Despite the Women’s World Cup, soccer won’t be popular in American until it’s properly adjusted for our sensibilities. Here are 10 ways to do that.
America’s success in the Women’s World Cup has revived talk that soccer is about to take off as a big-time sport in the U.S. (as optimistically envisioned in the name Major League Soccer).
Well, the game — as now played by women and men — is never going to become massively popular in this country. I realized why after watching several desultory games.
Futbol is un-American.
Americans like competition. How do you note competition? By keeping score. The score of most soccer games is in the low single digits, and a 0-0 tie is not unusual.
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Soccer lovers say it doesn’t matter. It’s a beautiful game with a back-and-forth flow leading to “chances.” That’s fine for purists. But it looks to me like multiple midfield turnovers and failed crossing passes from the corners. Most Americans want to see scoring to separate winners from losers and make games more exciting.
Low-scoring, defense-dominated games are not only boring, they can be unfair. An inferior team with a lucky goal can snatch a win from a dominant team. Americans prefer fairness.
Low scores also contribute to unsportsmanlike conduct and poor officiating. When a single goal could decide a game, fouls and penalties become too important. This leads to the spectacle of players flopping in faux agony in hopes of winning the call, especially for a penalty kick. Not immune from pressure, referees realize a set piece could be a game-changer. This results in bad calls, non-calls and makeup calls. Americans don’t go to games to watch the ref or to watch athletes playing for fouls. They’d rather see players overcome fouls with their skills.
For these reasons soccer, as it is played by the world, is un-American. We need a new and improved soccer for America.
Americans like quick fixes. Here are 10:
1. Score more
There needs to be more scoring. We could do several things, such as make the goal bigger or make a goal worth three points and raise goal posts to count high shots as single points. But my favorite idea is to do away with the goalie. Without a goalie, the score should at least increase to the current number of shots on goal.
2. Scrap the offside rule
Let’s get rid of this ridiculous offside rule. How many times does an exciting break or goal get called back because a line judge raises the flag for some nearly invisible infraction? Well, purists say, what would prevent offensive players from lurking in front of the goal waiting for the ball? Defenders. One of the most exciting plays in NFL football is the long pass to the receiver streaking past the defensive backs. Can you imagine the protests if those plays were called back for a soccer-style offside? Put the line judges to work on the soccer field to help offset the influence of one bad ref.
3. Forget tiebreakers
Let’s promise never to decide a game on penalty kicks. With a lot of scoring, such a tiebreaker would not be necessary. Teams could play a sudden-death overtime. Ending a soccer game on penalty kicks is like deciding an NBA game on free throws. Un-American.
4. No more accidental handballs
While we’re at it, let’s get rid of the absurd penalties for accidental handballs. Americans don’t punish people for something that happens accidentally.
5. Let ’em punch the ball
Let’s change the “no hands” rule entirely and let players punch balls that are in the air, like the goalies I’d do away with. That could increase scoring and allow my next improvement.
6. Ban headers
This is inevitable because of concussions. Repeatedly striking hard-hit balls with your head is bad for your brain. Also, a lot of injuries occur when colliding players bonk heads or knock each other down. So let’s stop doing that. Americans don’t like seeing soccer players actually injured.
7. What’s with the lingo?
To Americanize the sport we must move away from the British lingo. No more, “Let’s go watch our lads in their kits on the pitch.” America has players in uniforms on fields or in stadiums. And, we don’t need broadcasters with British accents like some insurance commercial.
8. No more midseason breaks
One season, without interruption. All the players show up. No midseason breaks for international games or friendlies. No players absent for “cups” or injured in games that don’t count in the standings. Americans play for the team that pays them plus their fans. Only exceptions: preseason or all-star games and the Olympics.
9. Make it TV friendly
The single-most important change to ensure soccer succeeds in America is to make it TV friendly. Halftime is not enough. TV needs quarters and timed injury timeouts to run commercials for corporate sponsors. And let’s start using the slow-mo replays to get close calls correct.
10. Promote and relegate teams
Let’s adopt something good from the world game: promotion and relegation. Promote top teams from lower leagues and relegate poor-performing teams to the down escalator. Americans understand the consequences of winning and losing.
Let’s declare independence from failed FIFA and reinvent soccer as a game that would give Americans a real kick.
And we’ll call our best team the world champion.