Is it Called a Soccer Game or Match? (Undisputed!)

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Growing up a soccer player in the United States, I was always used to calling it a “soccer game.” It was only when I started watching and playing more professional soccer that I started hearing it referred to as a “football match.” 

While living and playing overseas, this is something I’ve adapted to. If I said anything else, someone was sure to comment on the Americanness of it. But what should a soccer competition be called? A game or match?

In this article, we’ll look closer at the semantics by diving into:

Is it a soccer game or match? Read on to find out!

female player shooting soccer ball

Is It Called Soccer or Football?

First, let’s start with the classic debate. 

Is it even “soccer” or is it football?

If you live in the United States, you’ll hear the sport called “soccer.” However, in the UK it’s called football. Most of the rest of the world also call it some version of “football” in their native language. 

A lot of people actually like to poke fun at Americans for referring to it as soccer. The real icing on the cake is that we didn’t invent the term “soccer”, the British did!

Why do Americans Call it Soccer?

So, why exactly does the United States refer to the sport as soccer while the rest of the world calls it “football?”

If you ask the average person, they may come up with a range of potential reasons, which are not rooted in fact. 

The truth is that language and the history of sports can be a bit tricky to trace. However, University of Michigan professor Stean Szymanski found that the term came from Britain. 

The word is thought to have originated in Britain at the end of the nineteenth century and was commonly used there without being considered an Americanisms. However, it appears as the popularity of soccer has grown in the U.S., the word has been used less and less in British English.

It’s Football not Soccer by Stefan Szymanski

Originally, “football” was a medieval game, with versions that have been around since the B.C. era in China. British universities began playing their version of it with certain rules. At the same time, “rugby football” was played with slightly different roles. 

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As these sports made their way to the U.S. in the early 1900s, Americans created their own version and just called it football (now known as American football). The official date of the first professional American Football game was November 12, 1892.  

What we know as soccer today was formally called “Association football.” The Brits used their common slang idiom to turn it into “soccer”, which they continued to say through the 1980s.

As soccer grew in the U.S. and Americans adopted the shortened name, it took on an “American context” and the Brits dropped it. 

To learn more about the interesting history of soccer vs football, check out this video by Name Explain!

Why Is Football Called Soccer In The USA?

What’s a Soccer Game Called?

A soccer game may be called a match or a game, depending on who you ask.

Typically in the United States, it is called a soccer “game”. In England and other countries, it may be called a match instead. 

What Do the English Call a Soccer Game?

The English refer to a soccer game as a “match.” If you travel to the UK, then you can expect people to call it a “football match” rather than a “soccer game.” 

USA vs England soccer balls

Why Do English Call Soccer a Match and American a Game?

As you may have guessed, Americans and the British use different terms to talk about an official soccer event. British English speakers will refer to it as a “match” while Americans say “game.”

It’s not extremely clear why this difference exists, but one perspective is that the words have slightly different meanings. 

It kind of helps to think about it as a video game. If you said, “I played the game” That could just mean the actual video game or a competition with another player.

Did you play THE game or A game vs someone else? It’s not quite clear how when you use the word game. 

On the other hand, a match is something done by competing teams. “Match” signifies that the game was played. 

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This is the argument shared by one user on a forum about soccer game vs match. Depending on where you look up the definitions of each, this may or may not hold up. 

Furthermore, sports that originated in the UK tend to call their competition a “match”, whereas sports that originated in the U.S. refer to it as a game. The terminology of “match” seemed not to transfer over the U.S. for soccer, where we use the homegrown “game” terminology instead. 

pile of sports gear

What Sports are Called Matches?

There are some sports that even we Americans call matches. Sports competitions that are called matches include:

  • Tennis
  • Wrestling
  • Boxing
  • Cricket
  • Golf

One interesting point to consider is a tennis match vs game. One tennis match is composed of multiple tennis games. To win a tennis “game” one player must score five points and win by a margin of two. To win the entire tennis match, the player must win based on rules regarding several games. 

HARRISON, NJ - MAY 26, 2019 U.S. Women's National Soccer Team celebrates scoring goal during friendly game against Mexico as preparation for 2019 Women's World Cup in Harrison, NJ. USA won 3 - 0

Why is it Called a Soccer Match?

The Laws of the Game refer to a soccer competition as a match. This is a large part of the reason why so many refer to it as a match. 

As mentioned formerly,  sports that originated in commonwealth countries like England tend to refer to the competitions as “matches.” 

What is the Difference Between a Game and a Match?

The difference between a game and a match can be pretty difficult to perceive. 

Let’s first examine the (relevant) definitions according to Merriam-Webster:

  • “A game is a physical or mental competition conducted according to rules with the participants in direct opposition to each other.”
  • “A match is a contest between two or more parties.”

In some cases (like tennis) a game is part of a larger competition (a match), but this does not always apply. 

While many people go back and forth on the subtle semantics of the two terms. The reality is that the two terms are interchangeable when it comes to soccer. 


In the U.S., we call it a soccer game, while in the UK (and many other places) it’s called a football match. 

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Most people do not realize that the term “soccer” actually came from Britain as a nickname for Association football. When Americans began using the name and playing the sport more, the Brits dropped it. 

Furthermore, they also refer to a soccer competition as a “match” because it follows their usual lexicon for sports terms. In the U.S. we follow our terminology by calling it a soccer game. 

When you go to consult the dictionary or official definitions, the water is even more muddled as to what the correct term is. Ultimately, the Laws of the Game due refer to it as a “match.” 

The bottom line is that if you plan to travel, play, or watch in other countries, then you’re best off referring to it as a “football match.” This terminology is even becoming slightly more popular with American professional soccer coverage. 

Soccer Analyst and Publisher at Soccer Blade | Soccer Blade | + posts

Joel is a seasoned soccer journalist and analyst with many years of experience in the field. Joel specializes in game analysis, player profiles, transfer news, and has a keen eye for the tactical nuances of the game. He played at various levels in the game and coached teams - he is happy to share his insight with you.

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