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Soccer Terms: The Beginners Glossary of Soccer Terminology

Soccer Terms: The Beginners Glossary of Soccer Terminology

For people who don't possess an in-depth knowledge of the sport, having a conversation with a bunch of football fanatics can be like trying to understand a different language. The spread of the beautiful game into every corner of the globe has led to a wide variety of words, phrases and concepts developing, relating to every aspect of the sport. Every year, multiple new terms will enter the public sphere and become adopted by fans looking for the most accurate way to describe what they're seeing on a soccer field.

In this article, we'll be helping out anyone who's new to the sport by offering a comprehensive guide to all the most important bits of soccer jargon used on a regular basis by managers, players, commentators, pundits, and everyday football supporters. We'll tackle a range of tactical ideas, positions, rules and nicknames for other types of football phenomenon. Once we're done, you'll have a pretty solid grip of all the most basic bits of soccer lingo that are used to help describe the beautiful game.

Soccer Terms: A Breakdown Of All The Most Important Soccer Terminology


Goal contributions play an important role in how coaches, analysts, scouts and pundits judge player performance. Alongside goals, assists are integral to goal contribution statistics.

This is one of the most crucial soccer terms there is; but don't worry, it's very simple. In soccer, an assist is a pass made by an attacking player that leads directly to a goal. Check out our article on assists in soccer for more information.

Away Goals

The term 'away goals' refers to a rule used in knockout soccer competitions where teams play each other twice over two legs. For two-legged ties, teams play a home fixture and an away fixture, and the side that goes through to the next round will be the team that wins the tie on aggregate (aka the team that scores the most goals across the two legs).

The away goal rule states that if the number of goals scored by each team over two legs is equal, the team that has scored more away goals will win the tie. For many years, the away goals rule created tons of drama in competitions such as the Champions League, but UEFA recently got rid of this rule.


Scoring goals is a hugely important aspect of soccer, which is why top-class strikers are so in demand in the professional game.

Something that all the best strikers in the world will be familiar with is the 'brace'. This term refers to when a player scores two goals in a single match — simple as that!


A range of different terms and abbreviations have been developed in football to describe different positions on the field of play.

One such role is the CAM position, which stands for Central Attacking Midfielder. CAMs work in attacking midfield positions, creating chances and linking with other offensive-minded players.


In soccer, a game played at league level is totted up as an 'appearance'. But when players go on to represent their country on a football pitch, there's a special word for that moment.

A "cap" in soccer is an international appearance. This bit of soccer lingo comes from the old days, when players were physically given a cap (hat) for each international game they played. Nowadays that doesn't happen, but the name has remained.


Across the world, coaches have developed various different ways of defending the goal area; one popular defensive system is catenaccio.

The Catenaccio system revolves around man-marking and sweeping; coaches will drop back a central midfielder into a deep-lying defensive position, and this player will function as a sweeper mopping up play behind the rest of the defensive line, with some freedom to roam forward.


The CDM role is a crucial position in soccer. The vast majority of top teams will use a CDM to provide stability and structure on the field.

The term 'CDM' refers to a soccer position at the base of midfield, standing for Central Defensive Midfielder. These players provide solidity and protection for the defensive line, breaking up play in deep midfield areas.

Clean Sheet

Keeping a clean sheet is the ultimate goal for any defender or goalkeeper in football.

Keeping a 'clean sheet' in soccer means preventing the opposition team from scoring a single goal in a match. The opponents need to be kept at bay for an entire 90-minute game in order for it to count as a clean sheet for the defenders.


In soccer, a defender is a player stationed in a protective unit at the base of the field, their key job being to protect the goalkeeper and stop the opposition from scoring.


Anyone interested in the history of English football will know about the legendary Derby County side managed by iconic boss Brian Clough in the 1960s and 70s. But in terms of soccer jargon, the word 'derby' has another completely different meaning.

In soccer, a derby is a match that is played between two rival teams. Crucially, soccer derbies are contested between two clubs that are in close proximity geographically.

Direct Free Kick

Free kicks are an important aspect of football. Awarded each time a foul is committed against a player, they give the opposing team an opportunity to create a dangerous opportunity from a dead ball situation.

There are two types of free kick: direct and indirectDirect kicks are free kicks from which an attacking goal can be scored directly, awarded after more serious fouls are committed. 

Double Pivot

Any effective soccer formation will make use of different positional units, working together across the pitch — from central defender partnerships to striker duos up top.

A double pivot is a defensive central midfield duo that focuses on breaking up play, protecting the back line and building possession from deep. Check out our guide to the double pivot in soccer for more information.

Expected Goals

A fairly recently devised term that many football fans are still getting to grips with, 'Expected Goals' (otherwise known as xG) can be a real source of disagreement amongst supporters.

Expected Goals (xG) is a metric used to measure the probability of a shot leading to a goal. This metric helps judge when a player should be expected to score from a certain opportunity by rating how dangerous that opportunity should be in theory. Find out more in our deep dive into xG in soccer.

False 9

In soccer, the term 'false 9' refers to a rare position on the field of play, a role that very few players are capable of operating in.

A false 9 is a centre-forward with the freedom to drop into deeper positions to receive the ball and link up with midfielders. Typically, False 9s work in the central spaces between midfield and attack.

Farmer's League

Soccer fans can be pretty tribal about their favourite teams and competitions. The term 'Farmer's League' is a derogatory name that reflects this situation pretty well.

A 'farmer's league' is a league judged to be lacking competitiveness or top-level quality. Often, a so-called 'Farmer's League' will be dominated by one super-rich elite club. Check out our article 'What is a Farmer's League?' for more detail.

Financial Fair Play

Financial Fair Play is a set of UEFA regulations that uses a budgetary framework to ensure that European clubs do not function in a financially irresponsible way, aiming to help protect the fiscal stability of the game.

Find out more about financial fair play here.


In soccer, the word 'foul' is used to describe an offence committed by a player on the field, for example a mistimed or reckless challenge, a shirt-pull or a trip on an opponent.


In soccer, the term 'friendly' is used to describe a match between two teams that isn't part of an organised competition or tournament format.

Soccer friendlies are non-competitive games. This essentially means that the result does not have any bearing on a league or tournament ranking, and the winners do not get any prize money. But friendly matches have exactly the same rules as competitive football.


In soccer, 'pressing' is a term used to describe the process of closing down opposition players in a targeted way.

'Gegenpressing' has become a major buzzword that underpins the tactical strategies of celebrated modern coaches such as Jurgen Klopp. "Gegenpressing" is German for "counter-pressing", and the term essentially means to win the ball back immediately after losing it, ideally in an advanced area of the pitch.


A soccer goalkeeper is the most defensive player on the pitch. Their task is to remain within their own defensive third/penalty box, stopping the opposition from scoring by catching crosses, making saves and being physically dominant.


Soccer matches are 90 minutes long, with that time divided into two 45-minute halves with additional stoppage time added at the end of each half for injuries, fouls, substitutions, and other breaks in play.

In between those two halves is a 15-minute half-time interval, designed to offer players a crucial break from play to regroup, take on fluids, and get ready for the second period of play.


In soccer, the art of goalscoring is celebrated more than any other skill, and understandably so. If a player scores three goals in a single game, fans aren't going to forget in a hurry.

'Hat-trick' is a term used to describe when three goals are scored in a single match by the same player. This is a seriously impressive feat, and hat-tricks are not a common sight in modern professional football.

Indirect Free Kick

While direct free kicks give players a chance to shoot directly on goal, indirect free kicks offer a different kind of creative opportunity.

An indirect free kick is a free kick from which the attacking team is not allowed to shoot straight on goal directly, awarded for less serious fouls. Instead, the rules state that they must play a pass first before a shot is taken.

Inverted Fullback

Modern coaches like Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta have transformed the way we think about positions on the soccer field. One type of role that these coaches have pioneered in recent years is the inverted fullback.

Inverted full-backs are right or left backs who are shifted into central midfield spaces and given the freedom to be more creative and to interact with teammates in the middle of the pitch.

Knuckleball Shot

In professional soccer, attacking players will regularly work on their ball striking skills, developing different techniques and types of shot.

One famous type of shot in football is the knuckleball. Named after the similar baseball 'knuckler' shot, a soccer knuckleball is when the ball is struck in such a way that it flies through the air with little to no spin at all. As a result, the flight of the ball becomes extremely erratic and unpredictable, and the goalkeeper will struggle to save it.

Low Block

Teams will sometimes be criticised for sitting deep and trying to restrict their opponents from scoring rather than being super attacking themselves. But this gameplan can be super effective.

When a defensive back line drops deep, staying as a compact unit not too far away from the goal line they are defending, it is referred to as a 'Low Block'. This defensive strategy is all about limiting space for opposition attackers and preventing them from causing danger in advanced attacking areas.


The word 'Mezzala' relates to a specific position on the soccer field; developed in Italy, this piece of soccer jargon is used to describe creative central midfield players with the ability to dribble into space, drift between the lines, play incisive passes and build dangerous opportunities in the opposition's final third.

Number 9

The number on the back of a footballer's shirt usually refers to the type of player they are (for example, if you're a central defender in England, you will typically wear No.5 or No.6).

Further up the pitch, the term 'Number 9' is used to refer to the role of the centre forward. Centre forwards are central strikers whose main purpose is to hold up the ball, link up with fellow attackers, and shoot on goal.

Number 10

The term 'Number 10' is used to refer to a specific position on the pitch that is very similar to the CAM role; Number 10s are central attacking midfield players who roam around advanced areas of the pitch, aiming to create goal-scoring chances and connect with forwards.

Parachute Payments

In England, the gap between the Premier League (the top division) and the Championship (the second tier) is pretty vast. When a team gets relegated from top tier to second, parachute payments are there to soften the blow.

Parachute payments are payments given to clubs relegated from the Premier League, equating to a percentage of Premier League broadcasting revenue. These cash injections help lessen the impact of the loss of Premier League broadcasting revenue when a team goes down (which could be damning otherwise). You can find out more about parachute payments here

Parking The Bus

When a team sets up in a low block when out of possession, it will probably be said that they are 'parking the bus'. To park the bus in soccer means to sit dip with ten men behind the ball, relying on counter-attacks and effectively resigning possession to the opposition team.

Pass Back

In the early 1990s, the official laws of association football were changed due to certain teams (such as Denmark at Euro 92) manipulating the rules and benefiting from 'pass backs' from defender to goalkeeper.

The term 'pass back' refers to when a goalkeeper picks up the ball in their own penalty area using their hands, following a direct pass to them from a teammate. Goalkeepers are not allowed to pick the ball up in this situation, and if they do, the opposing team will be awarded an indirect free kick from wherever they handled the ball. Find out more in our guide to pass backs.

Penalty Area

This is the most important area of the soccer field, where all the most exciting action happens.

The penalty area is a rectangular box stretching out 18 yards from the goal line. This is the zone in which a defending goalkeeper can handle the ball, and if an attacking player is fouled in this area, their team will receive a penalty kick.


Many US soccer fans refer to the grass on which matches are played as the soccer field, but in England the field of play is generally referred to as the 'pitch'.

When you hear the word 'pitch' in soccer, it's all about that rectangular area marked out in white, with a penalty box, a six-yard box, a centre circle, sidelines and corner arcs.


Another Italian soccer term, the word "regista" refers to the role of the deep-lying playmaker who constantly looks to receive the ball from the centre-backs and build forward, linking with midfielders and spraying clever passes to attackers.

Set Piece

In soccer, a 'set piece' is the act of putting the ball back into open play from a dead ball situation. Set pieces are an essential element of the Laws of the Game, and they play a key role in helping referees keep order at all times.

There are a wide variety of different set pieces that can be taken in soccer, including goal kicks, free kicks, corner kicks, throw-ins and penalty kicks. Find out more about set pieces here.

Sweeper Keeper

The role of the goalkeeper in soccer has changed a lot in recent years, becoming increasingly demanding. Most top goalkeepers in the modern day don't just save shots; they also operate as sweeper keepers.

A sweeper keeper is a type of goalkeeper that regularly exits their penalty box to sweep up play and contribute to possession phases, passing the ball with teammates and often acting as an extra defender.

Tiki Taka

The term 'Tiki Taka' is sometimes used in a derogatory way by certain pundits or fans, but in reality it's a descriptor for one of the most stylish brands of football ever developed.

Tiki taka is a playing style that focuses on short, intricate, accurate passing, aiming to dominate possession and keep hold of the ball for long periods. Think of teams like Vicente Del Bosque's Spain or Pep Guardiola's Barcelona.


Creative soccer players thrive off sparking excitement amongst fans and getting them off their seats when they're in possession of the ball. Few footballers can do this like the trequartista.

In soccer, trequartistas are creative, goal-minded players who look to cause havoc in the areas between midfield and attack, operating much like a Number 10 or a CAM.

Hopefully, this exhaustive list of soccer terminology will help you participate in conversations about the beautiful game with skill and confidence. For more reading on the basics of football, take a look at our article on the hardest positions in soccer.