Bundesliga guide for soccer dummies: Answering questions for American fans new to German league



Bundesliga, Germany’s top-flight soccer league, is getting set to return from its coronavirus hiatus this weekend, bringing an end to the shutdown that started in March. Since there’s a notable absence of sports here in North America, there’s a chance you’re interested in checking out Bundesliga action to see what it’s all about and get that sports fix you’ve been craving. But perhaps you’re a little intimidated heading into unfamiliar territory and you need someone to help walk you through what you need to know. I’ve got you, newbie. 

Here’s a soccer dummie’s guide to understanding soccer and the Bundesliga. 

Bundesliga teams

  • Bayern Munich
  • Borussia Dortmund
  • RB Leipzig
  • Borussia Monchengladbach
  • Bayer 04 Leverkusen
  • FC Schalke 04
  • VfL Wolfsburg
  • Sport-Club Freiburg
  • TSG 1899 Hoffenheim
  • FC Koln
  • FC Union Berlin
  • Eintracht Frankfurt
  • Hertha Berlin
  • FC Augsburg
  • FSV Mainz 05
  • Fortuna Dusseldorf
  • SV Werder Bremen
  • SC Paderborn 07

Why do some people call it soccer?

Because some people are dumb Americans who associate “football” with the sport that has the helmets and the pads and the pigskin thing, even though very few players in that sport actually use their FOOT to kick the ball. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense, but “soccer” is the chosen American name for the actual foot sport.

What is a fixture/table/pitch/etc?

Since international soccer uses some language that may seem, well, foreign to American fans, let’s put together a little thesaurus here. 

  • Fixture = an individual game on the schedule, also frequently called a match
  • Table = the league’s standings
  • Pitch = the field the game is played on
  • Kit = a team’s uniform
  • Stoppage time (or added time/extra time/injury time) = Since football soccer uses a running clock, there’s often time added on to the end of a half based on time missed due to halts in play during said half

What are the positions?

Here’s a rundown of the positional assignments given in soccer:

  • Goalkeeper: I mean, pretty self-explanatory, no? You need more info? It’s the guy who stands in front of the net, wears gloves and a funny-colored jersey and can use his hands.
  • Fullback/wing back: Defenders who cover the sides of the field and provide support for the offensive group up front
  • Center back: Defenders who cover the middle of the field and provide support for the offensive group up front
  • Midfielder: Pretty much exactly what it sounds like — someone who plays the middle of the field between the forwards and defenders. They’re typically expected to be capable two-way contributors, though there are variations of midfielders (defensive, central, attacking)
  • Winger: The widest attacking players (Not by body size, you jerk.)
  • Forward: An offensive scoring threat who often plays between midfielders and strikers
  • Striker: The attacking player positioned closest to the opponent’s net and responsible for scoring goals

How does offsides work?

Anytime a player on the possessing team is closer to the goal line than the ball and last defender (not including goalkeeper), they are in an offside position. If a player is in an offside position and receives a pass or strikes the ball, play will be blown dead and possession will be given to the opposing team. 

Does that make sense? Probably not. It’s hard to explain. Just watch a bunch of soccer and you’ll figure it out eventually.

Why does the clock keep running? 

Instead of stopping the clock every time there’s a halt in play, soccer uses a running clock for 45-minute halves and then tacks on “extra time” (see definition above) at the end of the half to account for stoppages.

Why does the clock run up?

Does it matter? Are you not capable of counting up to 45?

What’s the difference between red and yellow cards?

A yellow card is basically like a technical foul in basketball. It’s reserved for egregious infractions and two of them earn you an ejection from the game. A red card is essentially the equivalent of two yellow cards, so if you earn a red (through two separate yellows or one really egregious penalty) you’re out of the game and your team cannot bring in a replacement to fill your spot.

What is the difference between a penalty and a free kick?

A penalty occurs when a team commits a foul inside the box (the bigger of the two rectangles in front of the goal) and it allows the attacking team to take and uncontested shot on the goalkeeper. A free kick occurs when a team commits a foul outside of the box, and defenders are allowed to position themselves between the ball and the goal on a free kick.

Why are there ties?

Because sometimes life is about more than just winning and losing. And it’s called a “draw,” stop being so uncultured.

How does the points system work?

A team gets three points for a win, and one point for a draw. Losers get nothing, as it should be. 

How does promotion/relegation work?

In many European leagues, the bottom three teams from the top-tier division table get relegated to the second division at the end of the season, then are replaced by the top three teams from the second division. But in the Bundesliga, which has 18 total teams, there are only two automatic movers. The worst two teams from Bundesliga are swapped with the best two teams from Bundesliga 2 (the second division), while there’s a playoff between the 16th-best Bundesliga team and the 3rd-place Bundesliga 2 team. Those teams play a two-game series (one home game apiece) and the winner — either straight-up or on aggregate (combined score over series of games) — claims their place in the Bundesliga the following year. 

How do the playoffs work?

As is often the case with European soccer, there isn’t an elimination style playoff tournament to determine the league’s champion. Instead, the team that holds first place at the end of the league’s schedule is awarded the championship. If you’re disappointed about that, just think of it like this: Every regular season game is essentially a playoff game.





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