17 million kids can’t be wrong. Soccer is a FUN game to play. Yet many adults don’t. Considering how many people are out of shape and don’t get enough exercise, soccer is a great way to get in shape. All you need is a fairly flat field, some cones, a ball, and some pinnies (color mesh jerseys). Sure, nets are nice, but they aren’t a requirement. Cones work just fine.

What’s that you say? You don’t think you can get 22 people together? No problem – play small side. Believe it or not, you’ll get MUCH more exercise and running in a small sided match. You can play with as few as 6 players on a 20yd x 30yd field. Wal-Mart and sporting goods stores sometimes sell inexpensive folding nets that are perfect for small sided matches.

The trick is finding other people who want to play in your area. That’s where the Internet comes in…

There are over a dozen online services that can help you find players in your area for a pickup match. That’s both good and bad. It’s good in that they each offer a different level of service and features. It’s bad because it fragments an already small community. If you register on one site and a few of your neighbors register on another, you won’t meet. The trick is to find the sites that will list players in your area looking for games even if an established game hasn’t been setup. Most are free while a couple charge a nominal fee.

Below are brief overviews of a number of the sites out there, in no particular order. If you know of others, by all means post in the comments.

  1. Socster – This soccer specific site is very easy to navigate and is helpful not only in finding established games, but in forming them as well. You can setup a game with a minimum number of players needed. When enough other players in your area signup to play, the system emails everyone saying that there are enough players to play. They also have nice integrations with Google. They include a Google Map showing game locations as well as links that provide directions and calendar reminders. They recently added weather reports to the game pages, including a neat ‘when is sunset’ feature for fields without lights. They also support other countries beyond the US, while most of the other sites are limited to the states. Their attendance feature keeps track of who has said they plan to attend to help ensure you have enough players on a scheduled day. Finally, you can even post comments about each game in the discussion area. They have a number of demo videos outlining the site features so you can see how the site works even if you don’t have an account yet. They have a reasonable number of games in their system which is good.
  2. GameSnake – This site is a commercial multi-sport pickup site. It not only makes it easy to find pickup games, but also allows for the management of amateur teams. Participants can earn color jerseys based on participation. Here is their description of the service:

    • First, you join GameSnake for FREE!
    • You tell GameSnake a little about yourself, about the sports you want to play and where you want to play them.
    • Games are started and listed in GameSnake by you or other players.
    • GameSnake searches for available games in your area, determines which games match your interests and then lets you know about them. You can decide to join the games that match your interests. Each game listing has details about the game and where it is to be played, you just sign up and show up.
    • If you have started a game, it helps recruit other players and lets you know how many players are signed-up.
    • Learn about the people that you play with: their statistics, rankings, as well as any positive or negative feedback from other members who have played with them.

    Unfortunately you can’t seem to search for games without creating an account first.

  3. InfiniteSoccer – This site handles both players and games. Statistics can be kept for games and players. Leagues can be included and searched for more formalized play. They also include a ‘Trash Talk’ module for fun. Seems to suffer from a lack of games and players (only 60 ‘active’ players listed, though , with just over 150 ‘groups’)
  4. LocalSoccerGames – This site was designed to navigate much like a Yahoo directory. Simply click on your state to see the available matches. it doesn’t appear to have much in the way of communication and management tools. Very limited selection of games.
  5. Meetup – Meetup has been around for a long time and is used to organize events and meetings of all kinds. They have a section dedicated to pickup soccer. You simply enter your zip code and the system returns any organized games in your area. One unique feature that is very useful is if no games are found in your area, the system returns any other users in your area who also are looking for a pickup game. This can make it easy to organize a game if the people are in a close enough area. The nice thing about Meetup is that it has extensive group and event management tools. However, organizing an event costs the organizer money ($19/month) which is often spread out to participants. Meetup is a powerful platform for organizing events, however it lacks many of the game and team management features some free services provide.
  6. PickUpGame – This multi-sport site is primarily a service to link up players of a given sport in a given area. It uses forums to manage events by state, limiting how they can be searched and managed. Their map of places to play shows very few events. A search of my area turned up one player in a wide radius.
  7. PlayNotWatch – This multi-sport site features a clean design and allows for the management of players, teams, leagues, and pickup games. Profiles can be created for each and it will list teams/leagues/games that are looking for new players. Beware of the search defaults. If you just toss in your zip code, it defaults to ‘within ANY miles’ meaning you get ALL the games across the country. It also suffers from a lack of use, with only 37 pickup games listed for soccer in the US.
  8. SoccerMatchMaker – This site is well designed and has a clean interface. In addition to searches for pickup games, teams, and leagues, you can manage a team, complete with rosters and game schedules. It has a fair amount of data, including over 1500 pickup games and almost 3000 players. There is extensive information about pickup games including desired colors for shirts, surfaces, etc. Note that you cannot type in a date for the search, you HAVE to use the little popup calendar. You should be allowed to do both. I also wish you could do a search without including dates.
  9. Sportsvite – This multi-sport site allows for the management of pickup games, teams, and leagues. Each pickup game includes interested players and updated notes if they can make the next date or not. One handy feature related to teams is you can search for teams looking for players and teams looking for other teams to play which is handy. Information on each pickup game is limited, but team information is more in depth including a skills chart. Not sure how many games they have in their system. A search of central North Carolina within 100 miles for soccer turned up 0 games. May vary by location.
  10. Upcoming.org – This site is more of a social calendar site for all types of events. They include tags for sports, but not for soccer that I can tell. A search for soccer in All Areas turned up mostly professional matches and fundraisers.
  11. YoPlayas – This multi-sport site is meant to be a classified service for sports players. You list your profile and people can search for players based on sport and metro area (not zip code) The interface is very simple – you get a list of players with excerpts from their listings. A search for soccer turned up less than 200 players.
  12. Zvents – This is an events management system. You can search for What, When, and Where.. A search for soccer in my area turned up nothing. Still would be useful for listing a pickup game you organized.
  13. Joga – I’ve tried to get my brain around Joga. I keep coming back to ‘MySpace for Soccer’, but the interface is always so limiting. When you login, you get nothing unless you’re an active user and the search seems to be crudely done. A search for pickup games in Communities turned up only two. You do get features like forums and event management so it could be used for pickup games. I’m just not sure anyone would find your event if you created it.

Clearly, not all sites are created equal. However, many of the sites have features that make it easy to manage a pickup game or find one. Clearly, if you are looking for a game, search all of them and create profiles on the few that will notify you if a pickup game is created in your area. If you are looking to setup a new pickup game, I’d highly recommend posting it on as many sites as you can to get the word out. Once you get enough players, you should decide which site has the features you want for the game and use it to manage the game (i.e. participant responses, roster management, mass emails, etc)

The bottom line is you have no excuse for not grabbing some cleats and a ball because you don’t know where soccer is being played. Now it’s fairly easy to find out.
Just make sure your insurance premiums are paid up!