While American sports fans might excitedly look to autumn as signaling the start of the pro football season, fans of association football (or soccer) are also feeling very excited. The reason? Football leagues around the world are in the early stages of a brand new season.

If you’re not too familiar with international soccer but want to get acquainted with a new league, team and exciting upcoming events, keep reading…

Getting To Know The Top International Soccer Leagues

While you’ll find dozens of soccer leagues all around the world, as even the United States has its Major League Soccer (MLS), everyone agrees that the most acclaimed and widely followed leagues are in Europe. The perpetual top three are England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, and Germany’s Bundesliga.

It’s worth noting that the Premier League is itself considered a world apart from other football leagues because of the ultra-competitiveness of the league, where several teams at any given time vie for the league trophy. Compare this to La Liga, where it’s a given that either Real Madrid or Barcelona will likely come out on top. In fact, the clashes between these long-time rivals are so famous, they’ve earned a nickname: El Clasico.

Though these leagues have 20 teams, aside from the Premiere League, it’s usually a very talented and wealthy few that perpetually compete for the top position or the ability to participate in the Champions League.

Still, the lack of competitiveness doesn’t stop La Liga or Bundesliga from being loved by soccer fans — and certain clubs tend to earn the lion’s share of the love and global fame. Some of the top teams, or clubs, in the Premier League include Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester City. As for Bundesliga, the more popular clubs are Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and Borussia Mönchengladbach. Lastly, La Liga remains a mountain perpetually dominated by Real Madrid and Barcelona, who are far and away the best known and best supported clubs in the Spanish league.

The Champions League And Europa League

Another benefit to European football is that the teams don’t merely compete in their respective leagues. These clubs also compete in UEFA-sanctioned cross-league competitions known as the Champions League and Europa League. Champions League football in particular is coveted as the ultimate proof of that a team belongs among the best of the best in soccer, as only the top teams in certain leagues are invited to compete.

Still, some soccer fans have issues with these UEFA events because they typically are played out in a series of games that coincide with regular season play. In fact, regular season international football will often be put on hold for a week or two throughout the season to make way for Champions League and Europa League games. When combined with the international break pauses that occur for national team play (typically in preparation for World or European Cup soccer), it can be a very nerve-wracking time as fans can only hope their favorite players don’t return to to league action with a serious injury.

With International Soccer, The Stakes Are Higher

Imagine a poor performing NFL or NBA team did so bad that it was kicked out of the NFL, with another team rising from a lower league to take its place. It may sound unfathomable, but this is the reality awaiting the bottom three teams when a season ends. At the same time, the top three performing teams from a lower-tiered team are promoted to the top league.

And so international football sets itself apart from the American sports scene that we’re used to, when everything is reset. As a soccer fan, you’d not only want your team to compete for a major trophy… you’d want them to avoid getting kicked out of the league altogether, a process known as relegation.

As any international football fan can tell you, supporting a team in any of the major leagues can be emotionally exhausting. The matches are intense, the stakes are high, and there’s a lot to keep up with. However, you’ll be hard pressed to find a passionate soccer fan who ever regretted their love of the sport. Once you understand a bit more about the sport, there’s a good chance you’ll come to feel the same way, too.