Soccer can be a really exciting sport to watch. I used to really love going to soccer games in college. Middlebury has an amazing soccer field, with huge natural burms of grass surrounding the playing area, so you could just sort of lay out in the sun and watch the game. I seem to remember drinking stiff Bloody Mary’s most of the time, and cheering for my friends. It was great.
But watching The World Cup can be brutal. Are the fields bigger or something? It seems like the cameras are filming from the upper deck, or maybe from a blimp floating in the clouds.
I’m sorry, Soccer, but you need a few tweaks if you want to be accepted by the people that matter. You know, us, the Americans. Here are 4 simple changes that will make soccer into a real sport.
1. No More Ties
You can’t play a 90 minute game with near-constant running and then just walk away without a winner. There’s no closure. There’s no sense of accomplishment, of purpose. It’s like having wild sex for an hour and a half, stopping suddenly mid-thrust, and just rolling over and going to sleep. Call me old-fashioned, but finish the fucking game.
I don’t care how you do it. Overtimes, shootouts, whatever.
I personally like the endless sudden-death overtimes of Stanley Cup hockey, because it separates the men from the boys. It’s about who wants it more.
But I also love the mano-a-mano aspect of a shootout (in both hockey and soccer)…it’s what makes the pitcher/batter dynamic in baseball so great.
I don’t care how you do it. Just finish, please.
2. No More “Extra Time”
How ridiculous is a game with a clock but no end time? Was this dreamed up from Alice In Wonderland? Why have the clock at all? It is ridiculous that I even have to explain this to people.
A co-worker on Friday told me “Well then you would need someone to stop the clock every time play stopped!”
So what? Is it too hard to find a guy willing to take the job? Maybe try raising the asking salary a bit? I don’t understand. Buy a stopwatch on Amazon. Hit start when the game starts, hit stop when play stops, hit start when play starts. And on and on. Isn’t the ref doing this anyway to calculate the “extra time?” Why is it a secret?
You have a clock to measure time and create drama. Fans want to look at the clock and feel a sense of urgency. When there’s 2 minutes left, you want the team to start trying desperate measures, maybe pull their goalie. Something. It’s what makes basketball so exciting.
The downside, I guess, would be the crazy end game strategies where you foul constantly to stop play. To fix that, just copy hockey and make penalties really costly. More on that later.
The other way to go is remove the clock entirely and do like foosball – first to 10 wins. Throw the clock away. Might want to tweak it so it’s first to 1 or 2 though, because it takes forever to score. You can’t have a bunch of 30 second Mike Tyson style knockout matches.
I don’t know. Just hire a guy to hit a button during the game. Play a loud buzzer sound when time expires. It’s pretty simple.
3. Make the Rules Understandable
To help get my kids excited about sports this year, I helped them make large posterboard brackets of both the March Madness men’s basketball tourney and the Stanley Cup.
We drew out the single-elimination brackets and they understood immediately.
The World Cup bracket, on the other hand, is extremely complex.
In the first round, there are 8 groups of 4 teams, which each play in a mini-tournament of 6 games. The top 2 teams from each group advance to a second round of single-elimination play.
How do they decide the top 2 teams? There’s a complex system of tie-breakers based on wins, draws, losses, ratios of goals scored and goals allowed and goal differentials. Sometimes all of those things aren’t enough so head-to-head match ups of the same items are required. It is even possible to get to a point where you “draw lots.”
It really says that on the FIFA website. “Draw lots.” (see page 50 of this)
I don’t know what that means and I’m not going to google it. I’m assuming it’s some metric system version of flipping a coin.
It is ridiculous.
The 2nd round is a single-elimination tournament, which is much better. But even there, they get it wrong. Because it isn’t really single-elimination. The 2 losing teams in the semifinals get to play again. For 3rd place. That is so un-American I want to puke.
The worst part about the system is that sometimes it isn’t clear who to root for. Normally if you’re watching a tournament game that doesn’t involve your team, you root for the guys who you would rather have your team play. (Have someone else knock out the best team so you don’t have to face them) You might just want to see a good game and enjoy it for sport, but you at least have a sense of how the outcome of the game could affect your team.
Today I watched Germany play Ghana (both teams in the same group as the U.S. team) and I didn’t know who to root for. A Germany win would knock Ghana out of the tournament. That’s a good thing, right? But a Germany win would also give Germany 6 points, making them a virtual lock to move on and take the top position. That doesn’t sound good.
Was a tie really the best possible outcome for U.S. fans? That way each team gets 1 point, preventing either from getting too strong? Spoiler alert, it’s what happened.
So Soccer wanted me to watch a game and root for a tie. Root for a tie? How do you even do that? Doesn’t Soccer understand anything about a good story, about identifying with a character, about basic human nature?
This is what the TV announcers put up on the screen after the game to try to help dumb Americans figure out the situation.
I took a picture of it because it made me laugh so hard. There is nothing here about coming in 1st or 2nd in the group (WAY too complicated for the average American). Try to understand the first point about Germany, and how it differs from the third point about Ghana. Is there a difference? Basically whatever happens on Sunday doesn’t affect either team, right? What if the U.S. wins? Doesn’t matter? WTF?
I made a chart with my son to try to understand and help teach him. Here’s what it looks like.
It’s a little hard to read because we had to make it in pencil. We made it in pencil because it’s so complicated that you have to keep erasing and rewriting to get it right.
4. Stop Rewarding Crybabies
This one is probably the most important on the list.
A guy trips on the grass. He immediately scrunches up his face and yells out in pain. Sometimes he rolls around wailing and clutching some part of his body, usually a toe. 98% of the time it is a completely fake dive, confirmed both by the modern magic of instant replay and the way he hops right back up and starts playing again 2 minutes later. It’s pathetic.
Then there’s the guy’s teammates. They just stand there, happy for a chance to take a break from chasing a ball around a field. They never step in to defend their teammate. Really? A guy just slide-tackled your buddy and made him cry out like his bone was jutting out from his flesh, and you’re just going to stand there and watch?
And what about the guy with the bone sticking out of his leg? Does he go after the guy who did it to him? No. He doesn’t even look for him. Basically he looks around to find the referee, like a 3 year old looking for his mommy, and cries to her that life isn’t fair.
I watched a Premier League game a couple of weeks ago with my boys. We watched a guy dive and then make this big dramatic show to the ref. I forgot my kids were there for a second and I yelled something like “Oh come on, Sally, are you kidding me?”
I spent the rest of the game explaining this comment to my inquisitive sons. (Thankfully they didn’t focus on the weird sexist “Sally” part.)
No, Daddy doesn’t think it’s wrong to cry if you get hurt.
No, Daddy doesn’t think it’s right to hurt another player intentionally.
Daddy just doesn’t like when players fake being hurt, that’s all.
So how do you fix this one? Recruit tougher guys to the sport? Definitely.
But that alone won’t fix soccer’s crybaby problem. You have 3 choices.
First, instant replay. Have each trip reviewed on video, and have a penalty for embellishment (again, look to hockey for your answers).
Second, beef up the penalties. Having a ref run down the field blowing a whistle and waving a yellow index card doesn’t exactly send a strong message. I don’t even understand what a yellow card is, by the way, I’m just saying that it doesn’t seem to have any impact. It seems like the game just goes on. Why not put the player in a penalty box for a while? Give the other team an advantage?
The last option, and this one is a little out there, is to just make it legal to trip and tackle. Let the guys wear pads and helmets and just go after each other. Ha. These guys are way too pretty for that.
Want to know my favorite moment in all of soccer?
I remember it vividly. (Pretty sure I was watching from a bar in New York with Tim Hannan, during the Summer of Chris.) It was terrible sportsmanship. Disgraceful. Just the worst kind of stupidity there is, especially in such an important game from one of the best players on the team. It was the act of a dumb brute. It was insane.
But it was also great. I guarantee every American who saw that moment remembers it.
You want soccer to succeed in America? Get more Zidanes and follow the rules above, and you’ll have a real sport on your hands.
UPDATE: there’s a whole post here about how the U.S. can qualify for the next round, with a huge debate in the comments. Are you kidding me?