Ten Tips for Watching a Soccer Match - dummies

By Michael Lewis, United States Soccer Federation, Inc.

You don’t have to be an X’s and O’s person or take countless coaching courses to enjoy watching the game of soccer. Here are some tips and pointers that will make viewing a match, whether it be youth, college, pro, or international, that much more entertaining.

The beginnings and endings

Be especially focused at the beginning and end of the half and game, because players score many key goals during the opening and closing five minutes. Teams sometimes slack off and lose concentration during those periods — the half is only seconds away, and they’re ready for their halftime break. Opportunistic sides will take advantage. So, you may not want to leave too early to beat the concession stand rush.

Goalkeeper watch

Because goalkeepers can use their hands, spectators may identify with them more. Many times you can gauge how goalkeepers will perform from their early moves or lack thereof. Does the keeper hesitate just a split second before going out for a long pass from either the right or left side? Does he come off his goal line? How quick is his reaction time? That slight period of indecision may not be problematic at the outset, but it could spell trouble for the team later in the match, especially if the defense loses confidence in a shaky goalkeeper.

[Credit: © iStockphoto.com/Steve Debenport]
Credit: © iStockphoto.com/Steve Debenport

The importance of the first strike

When a team scores first, it can relax just a bit and begin to dictate a match. As the opposition gets more antsy and starts to push up, the team with the lead starts to counterattack with the potential to add to its total. It doesn’t happen that way all the time, but it’s a familiar scenario. Sure, there are comebacks and great rallies by teams, but they aren’t as plentiful as you may think. On many occasions, teams work their tails off just to pull even. But they don’t have enough energy to take the lead. They either wind up in a draw or fall behind again.

When opportunity knocks

It’s rare for a soccer team to completely dominate a match from the opening kickoff to the final whistle. There’s usually a push and pull to the game, meaning that both sides have opportunities to score. On many occasions, teams can maintain ball possession for a good portion of 10- to 15-minute spans, control the action, and dictate the pace of the game before the opposition can recover and start an offensive of its own. During these long periods of possession, the attacking team must score because serious scoring opportunities can be few and precious.

Warning about two-goal leads

There’s an old soccer cliché that rings true: The most dangerous lead in the world is a two-goal lead. Countless times, a team with a supposedly insurmountable two-goal lead loses its advantage with lackadaisical play. It can happen in a flash. The opposition scores, which cuts the lead to one goal. That team gains confidence, realizing that a one-goal deficit is certainly not impossible to overcome.

A warning after scoring a goal

A team is most vulnerable after it has scored a goal. Depending on the situation, the players are happy, sometimes even giddy. This time can be a perfect opportunity for the opposition to launch a quick strike and score a goal of its own to stem the momentum. It has happened countless times in the past, and even though players and teams have been told to be on their guard, it will happen many times in the future.

Every team needs a “10”

Most successful teams have a No. 10, a playmaking midfielder who creates goal-scoring opportunities or someone who controls the pace of the game or dribbles the ball upfield in tight situations late in matches. He’s the go-to player. When in doubt, his teammates give him the ball. Try to identify this player early, and keep your eye on him throughout the game.

The “other” midfielder

It’s not always glory. Sometimes it’s guts. Take a look at the defensive midfielders. Are they doing their job, which is taking on the No. 10 of the opposition, winning balls (by intercepting passes and rarely giving them away), and helping the defense? A good defensive midfielder does all of this and gets involved in the attack as well. One key is a speedy transition game. After winning a ball, a defensive midfielder quickly moves the ball forward to an attacking player in an attempt to catch the opposition off-guard just for a couple of seconds and create a scoring advantage.

Substitution strategy

Even before a coach makes a substitution decision, you can have a pretty good inkling of who will enter the match. If a team is winning, it’s a good bet a midfielder will replace a forward, or a defender will take over for a midfielder or forward to fortify the back. If a team needs to push forward, a midfielder is likely to come in for a defender, or a forward for a midfielder or defender.

Substitution rules vary depending on the level of play. Youth and high school games, for example, generally have free substitutions. College matches have open substitutions in the first half, but a player who’s replaced in the second half can’t return to action. Major League Soccer teams are allowed three substitutions, plus one for the goalkeeper in case he’s injured. In the pros, once a player is out, he can’t come back in.

Toward the final whistle

As the final whistle approaches, notice that the team with the lead isn’t in a hurry to get the ball into play. Defenders kick the ball into the stands, which is legal. Other players take their time setting up free kicks, and goalkeepers take a couple extra seconds to get to the ball. Every second is precious. An alert referee will notice all the time wasted and add it into the stoppage time at the end of the game.