Lots of serious posts lately, so I’ll continue the trend with one of the most important topic of this or any time.
I’ve tried following the World Cup. I really have. I try every four years. I think it’s interesting to see the mix of countries from all over the world who all seem to have a shot at winning, and the format of eight mini-seasons to qualify for the Round of 16 is intriguing. But then you get to the matches themselves. And that’s where it falls apart.
OK, soccer (sorry, football) fans. You’re right. I don’t know beans about your game. I adore baseball, find American football tolerable but really only follow my beloved Bengals (ok, stop laughing), am fairly bored by basketball except maybe for the last few seconds of close games, and frankly can’t make head or tail out of hockey.
But soccer (no, I won’t call it football, so there) is just a bad game. I won’t get personal with attacks on the fans and so on, I’ll just tell you what I see as obvious flaws. Here goes:
1) The clock runs the wrong way. This is so ridiculously easy to fix. Sure, maybe to a “real fan” who knows how long each half is, they understand instantly what the 64th minute signifies. But why on Earth limit yourself like this? Who could possibly care how long you’ve played? How long you’ve played is irrelevant. Just tell us how long there is to go. That’s the important thing. But . . .
2) Even when the clock gets to the end, it’s not the end. This whole “extra time” idea is just silly. When you stop the clock, um, STOP THE CLOCK! Let us and everyone else know how many seconds remain. It’s just silly stubbornness to do otherwise. Saying it adds drama is ridiculous. If that’s the case, why have a clock at all? Wouldn’t it be more dramatic for the officials to be the only ones who know how much time is left? (Unless even they forget because – the clock runs the wrong way!)
3) And then when you finally do get to the end, if the game is tied, you stop! What? Play another 15 minutes, another 30 minutes, another hour, whatever it takes. Don’t end in a tie. What’s the point of playing if you end up tied? Even bowling and tiddly-winks have tiebreakers. Ties are like not having played at all. It’s dumb. But it gets worse, because . . .
4) In tournament play, where you can’t have ties, instead of playing until somebody wins, you have all the players line up on some arbitrary line and shoot at the goal. As opposed to the regular game, where scoring is ridiculously hard, these shootouts are ridiculously easy, so that usually one unlucky miss decides the whole match. It’s a bad way to break a tie. Think of something better. (Like keep playing until somebody wins. There, done!)
5) If a match doesn’t end in a tie, quite often the deciding goal scored on some sort of penalty kick. And quite often, this penalty is for a foul that may or may not have occurred, but was accompanied by the most ridiculous show of fake agony the sports world has ever seen. The winners are all too often just the best at feigning devastating injury, then once they get the call popping up as if nothing happened. It’s silly, makes the sport look silly, makes the officials look silly, and has nothing to do with game strategy. It’s just poor sportsmanship.
6) The offsides rule is ridiculous. Let ’em play!
7) The substitution rules are ridiculous. The no re-entry is fine; that’s the way baseball works, too, and makes the manager really sweat out decision. But why allow only three subs? It’s artificial and arbitrary. Why tie the coach’s hands like that? Allow for more strategy, not less.
8) And finally, yes, I have to say it, a 0-0 soccer match is boring. A 1-0 match is only slightly less boring, especially since (as pointed out above) so many of those 1-0 scores are decided by a questionable goal. A 1-0 baseball game is a thing of beauty, because the pitchers for each club weave a tapestry of power, movement, deception, and/or physical artistry to prevent their opponents from scoring. Look at the box score of such a game the next day. By looking at the box score of a 1-0 baseball game, I can tell that a pitcher scattered hits and had pinpoint control, or walked a bunch of batters but was unhittable, or got the advantage of several double plays from his defense. The box score tells a story because a baseball game is full of individual, quantifiable battles that all have meaning. A soccer box from a 1-0 match, on the other hand, tells me who scored, when they scored, and how many yellow cards each team received. It doesn’t tell a story, because soccer doesn’t have those quantifiable moments of drama. Or if it does, no one has figured out yet how to capture them. Well, it’s only been 3000 years. Let’s give them a few more thousand to figure it out.
Since probably no soccer fans will read this, I’ll have to imagine their responses.
1) You just don’t understand the strategy behind soccer.
Great, explain it to me. Then let me explain to you the beauty of the hit-and-run and the double switch. Baseball strategy is accessible to everyone. Soccer strategy, while I’m sure it exists, is almost certainly interesting only to the actual players on the field. But maybe I’m wrong. Show me.
2) Have you ever tried it?
I’ve heard this argument before, and it is completely not the point. Notice I called soccer unwatchable, not unplayable. I love baseball, but was a horrid baseball player. I still love the game, even though I recognize that I have little to no skill at playing it. I’m sure I’d be a crappy soccer player, too. It’s still unwatchable.
3) Soccer is the world’s most popular sport; there must be something to it.
Most people believe in God, too.
OK, I’m done. For four years, at least.