The General Rules for All Leagues

Happy Wednesday everybody!

So I will cover the general rules for of the sport today, just for everyone’s quick reference, don’t worry I’ll keep it as simple as possible. I have pictures to help newcomers understand the sport and certain terms used in everyday football/soccer speech.

This will be a long post, my longest to date.

For those who are in America/Canada, they may have heard numerous fans express their desires for the MLS to turn into a single table format.

Single table is very different from how America/Canada formats their sports. In baseball it’s the National League vs American, East and West in Hockey, Basketball, and the NFL is set up NFC vs AFC with the different divisions within both sides.

Well in this sport, it’s almost always a single table, the MLS is an exception (there might be other leagues as well).

This format is to make sure everyone plays each other twice in the league from August to May (only the league, if you hear of things like Champion’s League and FA Cup, that’s an entirely different blog) and there are no play offs and consequently, a final, again, the MLS is an exception.

Here is what I speak of, using the Barclay’s Premier League (commonly known as the English Premier League):


This was also an excuse for me to try out the image uploading feature.


So what do the letters above the numbers mean? 

P = games played

W, D, L is the same in all sports…Win, Draw, Loss

GF and GA, I shall ignore its possibly significance to keep it simple, but it means Goals For and Goals Against

the last two most important parts are GD and PTS

GD = Goal Difference (basically subtract GA from GF)

PTS = Points

For every W, the team gets 3 points. D earns the team 1 point and an L is none.

As you can guess, the team with the highest points by the end of the season is crowned the champion, however, as of the matches yesterday (I mentioned I was so distracted watching my Man Utd team play), Manchester City and Manchester United are tied for the #1 spot with 54 points.

You may ask, what happens if there’s a tie at the end of the season? Well that’s where the GD column comes into play.

Look back at the two Manchester teams again, notice the 41 and 35? Man City is #1 currently because of 6 goals, that’s a very thin lead. The GD column is usually the “tie breaker,” however it isn’t usually used to determine who is the champion.



I have one  more picture to show, keep the bottom half of the table shown earlier in mind.

The last 3 teams in the other screen shot showing Blackburn Rovers, Wolverhampton Wolves and Wigan Athletic, are in what is called the Relegation Zone.

Each country will have more than one league playing, imagine something similar to Major and Minor leagues in American sports, except there are several leagues forming something similar to a pyramid.

Back to the Relegation Zone, these 3 teams are in trouble, and are fighting for “survival” to stay in the highest league in the country.

In the next league below, nPower Championship, you have 6 teams fighting to replace the 3 previously mentioned teams. Still using the single table format, the team in this league with the most is not only the champion, but is automatically promoted to the “top flight,” the Premier League. The 2nd place team, too, gains automatic promotion, while teams 3 – 6 have to fight for the 3rd and final spot in playoffs.

This is every year, it makes the very last day of the season of the Premier League (all scheduled to play at exactly the same time) VERY exciting. In the 2010/2011 season, 5 teams were fighting for survival, with only 2 spots left for Relegation (West Ham was automatically relegated being the at the very bottom of the table), every single goal changed the games.

A fun fact: 45 different teams have played in the Premier League since its inception in 1992, and only one of those is from Wales, Swansea (promoted from last season, being the 45th team).

All of Europe and Latin America has this system, the MLS is still a tad too small to properly try and introduce this.

Latin/South America 

Now, looking at Latin/South American leagues, they follow the single table format, too, but unlike Europe, they split their season into two different segments (think of how a school has two traditional semesters).

From August to December (except some countries start January – May), the teams in Latin/South America play for the Apertura (Opening) honors. From January to May (some countries go August – December), the teams fight all over again but for the Clausura (Closing) honors. Some countries will also have the two winners play each other.


Major League Soccer

As mentioned before, the MLS is a bit different regarding their format, they, too play for points, however, it is split up into the East and West Divisions, instituting playoffs. What the MLS has done is give x teams on both sides an automatic berth into the playoffs, it’s changed several times in recent years due to adding  at least one team per year to the league.

Based on the 2011 season, with 18 teams, the top 3 teams from the West and 3 from the East are in, while the next 4 teams, based on points, qualify for the Wild Card draw.

What is with the cards?!

As you may have noticed, the only protection the players have on the field is shin guards and gloves for the goal keepers. With chances of breaking legs and ankles very high, discipline has to be enforced. The referee runs with the players keeping a close eye on the goings-on and will blow the whistle for whatever fouls he may see (or sometimes, didn’t see). It’s up to the official to keep everyone safe, and some fouls will obviously be a lot harsher than others.

A simple warning to tell players to calm down usually helps, however sometimes a player is really in the zone and commits a more serious foul, a yellow card may be shown, telling the player this is his last chance.

If he gets another yellow, he is kicked out of the game, the other team is knocked down from 11 to 10 men and are not allowed to replace the player. Sometimes a foul is so bad (two-footed tackles should never happen) that a straight red card is a must. Again, kicks the player off, the team loses a man and has to adjust.

With that in mind, every team is allowed only 3 substitutions no matter what, so if someone is injured or ejected due to fouls, and they already used their 3, it makes things a bit more difficult.

On top of these fouls, whether a card is shown or not, the team who was fouled gets a chance to take a free kick right where the official saw the foul. If the foul happens inside the big box in front of the goal, it is a penalty kick, meaning it’s nothing but the kicker and the goal keeper and loads of pressure on both.

How long do they play?

Regular time in League matches is 90 minutes. There will never be extra time nor penalty shoot-outs to determine the winner. Each half is 45 minutes long, and when it comes to the end of the 45, one official will hold up a board that says a number, that means how much more time to add to the clock, due to however long the game stopped during those 45 minutes. If a team scored a goal, someone was injured, etc, they add that stop time at the end of each half.

When extra time and penalty shoot-outs come into play is during non-league competitions, but that will be discussed in another blog.

I hope I didn’t overwhelm you, I tried to keep it as simple as possible for you curious readers.


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