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6/28/2009
WHY WE HATE SOCCER SO MUCH

1-16
USA forwards Jozy Altidore and Charlie Davies celebrate Altidore’s goal against Spain on Wednesday. The shocking victory over the world’s #1 team propelled the US side into the finals of the Confederation Cup - a warm-up for next summer’s World Cup - in South Africa.

I know I am going against the grain by being a soccer fan in America. But I really can’t help myself. Perhaps it’s because I’m a baseball fan that I appreciate the patience demonstrated by good teams, or the delicious feeling of watching the build up on offense, the teamwork on defense, and the great individual skills on display.

Alas, the American game rarely rises to the level found in much of Europe, South America, and other soccer crazy meccas where people live, eat, drink, and die with their national teams success or failure. But for 93 glorious minutes on Wednesday, it did.

The USA national team played the mighty Spaniards with their 35 match unbeaten streak in a Confederation Cup semi-final match this past Wednesday, and with a combination of making the most of their chances, good defense, and a large dollop of simple, dumb, luck, our boys pulled off the biggest upset in world soccer since we beat the Columbians at the World Cup in 1994. The 2-0 victory pushed the Americans into the finals against otherworldly Brazil - a team we lost to early in the tournament by the lopsided, embarrassing score of 3-0.

Expect a similar result today. The skill level, teamwork, and experience of the Brazilians is just awesome and anyone with even a passing familiarity with the game knows the US doesn’t have a prayer.

Of course, they said the same thing before America’s game with Spain. But playing the green and yellow and defeating them would take another miracle courtesy of the Soccer Gods. And everyone knows the Gods are all ex-Brazil greats, deified by their fanatical supporters while still on earth.

I’ve heard the arguments why the “World’s Game” has never caught on here and I’m sure you can recite them along with me. But here’s a clueless fellow who ascribes our lack of enthusiasm for soccer as a result of our basic political beliefs:

Watching the game, one could not have been happier for a team that has not really performed all that well in recent years or, for that matter, in the first few games of this tournament. Indeed, in the first two games, the U.S. was hammered by Italy and Brazil and only got into the semifinal match by beating Egypt and the fluke of a very arcane scoring system that soccer uses to break ties among teams. And even in this game, a neutral observer would have said that Spanish players clearly outplayed the Americans, outshooting the U.S. squad by a margin of 20 shots on goal. As the U.S. goalkeeper and star of the game Tim Howard noted afterwards, “Sometimes football is a funny thing.”

Well, yes, it is. As someone who didn’t play soccer growing up, but had a dad who did and whose own kids played as well, I can say unquestionably that it is the sport in which the team that dominates loses more often than any other major sport I know of. Or, to put it more bluntly, the team that deserves to win doesn’t. For some soccer-loving friends, this is perfectly okay. Indeed, they will argue that it’s a healthy, conservative reminder of how justice does not always prevail in life.

Well, hooey on that. And, thankfully, Americans are not buying it. In spite of the fact that one can drive by an open field on Saturdays and usually see it filled with young boys and girls playing soccer, the game’s popularity has not moved anywhere toward being a major sport here in the United States. It’s grown for sure but not close to where folks once expected it to be given the number of youth that have played the game over the past two decades.

For sure, there may be a number of reasons that is the case but my suspicion is that the so-called “beautiful game” is not so beautiful to American sensibilities. We like, as good small “d” democrats, our underdogs for sure but we also still expect folks in the end to get their just desert. And, in sports, that means excellence should prevail. Of course, the fact that is often not the case when it comes to soccer may be precisely the reason the sport is so popular in the countries of Latin America and Europe.

Gary Schmitt of AEI is a clueless git. First of all, that “arcane” scoring system which allowed the US to advance is a series of tie breakers (just like the NFL), although the criteria in this case was total number of goals (USA had 4 to Italy’s 3). How much less bizarre is it for an NFL team who goes 9-7 and wins their division to make the playoffs while a couple of 10-6 teams miss the postseason because their division winner had a better record? “Excellence” being rewarded? Phooey!

The only thing “arcane” about Schmitt is his reasoning.

Then there’s the utter malarkey that many teams that dominate the game stats wise or just have the better of the play usually lose. Again, let’s look at the NFL and notice that on any given Sunday, there are several teams who are out gained on offense, outplayed on defense, but catch a few lucky breaks and win the game. It is obvious Schmitt is not a sports fan if he thinks that such happenstances are uncommon.

As in football, the team with a lead in soccer will play it safe, usually dropping a couple of players back from midfield in order to prevent the other team from organizing an effective offense. This will invariably lead to the team that is behind having much the better of the play. Also, the leading team will push forward fewer players on the counterattack. The result is exactly as Schmitt describes but the reason is not because of any particular flaw in the game as much as it is a deliberate choice by the team that is ahead. Of course Spain took 20 more shots on goal. They were behind for almost the entire game. How many NFL teams have we seen build up a big lead in the first half and basically coast the rest of the way? His criticism is nonsense to anyone who knows anything about sports.

But that’s the problem in America. I think in order to love the game, you must be familiar with at least some of its nuances and strategies. There is a method to much of the madness the casual fan might see on the field and what looks like a lot of running around is actually a purposeful offense — probing for weakness, switching the play from one side of the field to the other to exploit an advantage, the give and go, and the teamwork involved in knowing where your teammates are on the field all the time are all practiced repeatedly by good teams in order to break down a defense and create a chance to score.

Defense is the loveliest of dances - a synchronized ballet where defenders react to where the ball is on the field and move almost in unison to block the assault. If you’ve only watched the game on TV, you can be forgiven for not being able to see much of this. And if you’ve only watched American soccer - the MSL variety - you don’t see much of it anyway. The American club league is an inferior product which helps explains to the Schmitt’s of the world why soccer hasn’t caught on here.

Legendary English football writer Steven Wells (who just died last week) saw the ugliness of what he terms “soccerphobes” in this Guardian piece from January of this year:

Meet radio show host Jim Rome. Jim - a short man with a Village People biker moustache - is the pope of soccerphobia. “My son is not playing soccer, ” promises Jim. “I will hand him ice skates and a shimmering sequinned blouse before I hand him a soccer ball.” Jim’s soccerphobia is part of a grand tradition of crassly xenophobic, casually homophobic, tediously sexist and smugly pig-ignorant soccer-bashing in mainstream American sports journalism. As Sport Illustrated’s soccer-friendly Alexander Wolff put it: “There isn’t a US daily without a ’soccer stinks’ beat guy”.

“Their mania is in direct proportion to their insecurity,” laughs Miguel Almeida, a New York-based soccer writer. “Hence its intensity. And the phenomenon pops up every time the World Cup rolls around, its reappearance as certain as swarming locusts.”

Not all soccer-haters are cliché-recycling hacks. Meet (right-wing) intellectual think-tanker Stephen Moore. “I am convinced,” writes Stephen, “that the ordeal of soccer teaches our kids all the wrong lessons in life. Soccer is the Marxist concept of the labour theory of value applied to sports - which may explain why socialist nations dominate the World Cup.”

Now before you dismiss Mr Moore as an isolated and irrelevant know-nothing right-wing bollock-talker, have a listen to his fellow Washington conservative, Mr John Derbyshire: “The very inconclusiveness of soccer is, I suspect, what has made it the pet sport of the repulsive [left-wing] bobos.”

OK, but two soccer-hating American gobshites do not a sinister right-wing conspiracy make. So here’s Jay Nordlingerm who claims soccer is “a project of the left, the athletic equivalent of vegetarianism”. This bile is echoed in the letters pages of America’s newspapers: “Soccer’s slow strangulation of real sports like football needed to be stopped,” rages a reader of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “High school football programs around the country have nearly succumbed to the foreign-sports terrorism known as soccer … Young minds and bodies are being wasted by continuing the slide into the soccer abyss.”

Schmitt isn’t that bad but it begs the question; is there a political element to people’s hate of soccer?

If there is, I don’t feel it. I enjoy the game as a sports fan. Hell, I even enjoyed watching the Afghan national game Buzkashi. And that’s because there are certain universal elements to sports and competition that make watching soccer or baseball, or any other game where athletes perform and teams compete to win such a joy. “The human drama of athletic competition” was part of the opening of the old ABC Wide World of Sports that featured every kind of game under the sun including Irish hurling, Australian rules football, and something as tame as curling.

I don’t see politics or underlying political truths in games and those who do are trying too hard. The loons who wail about football or hockey being too violent or teaching our kids the wrong life lessons are no different. Concentrate on the stellar athletes - the human body in motion is enormously pleasing to watch when it is done by those born with the grace and strength to play the game - any game - at the highest level. The desire to win, the sacrifices for the team; it is the same in any game and says more about our basic humanity than it does about any silly political generality made up by partisans who wish to score points against their enemies.

Not everyone likes football. More do not like soccer. But if you are ambivalent about the game, tune in to this afternoon’s USA-Brazil match. The Americans might get creamed. But if you want an idea of what soccer is really all about, watch the play of the Brazilians.

You just might discover what many Americans and most of the rest of the world, like about the game.

By: Rick Moran at 11:32 am
20 Responses to “WHY WE HATE SOCCER SO MUCH”
  1. 1
    Mike Giles Said:
    12:26 pm 

    As in football, the team with a lead in soccer will play it safe, usually dropping a couple of players back from midfield in order to prevent the other team from organizing an effective offense. This will invariably lead to the team that is behind having much the better of the play. Also, the leading team will push forward fewer players on the counterattack. The result is exactly as Schmitt describes but the reason is not because of any particular flaw in the game as much as it is a deliberate choice by the team that is ahead.

    In the NFL. it’s called the dreaded “Prevent Defense” as in prevent your team from winning.

    And I’ve always felt that the fact that Soccer doesn’t allow anyone - except the goal tender - to touch the ball - has something to do with the lack of popularity. Games popular in America, place a premium on hand eye coordination. Throwing a baseball, fielding a baseball, hitting a baseball, throwing a pass, catching a pass, passing the puck, shooting the puck, beating up the opposing player, shooting the ball, stealing the ball, passing the ball, blocking the shot, pulling in the rebound, etc. etc..

  2. 2
    Jim Said:
    2:35 pm 

    Who says soccer is unpopular?

    AYSO anyone? It has been a growing sport in America for decades and still is. Most young people play or have played.

    It is not very telegenic by normal American sport standards, but that doesn’t mean millions don’t watch.

  3. 3
    i h8 america Said:
    4:49 pm 

    first of all its not called soccer, its called FOOTBALL, the sport which americans call football is pathetic. Why do they call it football when they don’t use their feet to kick the ball, only an american can develop a name so stupid, also the word football has been used for the british sport for nearly 200 years before america even existed (apperantly) 2nd of all football, or soccer, for the the idiots, i mean americans who read this is the most watched sport in the world, and the only reason why the yanks (male chickens) don’t like football is because they can’t play it, so they invent their own sports, such as driving round in a circle (nascar) or other pathetic american inventions

  4. 4
    funny man Said:
    7:13 pm 

    Well indeed it is called football not soccer and Congrats to the Americans for a tournament well played. As a boy in Germany I naturally grew up playing soccer, a game anyone, anywhere can play. You can play it with a tennis ball, a coke can etc. If I see the German national team in a World Cup I still get sweaty hands. We’ll see how much the game will catch on. It still is a largely suburban sport and if the US wants to be a serious contender, this has to change. However, I’m pretty optimistic because you don’t need to be 7 feet or weigh 300 pounds to be successful.

  5. 5
    matt foley Said:
    7:15 pm 

    #3
    British invented the sport and also coined the term soccer - http://www.gavinrymill.com/origin-of-the-word-soccer.html so if anyone’s ignorant, it’s you. Besides, there is more than one country that uses the word, see Canada, Australia, home of a few really talented players.

    Additionally, Schmitt is a complete dunce when speaking on the subject since nothing could be further from the truth about poor teams winning over better teams. Most “football” is played by clubs, and most clubs play in “single-table” leagues where the most valued trophy in the country is won by the team with the best record from the season, attained by playing every other team in the ENTIRE league twice. Some people call this the best team period, not the best team in the series, or the team that got “hot” in time for the playoffs, or the team without any injuries.

    If you think the US is a soccer wasteland, well go screw. We just proved that we can compete with some of the best even without the depth and richness of talent due to the virtual big sports media blackout of the sport in the US, the world cup aside. To those who hate the game, the demographics are changing in this country so fast and information about the game is ever more accessible, the beautiful game, the world’s sport, is not a fluke or a passing fad like the NASL. Too much has changed since the seventies, and the popularity of the sport is growing. It’s tangible to this long-time fan.

  6. 6
    matt foley Said:
    7:17 pm 

    oh and what #4 said.

    a technical sport that you don’t have to be enormous to play…in fact, it’s usually a disadvantage.

  7. 7
    lionheart Said:
    5:57 am 

    I have another good reason why Americans should love this game: you don’t have to be 6′5″ and weigh 240 lbs. to suceed. It seems like every other sport (except cycling) require a large frame to even make the team, and certainly to excel at a professional level. And since most Americans are not large (excluding their waists), smaller athletes can go farther in this gaem.

    While tall soccer players will out-jump the smaller athletes (a huge advantage on corner kicks), there are advantages to being smaller, quicker and having a lower center of gravity. You rarely see those advantages in any other sport. It also seems to me (just my observation) that the great ball handlers in soccer are smaller guys.

  8. 8
    lionheart Said:
    5:58 am 

    Oops, just read “funny man’s” comment… he beat me to the punch.

  9. 9
    sportsmith Said:
    10:13 am 

    Why Americans detest soccer:

    A) Europeans are gay.
    B) Soccer is European.
    C) (complete the syllogism here)

  10. 10
    Mike Giles Said:
    11:32 am 

    Uh, when did you have to be 6′4″ and weigh 250 lbs to play baseball, ice hockey or even football for that matter. Different size people play different positions. As for basketball, you don’t have to be a seven footer, you just need some skills. Besides American sports, baseball and basketball are increasing in popularity worldwide.

    But I do find the replies above interesting. Too many of them seem to be of an “anti-American” tenor, as in “why won’t America get in step with the rest of the world”. As if their is something wrong with Americans preferring America’s games. And note that I said games. In much of the world soccer (in this country “football” has a different meaning)is the only game in town. No wonder it’s “popular”. In America, at all levels, our athletes - and hence our interest and support - are split amongst a multitude of sports.

  11. 11
    funny man Said:
    3:16 pm 

    sportsmith,
    as a European I will not go down that route (just a little). Just like to point out that we ‘gay’ Europeans still have white guys boxing and holding titles (I used to box myself; only amateurs). If you know of a white American let me know.
    Mike Giles: there was one comment that was anti-american, not more.

  12. 12
    Locomotive Breath Said:
    4:03 pm 

    (US) Soccer/(Everywhere else) football is popular outside the US because here is the list of equipment you need to play the game.

    1. ball
    2. feet (bare if made necessary by impoverishment)

    Even baseball is comparatively expensive. If everyone else could afford to field a high-school US football team, they would.

    The sport of the future in the US is lacrosse. Hits like football, continuous play like soccer, higher scoring than soccer (and a 9-5 lead is not insurmountable even with one quarter to go), and you don’t have to be a genetic freak to be a good player.

  13. 13
    barry Said:
    2:29 am 

    Soccer will never be as popular in the U.S. as it is in the rest of the world. However, I thought it was great when the U.S. team beat the Spanish team. That’s not because I have anything against Spain (pretty decent people over there, if you’ve been there… one of the few countries in Europe that for the most part don’t mind Americans) nor do I care about soccer… it made me laugh because you know the masses of dedicated European fans were screaming and irate that AMERICA beat a very good professional team with a proud history of excellence in the sport. I knew the U.S. would be killed by Brazil, but it was still fun to know that we beat the Europeans at their own game.

    Imagine if Spain fielded an NFL team and came and beat an elite NFL team such as the Patriots or Colts? We’d be stunned! That’s probably how the Europeans felt when the U.S. owned their team lol

    Hey funny guy you seem to be pretty cool and I know you’re European (by your own admission) but I’m just saying it was funny that our crappy soccer team beat the powerful Spanish team heh… no disrespect meant to you, though.

  14. 14
    lionheart Said:
    6:52 am 

    Rick, we almost beat the Brazillians! Fantastic.

    Mike Giles: professional basketball players under 6′4″ are extremely rare. Most starting point guards (college or pro) are 6′5″ or taller. They just look short standing next to Shaq.

    You are correct about football players- there are a handful in the 5′10″ to 6′2″ range. Only… those guys can run the 40 in about 4.2 seconds.

    I would be surprised if there are more than 10 MLB players under 6 ft.

    Professional sports is a tall man’s game. Except for cycling and soccer.

    Re: Brazil vs. US: The US is not even in the top 30 in the world as far as national teams are concerned. I think they will get better before next summer’s World Cup but not enough to challenge any team in the top 10. Brazil sleep walked through the 1st half and exposed our many weaknesses in the second half. Our midfield play - with one or two exceptions - is subpar. We don’t have a left back. Individual skills compared to the Brazilians and most other top sides are a joke. What the US side has is tremendous speed and excellent teamwork. And a world class goalie doesn’t hurt. I like our coach, Bradley, a lot better than Arena. He seems more aggressive on offense which is a big difference from Arena’s shell game at the last World Cup.

    All that may be enough to advance to the round of 16 depending on the other teams drawn for our Group. Anything beyond that would be a startling upset.

    ed.

  15. 15
    sportsmith Said:
    11:53 am 

    funny man: my poor attempt at Cracked humor aside, I do believe Americans have not adopted soccer - or football, call it what you will - precisely because it’s European. All I mean by that is, “it’s not ours.”
    Cars from Germany and wines from France are one thing, but sports are a much more visceral connection to national identity and culture. Conversely, I don’t wonder why Europeans don’t like American football or baseball. I get it. It’s not the same as going to a Burger King. Forget the rules, hand-eye coordination and all that other stuff; sports is still the territory of totem poles and tent markings.

  16. 16
    Michael Giles Said:
    1:27 pm 

    Mike Giles: professional basketball players under 6?4? are extremely rare. Most starting point guards (college or pro) are 6?5? or taller. They just look short standing next to Shaq.

    You’re confusing the Shooting Guards with the Point Guard’s position. Tall point guards are the exception rather then the rule. They simply have to put the ball on the floor too often. Not to mention that they usually have to make their own plays as opposed to having the ball passed in to them.

    You are correct about football players- there are a handful in the 5?10? to 6?2? range. Only… those guys can run the 40 in about 4.2 seconds.

    Almost all running backs and defensive backs are in the range you stated, dexterity and a lower center of gravity being an advantage among larger, but less mobile players.

    I would be surprised if there are more than 10 MLB players under 6 ft.

    Bobby Korecky, Arizona Diamondbacks, 5′11″
    Augie Ojeda, Arizona Diamondbacks, 5′9″
    Kenshin Kawakami, Atlanta Braves, 5′11″
    Cesar Izturis, Baltimore Orioles, 5′9″
    Brian Roberts, Baltimore Orioles, 5′9″
    Travis Denker, Boston Red Sox, 5′9″
    Argenis Diaz, Boston Red Sox, 5′11″
    Andres Blanco, Chicago Cubs, 5′10″
    Aaron Miles, Chicago Cubs, 5′9″
    Brent Lillibridge, Chicago White Sox, 5′11″
    Bartolo Colon, Chicago White Sox, 5′11′
    Tony Abreu, Los Angeles Dodgers, 5′9″

    No Brainer. Just check out the Second Basemen, Shortstops and Japanese players

  17. 17
    Frank the Tank Said:
    1:53 pm 

    There’s a very simple reason why soccer (specifically professional soccer) isn’t popular as a spectator sport in the US: the best players in the world go to play in the pro leagues in the UK, Spain, and Germany as opposed to here. Watching Major League Soccer in the US is the equivalent of watching AAA baseball or the Greek pro basketball leagues - they might technically be pros, but we’re getting a minor league product by comparison to other countries and not being exposed to the best of the best. In contrast, the best basketball and baseball players in the world play in the United States regardless of where they are originally from (i.e. China, Japan, Germany, Dominican Republic, etc.).

    If you watch a Major League Baseball game versus a minor league baseball game that both happen to have the exact same score, you can still tell that the Major League players are at a much higher skill level. Likewise, the average sports fan is going to be able to tell that a English Premier League match consists of higher caliber athletes than those playing in an MLS game when you see them side-by-side. When US audiences get to watch the best of the best play soccer (i.e. this year’s Confederation Cup and past World Cups), the audiences have actually been very strong. It’s simply the quality of play that matters (not lack of scoring, culture, or other popular inane reasons).

    However, unless the English Premier League either expands or transports itself to US cities, the quality of play (or lack thereof) will always be the problem for soccer as a spectator sport in the US. Until the MLS or some other league attracts the best players in the world just like the NBA, MLB, and NHL do in their respective sports, the average US sports fan isn’t going to be interested in watching the minor league version. We need the best of the best to be playing here in order for there to be a long-term change.

  18. 18
    Stix Said:
    9:51 pm 

    I pretty much played Soccer (football) for most of my life. I started to play pretty much when I started to walk. My older brother started tom play when they lived in Korea during the Vietnam War when my mom went to Seoul where my dad was stationed.

    It is my favorite sport to watch, and hockey being a close second. I do not really like either baseball or football, I find them boring. I still watch them, but it is not as exciting as the Stanley Cup or World Cup finals.

    Everyone will have their own opinions, ans most of mt friends think I am crazy. Along with being the only conservative amongst them also,so I am the weird one anyway.

    I guess it is my personality of not following the crowd that attracts me also to the game.

    I love lacross and also love to watch Rugby, a lot better than football in my opinion. Australian Rules Football is also an interesting sport to watch.

    I agree with Frank the Tank, we will never get the top players here, there is too much money in Europe for the top players, and all the top US players go to the bug clubs across the pond.

  19. 19
    funny man Said:
    11:48 pm 

    Sportsmith,
    ’sports is still the territory of totem poles and tent markings’. Indeed it is and forgive me my ‘unfunny’ remark. Perhaps I’m sometimes a bit too thin-skinned when I perceive (perhaps wrongly) the ever popular (especially among conservatives) Euro bashing. If all our worries were about the ‘right’ sport we should be a happy nation.

  20. 20
    t1o1m1a1h1a1w1k1 Said:
    8:05 pm 

    A sport’s popularity boils down to three factors:

    1. Skill = How difficult it is to do.
    2. Spectacle = How dramatic it is to watch.
    3. Significance = How much you care.

    I suspect most non-fans in the U.S. agree that soccer requires skill, but don’t see the spectacle or significance. The latter will eventually come from success at the international and club level. And perhaps the way to help someone appreciate the spectacle is to encourage them to have fun playing the game for themselves.

    Perhaps history can help. Cricket used to be the top sport in England. Then soccer not only gained a footing (ha ha), but also overtook it. Wonder how.

    PS – The U.S. loss in the Confederations Cup final was heart-breaking. But the goals – particularly Landon Donovan’s – were outstanding!

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