTS -- There aren't many of these, either, but they are essential knowledge for the spectator who wants to know who, when and what to cheer loudest.
OUT -- Yelling "That's using your head!" at a player who heads the ball.
IN -- Wearing flashy stockings (the uninformed call them socks ) -- and the flashier the better. Tassels, for example, are considered excellent form. Wearing one stocking up and the other rolled down is even better. Wearing no stockings is best.
IN -- Singing English football (as in soccer) songs during game.
OUT -- Asking "Is that the token American?" during an North American Soccer League game. (NASL Rules call for at least three on the playing field.)
OUT -- Yelling "American should stick to baseball!" during any game.
IN -- Wearing a Washington Diplomats, Capital Soccer League, or any other soccer shirt while playing any other sport.
SPOTTING THE GOOD PLAYERS -- A century or so ago, a soccer team was almost all offense. A forward would dribble the ball down field, with dazzling footwork, and maybe pop the ball into the goal. Fine strategy if the other team plays a similar offense-minded game. But the 1872 Scottish national team dumbfounded their English opponents with two fullbacks (one more than usual) and short passes down the field.
Teamwork was born.
From then on, players began passing more (both on the ground and in the air) -- a skill requiring them to maintain their positions.
As in any team sport, a good soccer player plays for the good of his or her side. This means giving up a scoring opportunity by passing the bass to a teammate whose chance for a shot is better. A good player will "fake" out the opposing team by starting to dribble one way, then running the other; or starting to pass to one player, the kicking backwards to another (making sure the player's own team knows what's up).
Just booting the ball indiscriminately 75 yards downfield is not considered a clever play; The other team has a 50-50 chance of ending up with the ball. Besides, teammates of a player who tries this too often will hardly appreciate the extra running. (There's already plenty; An average player runs five to seven miles per game. pro players lose as much as five pounds per game.)
PLAYING THE CARDS RIGHT -- If you like the fouls and penalties in ice hockey, you'll love soccer. In the official words of the North American Soccer League (NASL) rules, any time a player "displays ungentlemanly conduct, repeatedly breaks the rules, or shows displeasure with any decision," the ref can issue a caution by whipping a yellow card out of his pocket (followed by a series of boos from fans).
For example, in a recent Washington Diplomats' game, one of the Dallas Tornados didn't like the ref's call and showed displeasure by pulling Jimmy Steele's curly brown locks. For this display, the ref gave him a yellow card. Another caution would have meant automatic ejection from the game. If the foul is flagrant or intentionally dangerous, or if the ref is really fed up, he'll reach into his other pocket and pull out a red card. This means the offending player has to sit out the rest of the game and the next home game as well.
PLAYING ON THEIR TERMS -- Some tips on sounding like you already know what your're doing:
You wouldn't call a football field a "court," and you can't call the area on which soccer is played a field; It's a pitch. You play on a side, not a team, in a match, not a game, which can end in a draw, not a tie. You wear boots, not shoes (or, heaven forbid, sneakers). It's a touch line, not a sideline, and the player who guards the goal line is a keeper, not a goalie.
All lines are boundaries and therefore part of the field of play; the ball has to roll entirely over any line to be out of bounds. (If you see a player cheering because he managed to send the ball part way into the net, he's celebrating too soon. To score a goal, the entire ball has to cross over the goal line.) An out-of-bounds ball is put back into play with a throw-in (from the touch line) or a corner or goal kick (from the goal line).
Soccer players hate to be caught offsides, and constantly repeat the official FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) rule to themselves: "A player is in an off-side position if he is nearer to his opponents' goal line than the ball, unless there are at least two of his opponents nearer their own goal line than he is."
If it seems the keeper repeatedly picks up the ball, then drops and rolls it, it's not because he can't make up his mind. He's only allowed to take four steps while holding the ball. He can be charged for stalling, though, if the ref thinks he's unfairly delaying his kick and the game.
All soccer games (except in the NASL) can end in a draw. If an NASL game is tied at the end of play, two 7 1/2 minute sudden-death overtime periods are played. If still no one breaks the tie, then fans, benched players and coaches start biting their fingernails because a shootout's about to begin. One at a time, offensive players run one-on-one with the keeper to try for a shot. Each team gets five tries in rotating order, after which the team with the most goals wins.
Players attempting to steal the ball can charge (legally push an opponent off balance by shoulder-to-shoulder contact) or tackle (kick the ball away from an opponent or slide on the ground to pop it away). The ref, however, has the final say on the legality of any such move: If it's unwarranted in his opinion -- for example, if the ball is nowhere in sight -- he'll call a foul.