Magoosh English Class: Soccer in America

In the next segment of our six-part Sports in America free English class series, we will take a closer look at America’s role in the single most popular sport in the world: Soccer!


  • Learn about basic rules and concepts in soccer
  • Learn new general and soccer-related vocabulary
  • Learn how to use “respectively”
  • Learn about America’s professional soccer leagues

Difficulty Level:



Approximately 15 minutes

We Call It Soccer, You Call It Football!

Click below to listen to a recording of this passage.

There are approximately 3.5 billion soccer fans in the world (though many of them call it “football”), making it the most popular sport on Earth. Despite its popularity, soccer has never garnered as much attention in the United States, a country that prides itself on being a sports powerhouse.

Nonetheless, U.S. soccer has steadily grown in popularity over the last few decades, trailing behind sports like ice hockey, American football, basketball, and baseball.

The Basics of Soccer

If you’re unfamiliar with the rules of soccer, it’s a relatively easy game to learn. There are two teams who compete to score the most goals over the course of a 45-minute period and, after a short break, a second 45-minute period (known as the first and second half, respectively). Each team can have 11 players on the field at one time.

The goalie stays near the goal and tries to prevent the other team from scoring, while the remaining 10 players generally consist of forwards (offense), defenders (defense), and midfielders (a mix of offense and defense). A soccer field is about 100 meters long and shaped like a rectangle, with a goal on each end.

Soccer resembles many other team sports (like basketball or field hockey) insofar as one team must try to score by getting the ball into the other team’s goal. However, there’s one catch in soccer: you can’t use your arms or hands! Soccer players (except for the goalie) can only pass, dribble, and shoot the ball using their feet, legs, torso, and head.

Soccer in the United States

In the United States, thousands of children and teenagers play recreational soccer in school or community leagues. However, it took a long time for professional soccer to gain a significant following in America. This is partly due to the fact that U.S. teams struggled on the international stage for many years.

The American team didn’t always have as much talent as countries like Argentina, Brazil, Spain, Germany, or England. And, at the end of the day, Americans don’t like to watch their teams lose!

The MLS (Major League Soccer) and NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) are the two professional soccer leagues in North America. 26 MLS teams currently compete to earn the Supporters’ Shield and win the MLS cup every year, while NWSL teams compete to earn the NWSL Shield and become the NWSL Champion.

In recent years, increased investments in MLS soccer teams have allowed them to attract some of the world’s top players, including Wayne Rooney (England), Diego Rossi (Uruguay), and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden).

Even though the U.S. women’s soccer team is one of the best in the world, the U.S. men’s soccer team usually gets more attention during the World Cup. So far, the U.S. women’s team has won four FIFA World Cups (most recently in 2019), while the U.S. men’s team hasn’t won any!

In any case, more and more fans come out to cheer on their favorite American soccer teams every year, giving hope to a new generation of American soccer players (both male and female) that the sport will continue expanding in America.

This video explains the rules of soccer:

Word Focus

Let’s take a closer look at some of the words in bold from the passage:

  • Garner – (verb) – Collect; earn.
    • The coach couldn’t garner enough support from the fans to keep his job.
  • Powerhouse – (noun) – A powerful thing.
    • David Beckham was a powerhouse as a midfielder.
  • Goalie – (noun) – Short for “goaltender;” the position in hockey or soccer responsible for defending the goal.
    • The goalie made a diving save to stop the shot.
  • Forward – (noun) – A position in soccer; one of several players who stand nearest the opposing team’s goal and are most responsible for scoring.
    • The forward sent a powerful shot toward the goal.
  • Defender – (noun) – A position in soccer; one of several players who stand nearest their own team’s goal and try to stop the opposing team from scoring.
    • Lionel Messi can get past defenders with ease.
  • Midfielder – (noun) – A position in soccer; one of several players who play close to the center of the field and vary between offensive and defensive responsibilities.
    • Diego Maradona is considered one of the greatest midfielders of all time.
  • Dribble – (verb) – In soccer, this means to maintain control of the ball while moving past an opponent.
    • The player dribbled past the defender and scored the first goal of the game.
  • Torso – (noun) – The midsection of the body, including the chest, stomach, and back.
    • The ball bounced off of the player’s torso and into the goal.

Grammar Center: Using “Respectively” to Represent Order

Let’s look at the following sentence from the passage:

There are two teams who compete to score the most goals over the course of a 45-minute period and, after a short break, a second 45-minute period (known as the first and second half, respectively).

When you need to add qualifying information to more than one thing in a sentence, the word “respectively” can be extremely useful. Respectively means “for each separately, in the same order.” This may sound a little confusing, so let’s look at another example:

The coach selected Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan for the midfielder and forward positions, respectively.

As you can see, there is a formula at work when you need to add “respectively” to the end of a sentence. You must have two parallel lists with parts that correspond to one another. Let’s reevaluate the sentence above to breakdown this formula:

The coach selected (1A) and (1B) for the (2A) and (2B), respectively.

In this sentence, the item 1A in the first list corresponds with item 2A in the second list, while item 1B in the first list corresponds with item 2B in the second list. We know this is true because the word “respectively” tells us so!

If you took “respectively” out of the equation, it might be a little confusing, because we wouldn’t be 100% sure how the positions were assigned. Thankfully, “respectively” lets us know that Michael Bradley is the midfielder and Landon Donovan is the forward.


  1. Which of the following statements most accurately captures the central idea of the passage?a. Soccer is a game played around the world, but it is especially popular in the United States.b. Soccer is played by two teams, each composed of defenders, midfielders, forwards, and a goalie.c. Teams in South America and Europe are typically much better than teams in the United States.d. Soccer is a team sport that has recently gained popularity in the United States, where both men and women compete at the national and international levels.
  2. Which of the following do MLS teams hope to win?a. World Cupb. NWSL Shieldc. Supporters’ Shieldd. Stanley Cup
  3. Which of the following words has a similar meaning to powerhouse?a. Loyalb. Honestc. Weakd. Strong
  4. Which of the following positions is LEAST likely to score a goal?a. Goalieb. Defenderc. Midfielderd. Forward
  5. Which word or phrase corresponds to “Ronaldo” in the following sentence: “Among the top league players, Messi and Ronaldo donated the most money to charity; they donated $10 million and $15 million, respectively.”a. Messib. $10 millionc. Playersd. $15 million
  6. Which of the following sentences requires “respectively” at the end?a. Brazil and Argentina have talented teams, both on and off the field.b. West Ham United retired the jersey numbers of Bobby Moore and Dylan Tombides, #6 and #38.c. Argentina’s national team always wears white and blue, whether they play at home or abroad.d. In Europe, England, Spain, Germany, and Belgium usually have the best teams at both the national and international levels.
Correct Answers:
  1. D
  2. C
  3. D
  4. A
  5. D
  6. B
Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones is a freelance writer with a B.A. in Film and Philosophy from the University of Georgia. It was during his time in school that he published his first written work. After serving as a casting director in the Atlanta film industry for two years, Matthew acquired TEFL certification and began teaching English abroad. In 2017, Matthew started writing for dozens of different brands across various industries. During this time, Matthew also built an online following through his film blog. If you’d like to learn more about Matthew, you can connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn!
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