Men’s vs Women’s Soccer: What Are The Differences?

Kids the world over play soccer in their neighborhoods and on local teams. At younger ages, these teams are co-ed, but as the children get older, the teams are split up by gender. This continues from small community teams, through high school and college, and into the professional realm. 

This isn’t a surprise—most sports are broken up along gender lines. Men’s and women’s soccer are a lot alike, but there are some key differences in the games, which we’ll explore below.

What are the main differences between men’s and women’s soccer? Men’s and women’s soccer share many elements, but some major differences include the general style of play, the popularity of men’s sports over women’s, the pay of the players, and the history of men’s and women’s soccer in national and international tournaments.

What’s The Same?

We’ll start by discussing the things that are the same about men’s and women’s soccer, and it’s more than in some other sports. Perhaps the most notable is that men and women must follow the same rules when they’re on the field. All of the Laws of the Game apply to both genders.

The Ball

For example, men’s and women’s soccer players use the same size soccer ball, which is a size 5 ball. Players aged 15 and over, regardless of gender, play with this size ball.

This is in contrast to sports like basketball, where even the pros play with different sized basketballs. In the NBA, the ball is around one inch larger in circumference than the balls in the WNBA. Also, a softball is bigger than a baseball, and while the two sports are not exactly the same, they’re often compared along gender lines.

The Time

Additionally, men and women soccer players are on the field for the same length of time: 90 minutes plus any stoppage time.

This is a contrast to sports like tennis where the women (in some cases) play fewer sets compared to the men. This is mostly in the Grand Slam tournaments, where the men play five sets per match and the women play three sets per match.

The Field Size

The field is also the same size for men’s and women’s soccer. The goals are also the same across both sports, although the goalkeepers in women’s soccer tend to be smaller, sometimes putting them at a disadvantage. 

While it’s much more common for men and women to play on the same size field or court, there are a couple that have different sizes. Again looking at softball, the softball field is smaller than a baseball field. 

Also, a WNBA court is the same size and dimension as an NBA court, but there is a difference in the placement of the three-point line. WNBA courts use the FIBA measurements (22.15 feet from the basket), whereas NBA courts use a three-point line that is 23 feet, 9 inches away from the basket.

As a note, the field is sometimes made of different material, with men almost always playing on real grass and women playing on artificial turf, which is a point of contention among female players who cite negative side effects such as increased risk of injury.

First Major Difference: Style of Play

Now that we’ve discussed the similarities, we’ll move on to some key differences. If you’re a fan of men’s soccer and watch a women’s game, you’ll likely notice a few ways the style of play is different.

Aggression

In general, men play a more aggressive style of soccer. This means that there is more tackling, less open space on the field, and there tend to be fewer penalties and fewer injuries in women’s soccer compared to men’s soccer. 

However, some of the women’s players are quite aggressive, and this does lead to injuries. In 2008, American player Abby Wambach collided with Brazilian Andréia Rosa in an international friendly game. The impact was so severe that Abby Wambach suffered fractures in the left tibia and fibula (the bones of the lower leg).

Technical Skills

Additionally, women who play soccer tend to focus on the more technical aspect of the game, playing in a more spread-out manner with more coordinated team efforts. This, along with lack of penalties and injuries, means that women’s games are smoother and have far fewer interruptions. 

So while women do have the same rules around stoppage time as men, there’s usually less time added onto the end of a women’s soccer game.

Pacing Strategies

Physical differences between the genders are also somewhat to blame for a smoother-paced women’s game. Men have biological advantages in lung capacity, muscle building, and in endurance, which means they can expend more energy over the 90 minutes. Women are more likely to conserve energy by playing a more technical game.

Second Major Difference: Popularity

Worldwide, men’s soccer is way more popular than women’s soccer. However, It might be easy to assume that men’s soccer is always more popular than women’s soccer, but that isn’t necessarily the case, especially in America.

The following statistics show that women’s soccer is sometimes more popular than men’s:

  • US women’s soccer games make more in revenue for the United States Soccer Federation than the men’s games since 2016.
  • Nike’s top-selling soccer jersey (in a single season) was the 2019 USWNT home jersey. This is compared to sales for both men’s and women’s jerseys.
  • Almost a quarter more people (22%) watched the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final in 2019 compared to the 2018 Men’s World Cup Final. This game was the highest-viewed soccer game in American history, regardless of gender.

All of those statistics focus on Americans watching soccer, but this isn’t always in line with trends globally. 

Overall, the Men’s World Cup has a significantly higher viewership. Additionally, the Men’s World Cup has more teams enter, since more countries are able to field a complete women’s national team.

However, these numbers are a bit skewed because the availability of women’s soccer isn’t as great as the men’s. The games are not as well televised or streamed, and that cuts down on viewership. 

If tournaments and companies take the time to promote and broadcast women’s soccer, the numbers show that fans do watch the games, and not just in America.

Third Major Difference: Pay

This is a big one, but it’s not unique to soccer. In every sport, men make more money than women.

Here’s a comparison between the salaries in the top leagues in the US, the average salary in the top women’s soccer league NWSL, and the highest men’s soccer league, MLS.

LeagueAverage SalaryHighest-Paid Player
NWSL$54,000$281,000
MLS$312,470$6,300,000

Check out these articles to compare further:

With this increase in interest in women’s soccer, some players are taking legal action to ensure that the women who play soccer professionally are compensated fairly. 

In 2022, after a six-year legal battle with the the United States Soccer Federation, the USWNT received $24 million in back payment and agreements for equal pay in the future. Players Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan were vocal about their class-action suit and were seen as the face of the equal pay movement in US soccer.

Perhaps one of the most striking instances of pay equality is that, even though women’s soccer was rising in popularity, the USWNT received only $2 million for their 2015 victory at the Women’s World Cup, while the men’s USNT was awarded $9 million when they were eliminated in the round of 16.

Hopefully, more women will be able to play soccer professionally as strides are taken to ensure they’re compensated fairly.

You can read more about why female soccer players earn less here.

Fourth Major Difference: History

Even though the game of soccer has been evolving over centuries, its first foray into international competition was during the early 1900s. 

Men’s soccer was involved in the Olympics from 1900 onward (except for the 1932 Games). Women’s soccer has only been included in the Olympic Games since 1996. stretching back to 1930. 

The Men’s FIFA World Cup has been held since 1930, taking place every four years except for 1942 and 1946 due to World War II. Thus, there have been 21 Men’s FIFA World Cup tournaments, with only eight countries ever winning the final over the 21 tournaments (France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, England, and Uruguay).

The FIFA Women’s World Cup actually predates Olympic women’s soccer, with the first tournament taking place in 1991. So far, there have been eight total FIFA Women’s World Cups, with four nations emerging on top (the US, Japan, Germany, and Norway).

These two major international tournaments show that women’s soccer is much younger than its male counterpart at a professional, organized level. However, hopefully, more women will be able to take their soccer aspirations all the way to these elite stages.

Conclusion

At their core, men’s and women’s soccer are incredibly similar. The game is, fundamentally, the same for both types of teams.

However, fans will notice a different style of play across the two games, and there are certainly many social differences around how we as a culture treat and reward women’s soccer when compared to men’s soccer.

Connor Smith

I'm Connor, the guy behind SoccerPrime. I'm a former NCAA Div 1 college player that retired at the age of 21 due to injuries - which led me into a new career as a soccer coach.

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