Sports 101

The World Cup is coming up this summer (June 10-July 12), and America's top professional league, Major League Soccer, is eight weeks into its third year of existence. Soccer is becoming a more important part of the American sports scene, and while it's often called 'the simplest game,' there are some key facts sports fans should know:

Q: Who invented soccer?

A: Various forms of soccer have been played all over the world for more than 3,500 years, but today's professional game was largely pioneered by the British Football Association in the 1860s. British merchants and sailors helped spread these rules through the rest of the world by the 1900s.

Q: Where does the word 'soccer' come from?

A: Most of the world calls soccer "football." The word "soccer" comes from "assoc." - an abbreviation for the word "association." Early on, "association football" meant soccer played by Football Association rules.

Q: How big are the fields?

A: Normally, they are about 115 to 120 yards long by 70 to 75 yards wide.

Q: What are yellow and red cards?

A: The referee will show a player a yellow card when the player has committed a particularly blatant foul. If a player receives two yellow cards during a game, then that player gets a red card, meaning he is ejected for the rest of the game and cannot be replaced. If a foul is very violent, the referee can go straight to a red card.

Q: Where are Major League Soccer teams located?

A: The 12 Major League Soccer (MLS) teams are in Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; Denver; Foxboro, Mass.; Kansas City, Mo.; Los Angeles; Miami; New York; San Jose, Calif.; Tampa Bay, Fla.; and Washington.

Q: What happens if the game ends in a tie?

A: In tournaments like the World Cup, where a winner must be decided, the teams go to a shootout. In the shootout, five players each get a chance to shoot on the opposing goalkeeper from 12 yards out. Whoever scores more goals wins. In professional soccer leagues, however, ties simply remain ties. MLS is the only league in the world that uses shootouts (in a slightly different format) for regular-season ties.

Q: What is offsides?

A: A player in the offensive half of the field who does not have the ball must have two opposing players between himself and the goal when the ball is passed to him. A player in his defensive half can never be offsides.

* Mark Sappenfield writes a weekly soccer column on the Mixed Media/Commentary page of the e-Monitor.

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