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World Cup: Soccer terms still used by football

The game of American Football has its roots in soccer


Just like the Olympics, the World Cup is played every four years. The men’s tournament is sandwiched in between the women’s tourney every two years. This tournament pits country against country playing the world’s most popular sport: football.

It is estimated that the Romans invented this game of playing with their feet with a goal at each end.

In 1863, a set of standard rules was formed by the English that was considered a “gentleman’s game.” They coined their new sport “Association Football.” The term “soccer” came out of the slang use of “Association” with younger players adding an “er” to most things just as when you drive you become a driv-er. If you played golf you were a golf-er. If you played Association Football you were an assoc-er. That later became shortened to “socc-er.”

England v USA -World Cup Women Photo by Eric Verhoeven/Soccrates/Getty Images

The United States and Canada are the only countries that call this sport soccer. Everywhere else in the world, it is football. Why? Because it is the original football game. All other sports that were derived from football call themselves some form of football: Canadian Football, Gaelic Football, Rugby Football, Australian Rules Football plus American Football.

The World Cup begins on November 20. It has qualifying matches for years leading up to the tournament and only accepts 32 countries. Possible host cities bid for the right to hold these games. This time around it is located in Qatar (officially the State of Qatar) which is a sheikhdom that occupies a promontory of the Arabian Peninsula on the western coast of the Persian Gulf.

Usually played at the end of June and into July, but because of the extreme heat in Qatar, it was postponed until November/December. This year’s tourney will mark the first time ever playing in the Middle East.

For the World Cup, teams are placed in eight groups of four teams in each group. A blind draw makes up each group. Then every team in that group plays each other with two points given for a win, one point for a draw, and zero points for a loss. The top two teams in each group advance to the quarter-finals. From that point on, it is single elimination.


Rugby came from soccer and American Football came from rugby. Walter Camp took the game of rugby and transformed it into the game of American Football that we know.

Walter Camp, ‘Father Of American Football,’ 1920s.
Walter Camp

First off, Camp set up a system of downs, and in order to retain possession, a distance was needed to gain a new set of downs. Camp also reduced the size of the rugby field, which was longer and wider, to the standard size the game is today.

A new game using old terminology

When rugby was first developed, that sport used a lot of terms and rules from soccer which is its roots. This is similar to a coach going from one team to another and simply using the ideas and techniques used by the former team.

So when American Football was being developed, the new sport used terms and rules from both rugby and soccer. In this regard, it became an easier transition with players and coaches.

8-man Box


The penalty box in soccer is an area of the field in which certain fouls count towards a penalty kick and is a place where the defense usually crowds during an offensive attack. American Football uses the term box to describe a defense that crowds the line of scrimmage.

Changing Ends

In 1863, soccer rules were altered to allow teams to change ends after halftime. This was done in the flavor of fair play which did not give one team an advantage over the other in terms of adverse field conditions. So, if you have ever wondered why American Football teams change ends after quarters and after halftime, now you know.


These outdoor sports shoes were invented in 1526 for Henry VIII, the King of England. He was an avid football player. The advantage was given to the King so that he had traction. In soccer, these are usually called “boots” but the bottom of the shoes are known as cleats.


Both sports have goals. The crossbar is the name of the horizontal part of the goal in each sport.


Ever wondered why American Football uses an odd number of 11 players? Soccer plays 11 players per side.

Wide receiver Chase Claypool wants pass interference and flops


Flopping is the act of pretending a foul occurred just because contact was made. It is the dark art of the game. The best floppers appear to be the victim until slow-motion replay reveals another verdict. In American Football, the best actors of flopping are called wide receivers.


Both sports have a ball, and both call it a football. In North America, it is called a soccer ball.


In soccer, a goal is scored when the ball goes into the net. In rugby, a goal is scored when the ball is kicked between the uprights, In American Football a field goal is scored when the ball goes between the uprights and over the crossbar. The term “field goal” comes from “goal” in soccer.

Goal Line

In soccer and rugby, they have a line that when crossed becomes a goal. This is called the goal line. American Football adopted this moniker. The only difference is that in soccer, the goal line is part of the field whereas in American Football it is part of the end zone.


The English began this trend during soccer games at the conclusion of the first half. Made sense for American Football to do the same.


At first, the game of American Football was two halves of 45-minutes per half because soccer was set up this way. Soccer is still this way at the college, professional and international levels but varies with the lower levels. Later, American Football changed to four quarters.

Philadelphia Union v DC United
Tony Alfaro #93 of D.C. United holds and grabs the jersey of Alejandro Bedoya #11 of the Philadelphia Union
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images


In both sports, when one player grabs another player and does not let go, it is called holding. American Football simply used the terminology that was already set in place.


When one player kicks the ball to another but a defender jumps in front to collect the ball this is an interception. When one player throws the ball to another but a defender jumps in front to catch the ball this is an American Football interception.

Offense & Defense

In soccer, the team who is doing the attacking is called the offense, while the players who attempt to stop the other team from scoring are referred to as the defense. American Football uses the same terms.


In soccer, one-on-one with the goalkeeper is a major advantage to the attacking team, so the rules state that the offense must have two players between themselves and the goal. When an attacker jumps over this imaginary line it is called offside. American Football uses the same principle of jumping over the imaginary line.


When a game is tied and a winner needs to be declared, soccer begins an extra period they call overtime.

Paris Saint-Germain v AJ Auxerre - Ligue 1 Uber Eats
Soccer pass
Photo by Aurelien Meunier - PSG/PSG via Getty Images


When one player kicks the ball to another player in soccer this is called a pass. When one player tosses the ball to another in American Football, this is also called a pass.


Soccer calls its infractions penalties and so does American Football.


Some American Football positions are derived exactly from soccer such as fullback, wing, halfback, and center.


When the goalkeeper kicks the ball downfield it is called a punt. When an American Football player kicks the ball downfield it is called a punt.

SOCCER - Barclays Premier League - Manchester United v Cardiff City Photo by Matthew Ashton/AMA/AMA/Corbis via Getty Images

Red & Yellow

Soccer uses red cards and yellow cards for fouls, and red flags and yellow flags for their sideline officials called linesmen. American Football thought these colors made sense and uses red flags and yellow flags for fouls.

Referee & Linesman

In soccer, the center official is called the referee. The linesman looks down the parallel line with the second to the last defender to determine whether players are onside or offside when the pass is kicked. The head official in American Football is also called the referee, whereas the linesman looks down the parallel line of scrimmage.

Scoring Out-Of-Bounds

In all three sports, none of the actual points scored is done in the field of play. In soccer, once every portion of the ball crosses the goal line, it is called a goal. On both sides of the goal, after the ball crosses the goal line it is out-of-bounds and results in either a goal kick or corner kick. In American Football, a touchdown or safety is scored in the end zone, which is not in the field of play. A field goal is scored when the ball goes completely over the crossbar which sits on the end line of the end zone. This is completely out-of-bounds.


When a new player comes into the game of soccer, this is called a substitution. In the upper levels of college, professional and international competition, teams are allowed three substitutes per game. The player coming off the field cannot re-enter the game. American Football had this same rule until 1946 when the All-America Football Conference allowed free substitution. When three of the AAFC clubs merged into the NFL in 1950, they adopted free substitution.

Sudden Death

In soccer, at many levels after the game has concluded and a tie game is the result but a winner must be proclaimed, the teams will go into several periods of overtime. If a winner is still not named, then usually two 5-minute sudden death periods are played. The winner is the first team to score no matter how much time is left on the clock. American Football uses sudden death as well.

Toronto FC play New England Revolution
Toronto FC forward Jayden Nelson (11) tackles the ball from New England Revolution midfielder Ema Boateng (11)
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images


Think about it: when a defender knocks down an offensive player it is called a tackle. Why? In soccer, when a defender swipes away a ball and stops an attack it is called a tackle. American Football just took what was already there and used it.


Except in playoff situations or the knockoff rounds of any soccer tournament, when two teams have the same score at the conclusion of the game this is called a draw or tie.

Time On Field

Soccer has always kept the official game time on the field with the center referee. Although there may be a stadium clock, it is unofficial. With American Football, the time was also kept on the referee’s wrist until 1960 when the American Football League installed game clocks and kept the official time there. When the AFL and NFL merged in 1970, this became the standard.


A foul in soccer where one player trips a player on purpose with or without the ball, the foul is called tripping. American Football borrowed this term since the infraction was dangerous.


After each interception of a pass in soccer, this is classified as a turnover. Sound familiar?


The uprights are the vertical part of the goal in both sports.

Barry Shuck is a pro football historical writer and a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association. He coached soccer for 10 years and was a referee for seven including six years of high school and one year at the college level.