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Soccer is commonly referred to as the most popular sport on the planet, but this news has yet to reach us in the US. There are many reasons for this, and one of them is the lack of information:
While entertaining to watch, soccer holds a few mysteries that not many fans are willing to dive into and find out more about. These include some rules, such as offside, as well as some seemingly boring technical data and requirements. However, once you get deep enough into the sport, no topic is boring and unnecessary.
As fans of soccer, we commonly tend to disregard the technicalities behind the game. While the rules of the game are something we can easily be acquainted with, comprehending and putting into perspective the size of the soccer field is the thing most American fans struggle with. For this reason, we’ve decided to dedicate this article to comparing soccer field size to the size of a football field; the size of which most Americans should be familiar. Enjoy the reading!
Is a soccer field the same as a football field?
Soccer and American football are two entirely different games. While not having many things in common, one of the similarities between these two sports is the shape of the field of play. This is probably why many soccer and football fans commonly wonder whether the two fields are the same and can be used interchangeably?
The short answer to both of these questions is no; a soccer field is not the same as a football field and one of the fields can’t be used for both sports. However, as mentioned previously, there are some similarities between the two. Let’s take a look at a few categories and find out what these fields have in common and what sets them apart:
Soccer and football field shape
Soccer fields, as well as the football fields, are both rectangular in shape. This means that that the width of both fields is shorter than the length. In soccer, both of these dimensions can be variable, as long as the shape of the field remains unchanged: The sideline, also called the touchline, always needs to remain longer than the goal line in soccer. In football, the rectangular shape needs to be honored, but the dimensions can’t be changed from the prescribed ones. We will discuss the specific measurements of both the soccer and football fields further on in this text.
Soccer and football field surface
The surface of the field is another element that soccer and football field have in common, in most cases. Both soccer and football can be played on a natural or an artificial surface. When it comes to the fields in the US, football is more commonly played on artificial turf, while soccer is more commonly played on natural grass:
In football, it is common for teams to use artificial grass on their field. According to 2019 data, 12 NFL teams have artificial turf on their home fields, while 19 play on natural grass. When it comes to soccer, the teams are much more prone to using real grass: Just 6 MLS teams play on artificial turf, while 21 teams have natural grass on their home fields.
While both sports still prefer natural grass, it is obvious that the difference in artificial and natural turf use is much more prominent in the MLS. Recent data also shows that NFL is moving towards artificial turfs, while the MLS is moving in the other direction.
Soccer and football field markings
Here’s one of the most obvious distinguishing characteristics of the field: If you’re ever confused whether a field is meant for soccer or football, just look at the markings on it. In soccer and football, both artificial and natural surfaces are green while the markings on the field are white. As the two sports have entirely different principles of play, it’s no surprise that these markings are different.
The soccer field has the following markings:
- 2 Penalty Areas
- 2 Goal Areas
- A Penalty Spot
- 4 Corner Arcs
- A Halfway Line
- A Center Circle
- A Center Spot
The football field is distinguished by the following markings:
- 2 End Zones
- 10-Yard Intervals
- 5-Yard Lines
- 1-Yard Hash Marks
- 1-Yard-Long Scrimmage Line
- Numerals in Multiples of 10
As we can see from the field markings listed above, the only thing that the soccer and football field have in common in this term is the color of the markings. The two sports have such a different set of markings that it would never be possible to use the fields interchangeably.
Soccer and football field goalposts
Goalposts are another element that soccer and football have in common. However, having goalposts is not enough to consider the fields similar, let alone the same. This is especially true if we take the difference between goalposts in these two sports into consideration. Here are their characteristics:
In soccer, goalposts need to be:
- Center-positioned at both of the goal lines.
- The crossbar is required to be 8 feet (2.44 meters) above ground and right over the goal line.
- The vertical posts that hold the crossbar are required to be 8 yards (7.32 meters) apart.
In football, goalposts need to be:
- Center-positioned at both of the goal lines.
- The crossbar is required to be 10 feet (3 meters) above ground, but not over the end line.
- The vertical posts are required to extend over the crossbar, standing at 18 feet 6 inches (5.6 meters) apart, and 35 feet (10.7 meters) high.
The most significant goalpost difference is where the ball should go; while football players aim to get the ball between and the posts and above the crossbar, soccer players aim for the space between the posts and below the crossbar.
Soccer field dimensions
There’s no better way to compare the two sports fields but look at their actual dimensions. First up is soccer:
According to FIFA, the field of play in soccer needs to be at least 100 yards or 300 feet, long. For our European friends, this translates to 90 meters. The maximum length for a soccer field is limited to 130 yards or 390 feet. This measurement translates to 120 meters.
When it comes to the width of the soccer field, the minimum is set at 50 yards or 150 feet. Converted into European measurements, a soccer field can’t be narrower than 45 meters. The maximum width is set at 100 yards or 300 feet. This measurement converts to 90 meters. As we’ve learned, the width of the field can’t exceed the length of it.
In international soccer matches, slightly different measurement rules apply:
The field must be at least 110 yards or 330 feet, or 110 meters, long. The maximum length of a soccer field for international matches is set at 120 yards or 360 feet. This translates to 110 meters.
The minimum width of a soccer field for international matches is set at 70 yards or 210 feet. The conversion to meters shows the number of 64. The maximum width of a soccer pitch for international matches is 80 yards or 240 feet, or 75 meters.
As evident from the figures listed in this section of the text, soccer field builders have a fairly wide range to choose from, both in length and width. The maximums are only chosen by those who are building to impress, while minimums are reserved for those who are looking to spend as little money as possible to have a FIFA-certified field. Most new stadiums are built somewhere in the middle of those two measurements (more on that later).
Football field dimensions
After listing all of the soccer field dimensions, the time to learn more about football field measurements has arrived. Here are the main ones:
According to the NFL, the game of football is played on a rectangular field that is 120 yards or 360 feet, long and 53 1/3 yards or 160 feet wide. For our European readers, the dimensions of the football field are 110 meters in length and just under 50 meters in width.
It should be kept in mind that all football fields come with a 10-yard end zone on each end of the field, meaning that the actual field of the play comes out to 100 yards or 300 feet.
While the length and width of a soccer field can be variable, there are no minimum and maximum dimensions that the teams and those building the fields can choose from in football; football fields have strict measurements that need to be adhered to.
Which is longer a soccer field or a football field?
Soccer fields are typically longer than football fields if we’re only considering the field of play or goal line to goal line measurements. Before explaining further, let’s take a look at a short table that compares the dimensions of these two fields:
|Soccer Field||Football Field|
|Length||Minimum: 100 yards, Maximum: 130 yards||100 yards between goal lines (120 yards including end zones)|
|Width||Minimum: 50 yards, Maximum: 100 yards||53 1/3 yards (160 feet)|
As we can see from the table, and as we’ve learned from the previous two sections of this text, soccer fields can vary in length and width, while football fields need to meet specific dimension criteria. While we can say that the minimum requirements for a soccer field nearly match the football field ones, we should also keep in mind that soccer fields are rarely built to the minimum requirements. In the English Premier League, for example, a typical field is 115 yards long and 74 yards wide.
If we disregard the end zones, which add 10 yards to each side of the football field, soccer fields are longer. Also, if we take the maximum length and width measurements that FIFA allows, we can also conclude that a soccer field is longer than a football field. However, things are more complicated in practice. A typical soccer field is rarely built to meet the maximum requirements, but rather to the Premier League average, we mentioned before. Therefore, a soccer field is not longer than a football field.
A complicated question with a complicated answer, the length of the field is a source of endless confusion among fans and endless discussion among connoisseurs of soccer and football. It’s up to you to decide which measurements should be considered and take a stance. If you ask me, a soccer field is longer.
Is the MLS field smaller than FIFA?
This is another big question that has a semi-complicated answer. So far, we’ve mentioned several times that soccer fields, unlike those used for football, can have variable dimensions. What this means is that most soccer fields in the world are built differently. From our earlier Premier League example, we can see that a typical European field is 115 yards long and 74 yards wide. FIFA chooses this number as the optimum size. However, there are fields in this league, and in Europe in general, that go up or down a few yards.
The situation is similar in the US. The MLS standards prescribe that a soccer field can’t be less than 110 yards in length and 70 yards in width. The American soccer league has soccer fields that are 10 yards longer and wider than the required minimum (120×80 yards), such as the Yankee Stadium in New York.
The only way to really compare the MLS and FIFA fields is to take a look at the average soccer field size: While both FIFA and the MLS have bigger and smaller fields under their jurisdiction, the average size of the field is the same, at 115 yards in length, and 74 yards in width. This ensures that players around the world play on the same pitch, with no much need for adjustment.
To answer the initial question, the typical MLS field is not smaller than a field that is built to FIFA specifications. FIFA and the MLS share requirements for field size, if we take FIFA’s international match dimension restrictions. National leagues, however, can be played on a smaller pitch than the MLS requires, according to the FIFA rulebook.
Can soccer be played on a football field?
According to everything we learned above, soccer and football fields have too many differences to be used interchangeably. However, this doesn’t stop the majority of high schools across the US to use one field for both sports.
Due to a lack of funding, most US schools use their football fields for soccer. Considering the minimum requirements that FIFA set for a soccer field, we can see that a standard football field meets those requirements. But, does it mean that just because something can be done it should be?
Those who have access to a field that is purpose-built for soccer should always opt to use that field instead of a football field. While goals can be dragged on and double lines can be drawn onto the field, playing on a soccer-specific field offers more benefits. Getting used to the size of the field, the feel of the surface, as well as the speed of the ball on the surface is something that can’t be replicated on a field that is built for an entirely different sport. This is why playing soccer on a football field is only acceptable at an amateur level.
We are all aware of how much more popular football is than soccer in the US. For this reason, not many schools and communities find it feasible to invest in building a soccer field. Still, having any field to practice in play on is better than having none, so, until the popularity of soccer reaches the European levels, we’ll have to settle.