Soccer for dummies: one fan’s take on the world’s game

POULSBO — I didn’t know much about soccer when I moved to soccer-mad Poulsbo.

POULSBO — I didn’t know much about soccer when I moved to soccer-mad Poulsbo.

I couldn’t tell a free kick from a corner kick; couldn’t distinguish a defenseman from a midfielder; couldn’t explain the difference between a red card and a yellow. While covering games, I would often turn to a fan next to me and ask, “Was that a direct free kick, or an indirect penalty kick, or was it a direct indirect free penalty corner kick?”

After two years, I have picked up on some of the subtle and beautiful layers of the game. While I can’t explain everything — like the sad and appalling lack of cheerleaders — my love of soccer has grown with my knowledge.

This weekend is Viking Cup weekend, an annual celebration of soccer, a love poem to the world’s more popular sport.

If you’re viewing a game, and wondering what’s happening, you’re probably where I was two years ago.

Please let me take you through some of the majestic details of this wonderful game.

The Rules of Soccer. Soccer has many rules, most of them too arcane and detailed to explain here. However, they can be summarized quite easily. (1) Do not touch the ball with your hands, unless you’re a goalie. (2) Do not strike, push, or tackle another player, unless the referee isn’t looking. (3) If you score a goal, be sure to act as if you just won the Powerball and are moving your entire family to a tropical island where you will be served drinks by monkey butlers.

Offsides. Nobody really knows what offsides is. Let’s move on.

Watching soccer. The rules for watching a soccer game are more complex than those for soccer players. For example: if a soccer player is offsides, you must groan and press your palms against your forehead. It doesn’t matter if the player is on your team, the opposing team, or Manchester United; you must act as if your television just fritzed during the series finale episode of “Felicity.”

If a player makes an especially elegant pass or juke, you must shout the nonsensical “Good ball!”, which confuses the heck out of everybody but is fun to say.

Also, you must act as if the players can actually hear and follow directions from fans. That’s why you see parents shouting directions to their five-year-old children, who appear to be playing soccer but really have been distracted by a ladybug that has landed on the field.

Uniforms. Unlike American football, soccer players wear relatively austere and simple uniforms, with the possible exception of goalies, who are allowed to wear uniforms of such color that the only man-made objects visible from the space shuttle are the Great Wall of China and soccer goalies. This is the only reason, incidentally, shots ever miss; the players are blinded by the goalies’ uniforms.

Cards. Americans don’t often think of soccer as a macho sport. This is because referees occasionally flash a colored card to a player as if the two of them are assessing a paint swatch together.

What’s really happening is the player is being “carded.” A yellow card is a warning — two of them mean that player is kicked out of the game. A red card means the player is kicked out immediately.

A puce card means the player may stay in the game only if he or she successfully completes three breakdancing moves, including “the caterpillar.”

Should I riot? This is a difficult question for all soccer fans. In Europe, fans riot all the time, mostly because the introduction of the Euro means that bail money is easier to provide. For Americans the question is stickier. The urge to overturn cars and set them on fire, then dance on top of the flaming wreckage, is natural enough, but the resulting property damage is frowned upon by local authorities.

Like all things in soccer, you’ll just have to follow your heart.