Soccer glossary of terms

What's the difference between a direct and indirect free kick? How many strikers are in a 4-4-2 formation? And what's this "injury time" business all about?
France's Zinedine Zidane received in a red card for his infamous head-butt of Italian defender Marco Materazzi during the 2006 World Cup final. ((JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images))

What's the difference between a direct and indirect free kick? How many strikers are in a 4-4-2 formation? And what's this "injury time" business all about?

If you find yourself asking these and other questions, worry no longer, because offers this comprehensive glossary of soccer's rules and terminology.

General Jargon || The Field || Positions || Rules and Laws


Against the run of play: When one team scores after launching a counterattack soon after it regains possession of the ball, that team is said to have scored "against the run of play."

Attacking third: The third of the field where one team is trying to score on the opposing team's goal.

Bicycle kick: A shot on goal taken by a player who has his back to the net and kicks the ball while both of his feet are in the air.

Booking: A term used to indicate when the referee has cautioned a player with a yellow or red card. A player is said to have been "booked." Also known as a caution.

Cap: A recognition earned by a player whenever he plays in an international game for his country. A player becomes "capped" each time he plays for his country.

Caught in possession: A player who doesn't move forward with the ball or passes to a teammate after receiving the ball, and who is then tackled by an opponent is said to have been "caught in possession."

Caught square: When a through ball has beaten two or more opposing defenders because they were positioned square to one another (in a straight line across the field parallel to the goal-line) they are said to have been "caught square."

Chip pass: A pass lofted into the air from one player to a teammate. Used primarily to elude a defender by kicking the ball over his head.

Chip shot: A shot towards the net that is lofted into the air in an attempt to sail the ball over the goalkeeper's head and under the crossbar and into the goal.

Close down: A defensive technique whereby a defender gets as close as possible to an attacker carrying the ball without letting him get by.

Compress the field: When defenders push out toward someone who is dribbling the ball, thereby reducing the area in which that player can move without being in an offside position.

Counter-attack: An attack launched by a defending team immediately after it regains possession of the ball. A counterattack in soccer is equivalent to a fast break in basketball.

Cross: A pass from an attacking player near the sideline to a teammate in the middle or opposite side of the field.

Dead ball situation: Any restart of the game, following a stoppage by the referee, when the ball is put back into play by the attacking team. (i.e.: a direct or indirect free kick or a corner kick).

Direct play: A tactical style of play in which a team tries to move the ball forward into its opponent's half of the field as soon as possible after regaining possession.

Dissent: When a player expresses disagreement by word or action with any decision of the referee. A yellow card is usually handed out as punishment for dissent.

Dribble: The act of controlling the ball with the feet while moving on the field of play.

Dummy: A player pretending to be about to receive the ball, but instead allowing the ball to travel past him and to the feet of a teammate in order to trick opposing players.

Formation: The arrangement of players into positions on the field. A 4-4-2 formation consists of four defenders, four midfielders and two forwards.

50/50 ball: A loose ball contested by a player from each team, usually after an errant pass or a goal kick.

Half volley: Taking a shot on net just as the ball bounces off the ground.

Header: Use of the head to pass or control the ball, or to take a shot on net.

Man-to-man: A type of defensive scheme where each defender is assigned to mark a specific player from the opposing team.

Marking: Guarding and defending a player to prevent him from advancing the ball towards the net, making a pass or getting the ball from a teammate.

Midfield: The area of the field near the centre line; the area patrolled by the midfielders.

Narrowing the angle: A goalkeeping technique used to reduce the area of the goal that an attacker could shoot. This lowers the odds that the attacker will score.

Nil: British term meaning the score for one side is zero. A score of 1-0 is one-nil in English soccer parlance. Nutmeg: When a player kicks the ball through the legs of a defender instead of carrying it around him, the defender is said to have been "nutmegged."

Obstruction: A defending player using his body to prevent an offensive player from playing the ball.

Offside trap: The act of the defenders moving forward together in order to place an opponent in an offside position, thereby creating an offside infraction.

Overlap: A tactic where a player moves past a teammate who has the ball down the sideline in order to put himself in a better position to receive a pass.

Own-goal: A player accidentally putting the ball in his own net, thus scoring a goal for the opposing team.

Pitch: British term for a soccer field.

Possession play: A tactical style of play in which a team tries to maintain possession of the ball while moving towards the opponent's goal, with the underlying objective to create a scoring chance.

Professional foul: A foul committed intentionally on an attacker just outside the defender's penalty area. Used to prevent a scoring opportunity without incurring a penalty shot.

Set play: A planned strategy that a team employs when a game is restarted with a free kick. Also known as a set piece.

Tackling: The act of taking the ball away from an opposing player by kicking or stopping it with one's feet.

Through ball: A pass played into the space behind the defenders for a teammate to run on to.

Tracking: Moving and staying with an opponent who has made a run to another part of the field.

Trap: When a player uses his body to slow down and control a moving ball, most often using the chest, thighs or feet.

Volley: Any ball kicked by a player when it is in the air.

Wall: A line of defending players pressed together shoulder-to-shoulder to protect their goal against a free kick. The wall makes it more difficult for the opposing player to score by reducing the amount of open goal area to shoot at.


Goal area: The rectangular area (20 yards wide by 6 yards deep) in front of each goal from which all goal kicks are taken.

Goal-line: The field boundary running along its width at each end. Also called the end-line.

Halfway line: The middle line that divides the field into two equal halves. Also known as the centre line.

Penalty area: A rectangular area (44 yards wide by 18 yards deep) with its long edge on the goal line; the goalkeeper may use his hands to block or control the ball only within this area. Also known as the 18-yard box.

Penalty spot: The small circular spot located 12 yards in front of the centre of the goal-line from which all penalty kicks are taken.

Sideline: A line that runs the length of the field on each side. The line from which all free throws are taken. Also known as the touchline.


Attacking midfielder: The most forward-playing midfielder who slots in right behind the forwards and in front of the rest of the midfielders. He supports the offence by providing passes to forwards to set up goals.

Defender: A player who functions primarily in the defensive third of the field and whose major role is to fend off attacks on the goal by the opposing team. Also known as a fullback.

Defensive midfielder: The player positioned just in front of his team's defence who is responsible for marking the opposition's best offensive player.

Flat back: A defensive scheme in which the three or four defenders move in unison, maintaining a formation that is straight across the field.

Goalkeeper: The player positioned directly in front of the goal who tries to stop opposing players to score. The only player allowed to use his hands and arms, though only within the penalty area.

Libero: A defender or midfielder who plays in front of the defence. Similar to a sweeper (who plays behind the defenders) or a screen; however, the libero frequently moves forward to join the attack.

Marking back: A fullback whose primary responsibility is to mark or cover one of the opposing forwards.

Midfielders: The two, three or four players who link together the offensive and defensive functions of a team. Midfielders play in front of the defenders and behind the forwards.

Screen: A defensive midfielder playing in front of the defence charged with the responsibility of collecting loose balls across the width of the field and then distributing passes to teammates up the field.

Stopper: A defender who marks the best scorer on the attacking team, often the opposition's striker.

Striker: An offensive player who plays towards the opposing team's net and tries to score goals. Also known as a forward.

Sweeper: A central defender who plays closest to his own goal behind the rest of the defenders. A team's last line of defence in front of the goalkeeper.

Target man: An attacking player who acts as a target for forward passes from teammates. This player tends to be tall and plays with his back to the goal and holds off opponents with his big size and frame.

Wingback: A fullback playing in a wide position with responsibility for making attacking runs down the wings.

Winger: The outside forwards who play close to the sidelines whose primary task is to provide the strikers with accurate crossing passes so they can shoot at the goal.


Play the advantage: A judgement made by the official to allow play to continue rather than stopping play to call a foul. The official makes this decision when he thinks the foul did not put the offended team at a disadvantage, or if the foul, should it have been called, would take away a scoring chance for the offended team.

Corner kick: A restart of the game where the ball is kicked from the corner arc into the middle of the penalty area in an attempt to create a scoring chance. Awarded to an attacking team when the ball crosses the defending team's goal-line after being last touched by the defending team.

Direct free kick: A kick awarded to a player after being fouled by the opposition. The player kicks a stationary ball while opposing players are forced to stand 10 yards away from him. A goal can be scored directly from this kick without the ball touching another player.

Extra time: If the score is tied after 90 minutes of regulation, the teams must then play two 15 minutes halves to decide the game. Sort of like overtime in hockey, expect the extra time periods are not sudden death; if one team scores a goal, they must still play both 15 minutes halves.

Foul: A violation of the rules - including kicking, pushing, shoving, tripping and dangerous or aggressive play - for which an official awards a free kick.

Goal kick: A type of restart in which the ball is kicked from inside the goal area away from the goal. Awarded to the defending team when a ball that crossed its goal-line was last touched by a player on the attacking team.

Handball: A foul where a player touches the ball with his hand or arm; depending on where the offence take place, the opposing team is awarded either a penalty kick or a direct free kick.

Indirect free kick: A kick awarded to a player for a less-serious foul committed by the opposition. The player kicks a stationary ball to a teammate while opposing players are forced to stand 10 yards away from him. A goal can not be scored on an indirect free kick as the ball must first be touched by another player before going into the net - this is why a player kicks the ball to a teammate on an indirect free kick.

Injury time: Time added to the end of each half according to the referee's judgment of time lost due to player injuries or intentional stalling by a team. Also known as "time added on" or "stoppage time."

Assistant referees: The two officials who assist the lead referee in making his decisions. They monitor the sidelines and goal-lines to determine when a ball goes out of bounds, when a goal is scored or when players are offside; they use a flag to signal their observations.

Offside: A player in an offside position while his team has the ball becomes involved in active play, such as by being the recipient of a pass.

Offside position: The situation where an attacking player, on the offensive half of the field, has put himself in a position where there are fewer than two opponents (usually the goalie and one defender) between him and the goal at the exact moment the ball is kicked forward. This positioning does not constitute a foul until he becomes involved in the play. A player is not offside if he is exactly even with one or both of these defensive players.

Penalty shot: A kick taken from the penalty spot by a player against the opposing goalie. Awarded for the most severe rule violations and those committed by defenders within their own penalty area. Also known as a penalty kick.

Red card: A red card that a referee holds up to signal a player's expulsion from the game; the player's team must then play the rest of the game shorthanded. Presented for violent behaviour or multiple infractions (two yellow cards = one red card).

Referee: The head referee in charge of officiating the game.

Shootout: A tie-breaking device that pits one player against the goalkeeper in penalty kicks. The winner is determined after a best-of-five series of shots alternating with each team. If tied after five, the contest continues with different players until one team scores and the other team doesn't. Used after the teams played two 15-minute halves of overtime with the game still tied.

Substitution: Replacement of one player on the field with another player not on the field. Teams are allowed three substitutions per game.

Throw-in: A type of restart where a player throws the ball from behind his head with two hands while standing with both feet on the ground behind a sideline. Taken by a player opposite the team that last touched the ball before it went over the sideline.

Yellow card: A yellow card that a referee holds up to warn a player for dangerous or un-sportsmanlike behaviour; also known as a caution. Two yellow cards in one game earns a player an automatic red card, signalling his expulsion.