I'm American and a soccer fan. Unfortunately, I'm already feeling withdrawals from the thought of four years of semi-hibernation sans-soccer about to commence.
Like many soccer fans I watched most of this year's World Cup, read a ton of internet articles, and listened to this year's flavors of talking head, who all weighed in on "the beautiful game" and America's ambivilent attitude toward it..
Though I'm not an expert by any stretch, I am a fan who has watched soccer from the outside for many years. I played collegiate soccer over 30 years ago at a Division 1 college in Kentucky, though back then that term was nebulous as to it's meaning. Like many American college teams, we were a collection of decent foreign players and renegade American sports athletes who for various reasons no longer graced their once chosen sport, or who had played high school soccer at one of the few schools who fielded a team. I was an ex-distance runner with average soccer skills who was recruited on-campus after I decided to forgo my track scholarship. After graduating, I played club soccer in North Carolina for about 10 years. Now, my experience comes exclusively from my thousands of hours addiction to playing video game maker Konami and EASports PES and FIFA soccer titles.)
What changes are needed to create more fan interest in the game here on American soil?
Besides winning, American sports fans care about two things in sports: excitement and fairness. World Cup watchers got a first-hand look this year at how the lack of these two things can drive Americans crazy, and perhaps keep us from embracing the world's most beautiful game.
1. Scoring -
People all over the world love GOOOAAALS, yet Americans are criticized for their "lack of depth" because they want more of them. To say that Americans under appreciate the richness or unseen nuances of soccer is to trivialize our ability embrace value, without giving serious thought to the underlying issue. Long gone is the day when to be an American at a world soccer event was a curiosity. I'm tired of apologizing for our soccer to the world and listening to people from everywhere tell me how we just don't get it.
It is true that I found the Spain-Germany game the most exciting game of all even though the final score was 1-0. The final game may have been a let down to many, but isn't that the way finals go many times, with over-expectation? The entire event was a low scoring affair, as it is many times when quality teams play one another.
The problem with this as I see it; unless there are changes made we are doomed with 1-0 or 0-0 finals forever. Great teams are not about to give up 2, 3, 4 goals in today's game, and two great teams...well...?
The world wants GOOOAAALS!
During the World Cup I heard all kinds of opinions concerning America's attitude toward soccer, many of them ridiculous. If America thinks soccer is boring how do you explain our obsession with baseball? If it's just that we can't understand the game in its' totality, who is going to tell our women, who are the most dominant sports team in the history of International Sports?
FIFA, the governing body for International Soccer must agree that scoring more goals is important to the future health of the game, and not because of the "stupid" Americans. The Jubillane (ball) was introduced at this years' event for one reason: more goals. It failed to produce.
I suggest that the goal be made two or three meters wider and a meter taller to allow for more scoring opportunities with well placed shots. Many goalies today are superior athletes and can block even the best aimed, most twisting and screaming shots, resulting in many games being decided by fluke goals or lucky, but weak chances. It also means that there are more terribly bad shots because of the increased pressure added for the low margin for error. This is not how sport is supposed to work, and I suspect many Americans sense it.
Why not give these great athletes a better chance to display their talent to the world? A great shot should be just that... an untouchable missle blasted just outside the even the swiftest goal keeper's reach, something rarely possible in today's game. Even the final WC goal by Spain was knocked down before landing softly inside the goal. I dare say more goals roll into the back of the net than ripple it.
With a slightly larger goal there will still be the finesse of the flip shot in one-on-one situations as goalies will adjust to the larger goal area with earlier, more aggressive charges in order to cut down angles. Forwards and halfbacks will try slightly deeper shots once again with hopefull success; something rare in championship soccer today because of the evolving skill of today's goalkeepers. a larger goal means the game will not be considered over when a team goes up by two or three goals,unlike it is today. The "hope" of scoring is just as important as the notching the goal itself to the fan of soccer. I think FIFA should give everyone more hope.
2. Officiating -
I am continually amazed at how many sports governing bodies have been able to ignore the onslaught of new technology when it comes to officiating. It seems that human officials have become the "sacred cow" of many sports; the one thing that must not give in to change. Frankly, I don't understand the value proposition. What good reason or reasons are there for not getting more accurate results in a sporting event? The 2010 World Cup was an example of how protecting the purity of a sport may also be how to eventually destroy it. Game after game missed calls affected or potentially affected outcomes, leaving one to wonder at times which team was pre-destined to win?
Having played competitive soccer I know that every game endures bad calls and good calls, some favorable and others not. It is sometimes very difficult to identify the offender and the offended in a physical game like soccer where neither player owns possession in a strict sense. The World Cup officials were critcized for many calls which were made that might not be questioned in a regular contest. The magnitude of the event rightly or wrongly leads to magnification of every call and the WC officials are somewhat always in a no-win situation. Yet, at this year's Cup, it seemed yellow cards were shown to players for simply playing hard, and even worse: Hollywood style faking by their opponents. Video captured these moments to FIFA's embarrassment several times during the competition. Yet, there was no make-up call for the actors and the tragedy unfolded in horror for those falsely accused and their fans.
In soccer it is mandatory that calls be correct near the goal (inside the box) due to the excessive severity of a penalty. Time and again video replay busted the official calls or no-calls in the area, one of the most dehabilitating events which can happen to a team in soccer. Though the officials didn't predjudice one team, they missed calls on every side.
Hey FIFA, what's up? Can you explain this...?
Is it merely cost that stops FIFA from using video to insure that teams and titles aren't lost simply over bad calls? Is it time? Techno-phobia? Why are we so entranced by humans who are only all too "human"? I could go one here forever, but I'll constrain myself to this:
America will never love a sport where such contradictions exists. Yes, we hate to lose badly, but mostly we hate to lose unfairly. And who wants to win a Cup marred by so many blatant mistakes by officials? OK, you won't hear any Spainards complaining, but that's about it. There are a number of teams this year who could say that the whistle cost them a game and maybe the Cup.
I hate crybabys in sports and believe that the mistakes somehow seem even out over time. But I think FIFA owes the sport a better deal.
FIFA should "embrace change", America's mantra of the eighties and nineties when we finally convinced ourselves that technology and change does not always mean bad. Almost every industry experienced game changing rules at record setting pace as technology advancement forced us to reconsider our most cherished and hallowed traditions. In sports we witnessed technology's effect with a wary eye and slowly made changes where needed. Golf, one of the most traditional sports lengthened and re-designed courses to offset better equipment and stronger players. Basketball keeps moving the three point line and reducing the shot clock. Baseball built bigger parks and limited ball and bat technology...Every sport has had to re-evaluate and make needed changes to enhance and maintain their core value.
I think some limited use of replay has a place in soccer RIGHT NOW, not next time around. It's imperative to get the calls right and to keep the game honest if America is to participate on every level. But for this to happen changes must be made, if only in small increments. FIFA seems to be unmoved by the controversy but changes might help America's attitude toward the game improve.
Evolution has taught us that life, the world, and the universe is dynamic. Small improvements over time lead to larger overall positive results. Listen up FIFA!
Nowhere did it exclude the beautiful game of soccer.
I picked Holland over Spain in the final of my ESPN Soccerpick fantasy bracket based on a junk "home-team" theory I developed when I realized no African team was strong enough to win it all. My other picks were pretty good too, except for one glaring mistake: USA. Even though Uraguay won my WC when I played a completely computer driven WC Simulation with PES2009 on my PS3, my heart said USA would make the final four this time. Never listen to your heart when picking sporting event winners. You can check out my picks (mostdiggity) at http://games.espn.go.com/knockout/en-us/frontpage.