OT: help for the soccer newb

Submitted by offskooring on April 17th, 2014 at 2:17 PM
I get to go to the Aug 2 Real Madrid vs Manchester United match and I was wondering if any of the resident soccer buffs could offer some basic breakdowns (or link some sites) of the world soccer scene. I want to start following soccer but i don't even know what the major leagues are and how they function. I only have experience watching World Cup, Olympics and various other USNT matches. Yesterday I watched the Copa del Rey final and it was great, and I am going to try and catch any ManU and Real Madrid matches i can...but i would like to start watching and paying attention to the whole scene. Any help would be appreciated.


Kilgore Trout

April 17th, 2014 at 6:25 PM ^

I like the idea of club play, but it has been hard for me to really find a team. I cheer for UM because I was brainwashed into it and went to school there and I cheer for the Detroit professional teams because they've been there my whole life and I feel a pride for my home town. 

With no MLS team and no history in Europe, it's been hard for me to really get hard core into European soccer even though I've watched it regularly for 5+ years now. I picked Spurs because they were in London (so I felt like there was some prayer of me getting there someday), weren't one of the teams that always won (seemed to easy) and had a sweet logo. I still hope they win and follow them, but it's just not the same. Not sure if it ever will be. 

The USMNT on the other hand is a lot more fun for me because I feel like I have a little more stake in it, which I recognize is kind of ridiculous. 

David Drake

April 18th, 2014 at 10:07 AM ^

If I were starting now, I'd probably pick Liverpool to follow.  They're on top of the EPL so coming back to former glory, and they have tradition, especially in the Champions League.  Google  "ACMilan Liverpool 2005" and watch one of the YouTube vids that has a soundtrack of "You'll Never Walk Alone."  They even choke me, a Milan follower, up.

Because my beloved AC Milan aren't on TV much anymore because of the fall of the the Club and of Serie A from dominance, I'll probably follow Liverpool for the remainder of the season. 


Space Coyote

April 17th, 2014 at 3:35 PM ^

  1. Victory (1981) - It has Sly and Michael Caine in it
  2. Ladybugs (1992) - Early portion of soccer growth in America, Rodney Dangerfield (!) is the coach of a youth girls team!
  3. The Big Green (1994) - stars the big red-head kid from The Sandlot; right as Soccer is heating new heights in the USA
  4. Air Bud: World Pup (2000) - A must watch for any sports and/or dog lover!
  5. Bend It Like Beckham (2202) - You may thing "It has Keira Knightley in it", but that's not why you should watch it, I don't think she was 18 yet.
  6. Green Street Hooligans (2005) - though not my favorite movie, has a bit of a cult following and tells the craziness of fandom overseas
  7. Kicking & Screaming (2005) - Will Ferrell coaches a youth team, and co-stars Bob Duvall and Mike Ditka!
  8. She's the Man (2006) - Amanda Bynes before she was crazy
  9. Kicking It (2008) - A pretty cool doc about the Homeless World Cup; narrated by Colin Farrell (not to be confused with Will Ferrell)
  10. Pelada (2010) - Doc about a guy who travels the world essentially playing pick up soccer, and how soccer brings all people together


April 17th, 2014 at 4:58 PM ^

I've seen all of these but #3 and #10, and think Victory is head and shoulders above the rest.  The plot is completely preposterous, but the all-star cast of big-name internationals made some of the game scenes unforgettable.  And the musical score will stay in your head for, oh, 30 years or so?  Wish MMB would make it a regular part of the repertoire.

The last 15 minutes of this movie are like crack for soccer fans.  Don't have 15 min? Skip to 3:25 and watch the fancy backheel trick by great Argentine midfielder Osvaldo Ardiles. Other greats included Pele and Bobby Moore among others.  Note to newbies: Sylvester Stallone and Michael Caine were never great international soccer stars, but you know, box office and whatnot.





April 17th, 2014 at 3:39 PM ^

Biggest differences from North American sports are promotion/relegation, the lack of playoffs, and international cups/tournaments.


Each country has multiple tiers of professional leagues.  At the end of a season, the top 3 teams in one tier move up a tier and the bottom 3 teams move down a tier.  It's not accurate to think of these in terms of major and minor leagues, so don't make the mistake of thinking of them that way.

No playoffs

The real prize is to win the league by having the most points at the end of the season (3 pts for a win, 1 for a draw).  There are league cups (playoffs) that take place throughout the season that everyone in the league plays in (FA cup in England, Copa del Rey in Spain etc.).  Winning the Leage Cup is certainly a big deal, but winning the league is the most important.

International Cups

The Champions League is the premier international club cup.  The top teams in each European league qualify depending on the size/prestige of the league (top 4 in England qualify while teams from smaller leagues like Norway play in play in games).  Teams begin by playing in a group stage, much like the world cup, playing home and away fixtures with each team in the group.  The top 2 teams from each group advance to knockout stages where Home and Away matches are played with aggregate scoring, in the event of a tie the team with more away goals wins, if away goals are tied, the game goes to extra time/penalties.


April 17th, 2014 at 3:49 PM ^

The FA Cup and Copa del Rey are not league cups, but national cups.  League cups are different and are only open to professional clubs, whereas national cups are open to literally every club in the country.  Pro clubs thus compete in both each year (assuming their country has both competitions), in addition to their league schedule and (if they're good enough to qualify) either the Champion's League or Europa League as well.




April 17th, 2014 at 4:19 PM ^

I made this comparison a few years ago. European professional leagues are like US college football conferences.  Several power leagues/conferences, some dominated by a handful (or one or two) teams with lots of lame teams, some more balanced; then more and more conferences with lamer and lamer teams, down to "minnows" that you'd hardly recognize compared to the big ones.  The best teams of the best conferences find ways to compete with each other for a championship.  Bayern winning the Bundesliga, or FSU winning the ACC, wasn't what they really wanted to win -- UCL and BCS -- because that proves they are the "best of the best."  Lesser teams, or teams in lesser leagues/conferences, are happy just to win their league/conference (Liverpool/Michigan State) (I am not equating the two, LFC fans).

There are, what, about 2000 or so college football teams?  Not just D-I, but D-II, D-III, NAIA, etc.  Europe is, geographically, roughly the size of the US, and there are probably somewhere around 2000 pro and semi-pro European soccer clubs.  Germany goes down to Division 8 -- meaning, about 8 leagues with about 20 teams eac.

Sometimes small-time teams -- Hoffenheim, or Boise State -- come out of nowhere to get very good in a few years.  In pro soccer, it's all about $$$.  In college, of course, it's never about the $$$.  I mean, there is that difference, right.

Obviously I'm ignoring numerous differences, including promo/relegation, soccer's cups played in addition to domestic leagues, etc.  But in terms of number of teams, and the spread of talent and importance of teams, Euro soccer will be more familiar to college football than anything else.  If you think about it, the European population of athletic men around 18-25 years old don't have our equivalent of college sports; so, pro soccer is their version of it.


April 17th, 2014 at 4:33 PM ^

If you want a very very simplistic breakdown it goes like this

Soccer is basically broken down by (a) club soccer (which are the international leagues) or by (b) country (of which the World Cup is the most famous held every 4 years - Olympics are sort of a throwaway tournament, Euro Championship is probably the second most famous).

Most of the focus is on the club soccer outside of the World Cup.  To confuse it further the clubs also play international tournaments across leagues.  It would be like if the NBA had a suster league in Mexico, in Brazil, in Germany, and Japan and they sent 3-4 teams each to play against each other in annual tournaments.  The clubs also play tournaments within their own league - the parallel here would if the U.S. NBA had its own tournament that had nothing to do with the playoffs.

Generally in terms of club soccer the best clubs come from the Premier League in England, the Bundesliga in Germany, La Liga in Spain, and Serie A in Italy.  The top teams in these leagues are all star teams composed of players from all over the world.  La Liga and Bundesliga are generally very top heavy (a few clubs dominate) - the Premier League probably rotates between about 5-6 clubs at the top.  Serie A is usually full of scandal ;) and I'd consider it the weakest of these 4 leagues - it has a lot more home grown talent (i.e. Italians)

That would be the first tier - than you would throw leagues from France, Netherlands, Mexico, USA into the next tier... every so often a really good team from France or Netherlands will make an impact in these tournaments - but Mexico and US no.

The average soccer player spends 90% of his time with his club and then is drawn away with 10% of his time playing for country (if he is top end for his country).

So what you will be watching at Michigan Stadium is 2 of the world's top clubs playing an exhibition type tournament to get warmed up for their season - and right after the World Cup (so some top players who were playing in the World Cup would probably be resting during this tournament).  Any specific questions feel free to ask but that is about as simple as I can make it.


April 17th, 2014 at 4:42 PM ^

Not happy with the total disrespect for MLS on this thread. The league has evolved considerably in the past few years and the quality of the play is very high. Plus it’s in our backyard, and contains former Michigan players like Justin Merem and Soony Saad. For the top few MLS clubs, the stadium atmosphere now rivals that of the EPL. Its also on TV more often, or for an affordable $40 or $50 you can watch many of the games on the computer with MLS Live, which I subscribe to. 

I recommend following the national team (both mens AND womans), and follow MLS. Then follow Americans playing abroad a bit. Yes, I watch the champion’s league when I can to keep up with the very top clubs in the world. EPL is boring, same teams in the same order every year. The biggest storylines in the EPL this season are United being 3-5 spots worse than expected and Liverpool 3-5 spots better. That's it. Those are the main stories. How exciting! 

I get the quality of play argument, but by that same token why do we all watch Michigan football when the NFL is available?

Just want to also put out the chicken and egg argument. Americans won't watch MLS until the quality is better, but the quality won't improve until more people watch. All I'm suggesting is to 




April 17th, 2014 at 5:09 PM ^

last year  1. Man Utd  2. Man City 3.  Chelsea 4. Arsenal, 5. Tottenham 6. Everton. 7. Liverpool


this year 1. Liverpool 2. Chelsea 3. ManCity 4. Arsenal. 5. Everton. 6. Tottenham. 7. Man Utd.


exactly 1 team in the same position as last year.


April 17th, 2014 at 6:26 PM ^

This is proving my point. How many teams that finished outside of the top 7 last season have made the top 7 this season? ZERO. 

And only Liverpool and United have moved by more than a single spot. 

AND, this is much more movement than typcial because United and Liverpool have been much better/worse than expected. 



April 17th, 2014 at 7:15 PM ^

they finished in the same order every year, thats not true.  At present time the 7 largest clubs in England are finishing 1-7.


What happens at the top in the EPL is really not that different than LaLiga, Bundesleauge or  Seria A.


April 17th, 2014 at 5:14 PM ^

I think MLS games are underrated fan experience.

One of these days I am going to make it to a Timbers vs Sounders match.

To add to your point, /r/ussoccer is a good subreddit for US Soccer news and articles.



April 17th, 2014 at 6:17 PM ^

Yes right now Portland and Seattle have become the 2 closest to a "European atmosphere" but it's still a far cry.  Just cannot recreate 100 years of history, rivalries, songs, chants, etc.  That said, I am all in favor of every game that matters on U.S. soil be played in those 2 cities except when Mexico visits and that should always be in Columbus... in November.  Looks like a fun experience in our northwest to catch a game.

I personally do not watch MLS and I don't think college to NFL is a good comparison.  It would be like NFL to Arena Football League (although not as wide of a gulf).  Maybe NFL to Canadian Football League would be more fair.  College has its own reasons to watch that ironically are parallel to a lot of things that makes club soccer in Europe great in terms of welll...histories, rivalries, songs, chants, etc lol.

I have not been to a MLS game but I imagine in many venues such as Columbus, KC, Seattle and Portland it would be very fun. 


April 18th, 2014 at 10:59 AM ^

So you don't watch MLS and you haven't been to a game but you still know it's a far cry from the European football experience. 




For what it's worth, I find that MLS games in the smaller stadia (and seattle, I guess, though I haven't been) have an atmosphere equivalent to the lower tier EPL games/ first division. Pretty constant noise and dedicated support from the supporters sections. A lot of people sitting and watching elsewhere. The main differences in atmosphere (not quality of play) are 1. there's not as much at stake because of the playoff system instead of single-table and the lack of promotion/relegation; and 2. there's not as much consistent traveling support given the distances between teams.

Don Keypunch

April 18th, 2014 at 8:10 AM ^

And has been to a few Sounders games. Says the stadium atmosphere is fantastic. I am going out to visit him in July and we got tickets to a game against the LA Galaxy. Don't know if each team will have their stars available since it's just a couple of weeks after the world cup ends but it should be a great time nonetheless.


April 17th, 2014 at 5:04 PM ^

Tony Pulis manages.  This year he saved Crystal Palace from certain drop, the man is a magician.


Matches to always watch out of the EPL


Liverpool-Man Utd






All of these are fantastic rivalries with great histories and downright angst.



April 17th, 2014 at 5:59 PM ^

You're about to witness a fantastic finish to both seasons of EPL and La Liga over the next month.  Catch as many of those matches as you can along with Champions League and you'll never look back.  

Tha Quiet Storm

April 17th, 2014 at 6:17 PM ^

If you're interested in a little local flavor, you should check out some Detroit City FC games this summer. They play at Cass Tech, draw about a couple thousand people per game, and the atmosphere is incredible (singing and chanting for the entire 90 minutes, tifos/flags/banners, smoke bombs, etc.) The team is also very good - made up mostly of current and former local college players including a bunch from UM.

The season starts on May 10th and there is a pre-season exhibition vs. SVSU this Saturday at Hurley Field in Berkley (6 pm, $5)



OMG Shirtless

April 17th, 2014 at 8:34 PM ^

I know I'm late to this and it may have been mentioned.  If you want to check out a lot of clubs in a short period of time, check out Match of the Day on NBCSports.  It's esentially a highlight show, but done really well. It cuts up all of the matches of the day into smaller portions.


April 17th, 2014 at 9:43 PM ^

I agree with you on the highlight shows, simply the best in sports. You get all of the highlights and none of the talking head idiots. I prefer 10 min of highlights and no bs opposed to watching college gameday and getting maybe a minute of highlights and five minutes of looking at mark mays fat head and Lou holtz spouting gibberish.


April 17th, 2014 at 9:20 PM ^

It's all about the Premier League (EPL/BPL) if you want to really get to know class soccer.  No other leagues even come close in comparison from top to bottom in terms of talent.  Manchester City is my team. Whatever you do, don't root for Chelsea.  Jose Mourinho is a complete d-bag of a manager. 


April 17th, 2014 at 9:39 PM ^

City fan here also. I got into soccer about 7 years ago before City got the big blast of loot, but I have really found a love for the game. Epl is a great league to watch, strong teams at the top but the bottom of the league can give a surprise any week. La liga is usually a two team race with Barcelona and Real Madrid, but atletico Madrid has been fantastic. The German league/bundasliga has a couple strong teams with Munich and Dortmund, but the rest of the league is ok at best. The French and Italian leagues for me are not very entertaining. Good teams like PSG and Juve, Milan, but I am not very intrigued by either league.

The hardest thing for me to get the hang of was the schedule. The constant international breaks and cups and champions league can make the seasons a little confusing at first but it doesn't take long to figure it out.

NBC carries all the premier league games and bein carries la liga and has my favorite commentator in sports in Ray Hudson.


April 18th, 2014 at 11:19 AM ^

Ok here goes... 

Quick InfoThe quickest way to pickup basic team information in all honesty is any of the FIFA titles, newer the better... I started playing FIFA in 03 when the original xbox got relased becuase I was so bored of Madden/NHL/NBA2K series, it was just something new... and since then I have owned every single one thats been released. All of the titles will have a generic number ratings for attack/midfield/defense, and will run you down every team that is in every league and be updated year to year with whatever teams are relegated or promoted.


LeaguesThere are 5 Major European Leagues. Each league is primarily dominated by a select few clubs I'll just refer to as "1st tier teams", followed by "2nd tier teams", and then everyone else...


England (known as EPL or BPL... English Premier League or Barclays Premier League)

  • Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool
  • Tottenham (Spurs), Everton

Spain (La Liga)

  • Barcelona, Real Madrid
  • Atletico Madrid, Athletic Bilbao

Germany (Bundesliga)

  • Bayern Munich
  • Borussia Dortmond, Shalke 04, Bayern Leverkusen

Italy (Serie A)

  • Juventes, Inter Milan, AC Milan
  • Roma, Napoli

France (Ligue 1)

  • Paris Saint-Germain (PSG)
  • AS Monaco, Lyon, Marsellie


*Yes Manchester United is in the toilet this year, yes Manchester City and PSG have risen only in the last few years becuase of crazy rich new owners wiling to spend anything, yes Inter and AC Milan are having bad years, yes Atletico Madrid is leading La Liga this year... but as a median of how teams are year in and year out, I think this represents a pretty accurate list over the last decade or so.


Continential Confederations:

  1. UEFA - Europe
  2. CONCACAF - North America
  3. CONMEBOL - South America
  4. CAF - Africa
  5. AFC - Asia
  6. OFC - Oceana



  1. League: Each league has their own domestic season, 38 weeks... with the exception of the German Bundesliga who only plays 34 weeks. 
  2. Domestic Cup: Each league also has its own domestic tournament within their own league that takes place during the regular season (England=FA Cup, Spain=Copa Del Ray, Germany=DFB Pokal, Italy=Coppa Italia, France=Coupe de France)
  3. Super Cup: The winner of league and the domestic cup from the previous season (all leagues)
  4. Champions League: 32 Select teams also participate in the UEFA Champions League tournament which runs during the domestic season as well. Generally it consist of the top 4 teams from the year before in the 5 major leagues, and the top select teams from minor leauges in Europe like the Russian Premier League, Turkish Super Lig, Dutch Eredivisie and Portuguese Primera Division, that play their way in throguh knockout qualifying rounds and a playoff round.... 

    While the World Cup is regarded as the most prestigious trophy to win only being played every 4 years... the Champions League takes place every year and is the highest club honor. It is considered by most, as well as myself, the hardest trophy to win as teams that participate at the club level are built to win their league and this trophy specifically, instead of joining others by determined birth nationality whom which they may not play with frequently.

  5. Europa Leauge: The Europa League is besically just like the Champions League, but instead of the top 4 in each league, it is for teams that finish just behind 4th place domesticlly... It consist of 48 teams selected by the UEFA coefficient, and select teams that are knocked out of the first group stage of the Champions Leauge.
  6. UEFA Super Cup: Winners of the Champions League and Europa League
  7. FIFA Club World Cup: The 6 champions of the respective continental confederations, and the host nation, play a straight knockout tournament
  8. European Championship: International tournament, kind of like the World Cup, however limited to only European nations. Also takes place every 4 years, on 2 year alternates with the World Cup... think of the European Championship and the World Cup like the "Spring and Summer Olympics" both are every 4 years, but you'll get one of them every 2 years.
  9. World Cup: duh

*Feel free to google or wikipedia any of these more detailed info...


Dont Miss Games: Any of the top tier teams that play eachother are bound to be great games... "Derby" games refer to teams that are located in the same city or region.

  • Derbies
  1. Barcelona/Real Madrid
  2. Real Madrid/Atletico Madrid
  3. Manchester United/Manchester City
  4. Manchester United/Liverpool
  5. Arsenal/Tottenham
  6. Liverpool/Everton
  7. AC Milan/Inter Milan
  8. Juventes/Inter Milan
  9. Roma/Napoli
  10. Bayern Munich/Borussia Dortmund

Obviously there are more... these are some of the most popular.


Conclusion: Its early as hell... and Im sure I'll add to this later when I'm more awake. If I were you, I would suggest picking an English Premier League team to follow. They are the most broadcasted games here in the states, and out of the 5 major leauges, they speak english... duh. Sometimes Its nice to be able to listen to players talk about the game post match and other things in your native language.


Also, there are quick little surveys and website that may help you pick a team depending on what priorities you have... take this with a grain of salt, but: http://www.selectsmart.com/premier/


Lastley, ESPNFC is a great new show thats been on for a couple of months now... if you want to pickup things reeeeally fast, see highlights from every league around, listen to comentary, see league tables... 30 minutes a day on ESPN and than and hour episode on Sundays, you will have expanding knowledge in a super short time. I cant stress this enough, the show is great and it keeps you up to date on EVERYTHING...




Anyways... need sleep, hope this helps.


April 18th, 2014 at 12:21 PM ^

While certainly good games, many of those games (Barcelona/Real, Bayern/Dortmund, Roma/Napoli) hardly count as derbies. If you want true derbies, might I suggest:



Düsseldorf/Cologne (both currently in the Second Bundesliga, but entertaining nonetheless)

Bayern/1860 Munich (though just a bit one-sided as of late)


Rapid Vienna/Austria Vienna





And in the event Rangers ever gets their shit together... Rangers/Celtic


April 18th, 2014 at 12:21 PM ^

While certainly good games, many of those games (Barcelona/Real, Bayern/Dortmund, Roma/Napoli) hardly count as derbies. If you want true derbies, might I suggest:



Düsseldorf/Cologne (both currently in the Second Bundesliga, but entertaining nonetheless)

Bayern/1860 Munich (though just a bit one-sided as of late)


Rapid Vienna/Austria Vienna





And in the event Rangers ever gets their shit together... Rangers/Celtic


April 18th, 2014 at 8:15 PM ^

Agreed on the derby list, it was more of a "Derby/Rival" list... Merseyside, North London, Old Firm... we know the classics, I should have been more clear.


I didn't list some of the ones like Ajax/Feyenoord, Boca/River Plate, Olympiacos/Panathinaikos just because they are almost impossible to see outside of their own local media...


Wish Rangers would get their shit together as well... Rangers/Celtic is pure hatrid. If you haven't caught the VICE episode about them, it's epic........


April 19th, 2014 at 12:04 AM ^

It's not hard to find streams of any of those. Have you ever checked the firstrow lineup on a Saturday? I'm having trouble finding a first-league European match that isn't on tomorrow. If you want a derby there's Shakhtar/Metalurg from Donetsk, or Lokomotiv/Botev from Plovdiv..