I know what you're thinking: only ten?
Before long, the World Cup will begin, and we'll hear all about the "beautiful game" and how it's the world's most popular sport and how Americans are so dumb for not liking it and blah blah blah. I'll watch the games, in part because I enjoy and appreciate athletic competition at its highest levels (additionally, I like the Indians) and also because I like cheering for the USA, but my participation in the World Cup should not be construed as a tacit endorsement of the game of Association Football nor, even worse, the culture surrounding the game.
Thus, I give you: ten reasons why soccer sucks. I apologize for not allowing room for that weird thing where you can't substitute freely or the nauseating "Olé" song.
10) "The Beautiful Game"
This is, to me, roughly as inapt as "sweet science" is for boxing. Just calling it this does not make it so, and I completely fail to see how there's any more beauty or elegance in soccer than in, for example, basketball or baseball.
In fact, I'd go the other way with it. I'll get to the stultifyingly-low scoring problem later, but I think the difficulty with notching a goal significantly reduces the elegance of the game. So much good teamwork and skill typically go all for naught because of one defender making a play, meaning that outstanding teamwork and skill almost always goes unrewarded and fluke goals and shootouts take on greater importance. That, to me, is not the mark of a well-designed game. Nor is the extensive midfield play so brilliantly lampooned by The Simpsons some years ago.
9) Injury time
I remember in 2002 when someone first explained this concept to me, and eight years later it makes no more sense. The gist of it is as such: a half in soccer is 45 minutes of running clock, but only the official on the field really knows how much time remains in the half/game. The time you see displayed on the scoreboard is an approximation; the real time is that plus some amount of "injury time" that the official adds solely at his discretion.
This time is, of course, added to account for the time players spend on the ground faking shin injuries, regarding which I have to wonder: why not just stop the clock if someone's hurt? Does it really make more sense to add semi-arbitrary time to the game instead of just stopping the clock and resuming? No, it does not.
8) Yellow cards and red cards
If you do something bad on the field, the referee comes out and holds up a yellow card. If you do a second bad thing, or one really bad thing, he comes out with a red card. I'm fascinated by the fact that they haven't instituted any better in-game discipline system than this. Surely FIFA is aware of the NHL's penalty box concept. The only way I would like this is if the player had to carry the card around all game.
7) Soccer player guys are jerks
You know it, they know it, we all know it. If you're a soccer player or former soccer player, and you are not a jerk, then I apologize to you personally for this statement because I recognize that it is a generalization and that there are always exceptions to highly subjective rules such as this. But most of you are, sorry.
6) The smugness of soccer fans
I know, you all think your game is the best, and you all think some day Americans will come around and love The Beautiful Game, just like we all did in 1994. You are firmly convinced of this. And you are wrong.
There's a misconception among supporters of Association Football that Americans' indifference to their favorite sport is due to a lack of exposure or familiarity; that if they'd just give it a chance, they'd see how great it is. Yet this is not consistent with the reality of the situation. In fact, soccer-playing is incredibly widespread in America; pretty much every kid starts playing soccer at a young age, when they're rather impressionable and could reasonably be expected to develop an attachment to the game. I myself played from the ages of 6-11. Part of the reason why so many youngsters play soccer is this: it can be played with virtually no athletic skill.
Now, settle, soccer fans. I'm not saying that soccer players are unathletic. Far from it. I think their skill and physical stamina is remarkable, regardless of how I feel about the game they play. I'm a marathon-level runner and just watching soccer makes me tired. I hate boxing more than anyone I know, but it doesn't mean I don't appreciate pugilists' athleticism.
My point is that, more than other popular sports, soccer can be played with no talent whatsoever as a youngster. You can wander around the field, kick the ball in the general direction of the opponents' goal, and consider yourself to have a reasonably successful game. There is no baseline of skill needed to participate in soccer. This is in contrast to baseball or basketball, where any deficiency in ability is quickly manifested by a swing of the bat or a dribble of the ball. In those games, at least some measure of talent is needed to participate, unlike soccer.
Yet though we all play the game in our youth, most Americans do not stick with soccer, and there's a simple explanation why: we discover other, better sports. Once we get to 6th grade or so and acquire the coordination that allows us to start playing baseball, football, and basketball, we pretty much all leave soccer behind and devote our time and interest to other, more fun games. Sorry to break it to you this way, but it's true. Pretty much every other country in the world does not, for various cultural and financial reasons, have these options, and so their best athletes stick with soccer, but we're lucky here in the States to have a multitude of great sports.
That being the approximate average score of every international soccer game I've ever seen. Teams simply don't score enough for me to be interested in the game, and when they do it's so frequently of a fluke nature that it annoys me that the club gets to advance on such a silly play. It also enhances the value of the penalty kicks, which seems like undue punishment for an in-zone infraction, since a penalty kick is comically easy to score on compared to normal play. I remember the US' 1-1 tie against Italy, reading about what a classic game that was. Two goals were scored all game and one was an own goal. Riveting. I know there are low-scoring games in other sports - I just watched the Indians' near-perfect-game-against the other night - but the problem is when that becomes the standard.
Those scarves that supporters of soccer teams wear? Super lame. Can I interest you in a hat?
3) Jersey advertisements
Soccer jerseys make me want to puke when I see the logos of corporations festooned across the front, where there should be either the player's number or the team's logo or a crest. Yes, there's advertising all over American sports, on outfield walls, the boards of a hockey rink, and basketball scorer's tables, but not on the jerseys themselves. Some things are off-limits. And it's not even a little patch: it dominates the front of the jersey. Look at Manchester United (England's answer to the Yankees): their unis have a giant AIG logo on the front, which is appalling on several different levels. I will never be OK with this.
It's weird to me to see a fan walking around with an international soccer jersey with a big corporate logo. Do you want to be a fan, or a billboard? The day you see me wearing an Indians, Browns, or Cavs jersey with Progressive, Visa, or Quicken Loans across the chest in front of the team logo, just come up to me and punch me right there.
2) Two-game series
During a recent business trip to Europe, it came to my attention that the Champions' League tournament was being held. This pits the winners of the various national top leagues against one another for a sort of Intercontinental Championship even more prestigious than the one that the WWE offers. The format is a tournament-style draw, like the NBA and NHL, only the multi-game series that teams play are, yep, two games in length. Two. Not an odd number. An even one.
Are you wondering yet what happens if the teams split these contests? Glad you asked! Ties are broken by goal differential. So if you claim a 2-0 victory and lose 1-0, you advance. I would hope that any American sports fan finds that as hideous as I do. A win is a win. What if the World Series was six games, and the club with the better run differential won? Imagine: you could have a team up 3-2 with a +10 run differential via some blowouts, as the two teams head into the decisive Game 6. The team who led loses by 8 runs, then takes the field in celebration of their championship. Would that make any sense to anybody?
Astute readers must now wonder: what if the net goals are zero for both sides? Glad you asked! The advantage then goes to the squad who netted the most away goals. I'm not even making this up. If you win a 1-0 decision on your home field and lose to your opponent 2-1 in their stadium, you advance because you scored one more road goal than them. I'm absolutely speechless at this point.
Have you gotten to the next question yet? What if both teams mirror each other's performance - you win 1-0 at home and lose 1-0 on the road? Frankly, I don't know. And I don't even care at this point. As arbitrary as they've made the process up to this point, nothing would really surprise me: Rock, paper, scissors; inka dinka; cornhole tournament; coin flip; reading entrails; Astrology. Nothing.
1) Penalty Kicks
Without a doubt the most indefensible aspect of Association Football is the practice of deciding even the most important games via penalty kicks in cases where the game's normal 90-minute length, arbitrary injury time, and overtime cannot produce a winner. I don't see how even the most ardent backer of soccer can defend this lunacy.
I like to present my opposition to penalty kicks via any number of analogies. What if tie baseball games were decided by a Home Run Derby? What if NBA ties were broken by playing HORSE? What if a field-goal kicking contest decided NFL overtime contests (OK, you got me - it sort-of already does, but that rule bugs me too). I know the NHL has shootouts, but those are used only for regular-season tilts; come playoff time, no one goes home until a goal is scored, and that's how it should be. Playoff hockey OT winners are such incredibly special moments in sports that I can't believe soccer wouldn't want to capture that on its biggest stages. Yet even soccer's World Cup final can be decided by penalty kicks.
So what am I suggesting to remedy the penalty kick situation? Well, I'm under no pressure to do so, since I don't really care, but why not: just keep playing until someone scores? Crazy, I know.
Saturday, June 5
I know what you're thinking: only ten?