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Sports are extremely popular in every corner of the world. While many of them are played and watched in a wide variety of countries, each nation also has its own favorite sport. The most popular sport in the USA, for instance, is very different from that of the UK—even if their shared name sometimes creates confusion.

For Americans, football means one thing. In Britain, it has another meaning. Since the use of this term for two different sports may confuse some people, here we’ll take a look at the differences between soccer and American football

What Do “Soccer” and “Football” Mean?

British people call their favorite sport “football,” but Americans use the same term to talk about the most popular one in their country—which is why they use the term “soccer” when talking about the first one. However, just by watching tournaments like the Premier League or the National Football League’s  (NFL) Super Bowl you can notice how different these sports are. Let’s take a look at the origins and meaning of “soccer” and “football.”


Though it is heavily associated with the US, the truth is that this term actually originated in England. Back in the day, the term “football” was used for all sorts of games that involved a ball. English schools and clubs gave more clarity to this situation in 1863, when they formed the Football Association to make soccer an official sport with its own set of rules.

Since another popular game was also known as “rugby football” by then, soccer in England became known as “Association Football.” However, to make the word shorter and easier to use day-to-day, British people started to use abbreviations such as “assoc,” which later mutated to “assoccer,” and eventually “soccer” or “soccer football.”

However, since “rugby” was adopted to refer to the other form of football—in which players carry the ball with their hands—the British stuck to “football” instead of “association football.” On the other hand, the Americans started to refer to the latter as “soccer”. “Football” was used for another sport that became more popular in their country.

American Football

While rugby and association football were the most renowned sports in the UK, another sport that combined aspects of both started to emerge in North America late in the 19th century. It was just a matter of time before its popularity surpassed that of the sports coming from Britain, and it became known as “gridiron football.” However, Americans simply referred to it as “football,” while association football players started to distinguish their sport by calling it “soccer.”

Since this variation of the sport wasn’t played that much outside the US, in the rest of the world—particularly in the UK, to differentiate it from their own “football”—it became known as “American football.”

Many argue this name makes no sense because the ball is carried with the hands, but we have to keep in mind that this is just one of the many sports that derived from football. Besides, the length of the ball—approximately one foot—has also been mentioned as a reason behind using this name, instead of “American rugby” or other terms.

Differences Between Soccer and Football

While the name has often created confusion, for anyone who’s watched both sports it hasn’t been difficult to notice that soccer and American football are very different.

Object of the Game

In soccer, two teams of eleven players each try to score more goals than their opponent. Each player has a role, but all of them can attack and defend. The goalkeeper, meanwhile, uses a different uniform than his teammates and tries to keep the opponents from scoring.

In American football, teams take turns to attack and defend. The offense has the ball and advances towards the goal line—the end of the field—aiming to get in the end zone or score a field goal, while the defense aims to prevent them from advancing while trying to force turnovers.


Players control the soccer ball with their feet—only the goalkeeper is allowed to touch it with the hands, inside the box. In football, players carry the ball with their hands and only the kicker or punter kicks it in specific situations of the game.

The ball is different in each sport. Soccer is played with a round ball of spherical shape (its circumference is between 27-28 in). The football, meanwhile, is shaped like a prolate spheroid with a length of 11 inches, a 28 in circumference in the center as well as a 21 in circumference in the short side of the ball, looking like an oval.


Soccer has countless competitions around the world. The FIFA World Cup might be the most important of all, but the UEFA Champions League, Premier League, Bundesliga, and others are also among the most popular tournaments. Meanwhile, football is mostly known for the NFL games, though College Football also has millions of fans in America.


Since soccer is more popular around the world, soccer players can be found in different parts of the world. Many talents have been produced in South America, Europe, Africa, or Asia. On the other hand, football players are mostly born in North America—though there are some exceptions, of course.


The biggest difference is that in soccer you score goals, and in football you score points. In soccer, the only way to score is to put the ball between the goal posts and crossbar. Each one of them counts as one in the scoresheet.

In football, a touchdown is six points, with the possibility to score an extra point from a kick attempt or go for two extra points by crossing the goal line again. Meanwhile, a field goal gives three points, while forcing a safety results in two points. Therefore, the scoreboard in football games differs very much from that of soccer.

International Institutions

Though the NFL is constantly engaging fans from overseas, it only organizes football in America. The NCAA, meanwhile, regulates student athletics in the USA, Canada, and Puerto Rico. Whereas FIFA is the governing body for professional soccer across the world.

Similarities Between Football and Soccer

As we’ve seen, football and soccer are very different. After making that clear, we can move on to the similarities these two sports do have. Believe it or not, they turn out to have some things in common.

The Ball in the Spotlight

In both sports, the possession of the ball is at stake. Though some teams may prefer to defend as a strategy—especially in soccer—at the end of the day, you cannot score without the ball. Therefore, what you watch either in a soccer or football field is how teams battle for ball possession.

The Field

The length of the soccer field is similar to that of the gridiron. Soccer fields are between 109 and 120 yards long, often coinciding with the 120 yard American football field. The soccer pitch is a bit wider, though, with a range between 70 yards to 82 yards while the football turf is about 53.3 yards wide.

The field also represents the limits of the area of play in both sports. The game is interrupted when the ball goes out of the touch line or the end of the field.


Though they differ due to the mere nature of each game, tactics have a strong influence in both soccer and football coaches. In gridiron, coaches use playbooks and teams practice plays. The tactics themselves differ, but soccer teams also study moves to later carry them to the field.


One particular similarity between these different sports is the number of players that take the field. Football teams may have larger rosters, but in the end, it’s an 11 vs. 11 game—just like soccer.


You don’t need to be an expert to realize that soccer and football are completely different games, but since the same term is often used for both, people may get confused. Hopefully, this article helped debunk some myths while explaining their differences and similarities.

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Written by
editorial team 💻
Daniel Benchimol
Co-Founder & CEO
Jee Lee
Creative Director
Kelvin Loyola
Editor Blog
Daniela Bardales
UX - UI Designer
Martin O' Donnell
Editor Blog
Bianca Schinca
Blog Designer

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It is made for the sports fan simply looking to discover the most crucial moments of their favorite sport.
learn more