Soccer in the USA

Posted By BrokenClaw on September 18, 2007

In case you hadn’t noticed, the FIFA Women’s World Cup tournament is in full swing in China. We all know that football is the most popular sport in the world. That’s soccer to those of us in the USA, and since this article is about the USA, I will call it soccer. Last month I wrote an article about youth soccer, but this time I’m thinking about soccer as a spectator sport.

I remember listening to a sports talk radio program during the men’s World Cup. The host was interviewing a spokesperson from the local Major League Soccer team. Naturally the conversation turned immediately to the topic of why soccer has never caught on as a spectator sport in the US, and will probably never be able to compete with football. The spokesperson said that people need to see the game and learn about each player’s strengths, in the same way that fans of football know the difference between a defensive lineman and a running back. By knowing more about individual players, the fan can appreciate the subtleties of individual play. Hmmm… that makes sense, but who’s going to sit through a bunch of games to try and do that? Sorry, not me.

Then the host brought up the issue with scoring. Sports fans in the US love to see scoring, he said, and soccer just doesn’t have enough scoring to get fans excited. You could tell that the soccer spokesperson was tired of answering that question. He responding in a slightly sarcastic tone with something like, “If we made a goal worth seven points, would that make it more exciting?” And then he added, “A 3-2 game in soccer has just as much scoring as a 21-14 game of football.” Well… not quite.

Technically, a 7-point touchdown consists of two separate plays — the touchdown and the extra point. So a 21-14 football game has at least ten scoring plays. And that’s the real difference. On every single play in football, either team can score. There is always the possibility of the defense intercepting a pass or recovering a fumble and scoring themselves. Every play. In soccer, when the ball is at one end of the field, there’s no way a guy is going to kick it into the other goal. The goalie might as well be having a snack. In football, every player is involved in every play.

So I sat down and actually watched a whole game from the World Cup. What a surprise, the score ended nil-nil. That’s zero-zero. No goals. Nada. Zilch. In fact, there were three games played that day. Two of them ended 0-0, and the other one ended 1-0. The only goal scored that day was scored on a penalty kick. Gee, I wish I had watched that game instead. I imagine there were quite a few exciting close calls, too, with corner kicks and such. Are the goalies that good?

So what’s with the goalie thing anyway. In a sport which touts itself as true football, why is the most prominent player on the field, with his colorful costume, allowed to use his hands? Doesn’t that make it handball? And another thing, what’s up with the flops that players take whenever someone bumps them? It seems like it’s part of the game, to pretend someone made you fall down on the grass. What’s up with that? In football, if you get knocked down and don’t get up, your team gets penalized.

But let’s get back to that facetious suggestion of making a goal worth more points. It might not be such a bad idea. Not just to make it worth more, but to have varying points based on how the goal is scored. For example, if a goal is scored from outside the penalty box, make it 3 points. That would include corner kicks that go in untouched by another offensive player. That would be cool. For goals scored from within the penalty box, you get 2 points. And penalty kicks would be 1 point. Hey, it’s beginning to sound like basketball. Then you’d have some excitement.

Imagine a team with a 2 point lead in the closing minutes of play. The opposing team could still take the lead with a long goal. The leading team can’t just play keep-away like they do now. If the opponent gets the ball deep, should they commit an intentional foul and give the opponent a penalty kick? Hey, I’m beginning to like this soccer thing… oh, wait, it’s imaginary soccer.

While doing a little (very little) research for this article, I typed www.worldcupsoccer.com into my browser. Sure enough, there’s an unofficial fan site there with pictures and links and stories. The headline reads, “Brazil Champions!” Uhhh… wasn’t that 2002? Isn’t Italy the reigning champion since 2006? Yeah… apparently even the soccer fans lose interest.

Earlier this year, ESPN started a campaign to advertise their coverage of Major League Soccer. They used the slogan, “You’re a fan, you just don’t know it yet.” Sorry, I’m not, and I know it.

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