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One - Nil:

So Euro 2008, the European soccer championships -- the world's second-greatest sporting event -- has begun, as some of you, at least, are aware. Let's skip over the usual soccer meta-discussion, which we've had a number of times here before: Is soccer the world's greatest sport? Will Americans will ever become true soccer-philes on the order of the British, or the Argentines, or the Malaysians, or the Ghanaians, or damned near everyone else on the planet (except, oddly the South Asians)? Why do people care as much as they obviously do about the fate of their national soccer teams? Etc. On to the games . . .

Switzerland and Austria, the co-hosts this year, both lost their opening games, 1-0 -- but what a difference between the two! The Swiss come into the tournament with pretty high hopes: they've got a young, untested team, but with a lot of talent, and they've played well in the run up to the tournament. They're in a 4-team group with Portugal, the Czech Republic, and Turkey -- it won't be easy getting through the group stage to the quarterfinals (only the top 2 out of each group of 4 advance to the quarterfinals), but it's certainly not out of the question. Though the Swiss have never gotten through to the quarters before, there's never been a Euro championship where a host nation did not advance at least to the quarterfinals, and they have good reason to hope and believe that this is their year. It's the opening game of the tournament, in Basel, against the Czechs, and the home crowd is pumped. The Swiss thoroughly and completely outplay the Czechs, creating chance after chance but not getting the ball into the net; the Czechs play dispiritedly, they get one shot on goal the whole game, and it goes in. On top of which, Switzerland's top goal-scorer, Alexander Frie, wrenches his knee and is taken out of the game; as he is being helped to the locker room, TV pictures show him crying uncontrollably, just like a kid who's just been taken out of the soccer tournament he's been looking forward to pretty much his whole life . . .

So the Swiss are pretty bummed. The Austrians, on the other hand, are almost jubilant after their 1-0 loss to the Croatians. The Austrian team, it is generally believed, stinks -- there's no chance, zero, that Austria would have made it into the tournament at all had they not, like Switzerland, got the "automatic bid" that goes to the host nation(s). When Austria-Switzerland were announced as the hosts many years ago, I suspect most Austrians were delighted at the prospect that their national team would be placed automatically into the tournament field, without the worry and suspense (and possible failure) of having to go through the qualifying rounds to get there. Now, however, they see the dark side of automatic qualification -- if you really stink, and you're up against the best teams Europe has to offer, the potential for serious humiliation is a real one. Losing 6-0, or 7-1, doesn't happen often in soccer, but it does happen; it's never pleasant, and it's particularly gruesome if it happens in front of 50,000 of your home fans. . . . That's what's going through everyone's mind as the game begins -- and three minutes in, there's a penalty kick awarded to the Croatians, they score, and it's already 1-0. Oh, the horror!!

But it doesn't happen -- the Austrians pull themselves together, play incredibly well for the rest of the 87 minutes, keep the Croatians away from goal and mount a number of serious attacks of their own. The crowd, having prepared for the worst, is deliriously happy, and the team leaves the field to a rapturous ovation.

And on top of all that, there's Germany-Poland. The Poles and the Germans have, shall we say, strong feelings about each other. The Poles have never, in 14 previous meetings, beaten the Germans -- 10 losses, 4 draws. The Germans score mid-way through the first half -- but again, the Poles storm back, launching attack after attack on the German goal and coming heart-breakingly close on a couple of occasions to the equalizer. You have a feeling it's coming any minute now, . . . and then Germany hits them on the counter-attack and scores goal #2 towards the end of the 2d half and it's all over. And get this: both German goals are scored by striker Lucas Podolski -- now a naturalized German citizen, but born, as you might guess from his name, in Poland. Cruelty, thy name is soccer.

Jerome Cole (mail) (www):
What? Has the Volokh Conspiracy become some kind of Euro/Commie blog? Like the metric system soccer is just another plot by the Reds to corrupt the precious bodily fluids of America's youth.
6.10.2008 11:19am
JP Rover:
As my high school football coach would say whenever the soccer sissys ran by our practice field: "Soccer: the official sport of failed socialist republics."
6.10.2008 11:24am
soccer is a snooze fest:
Cruelty, thy name is being forced to watch soccer.
6.10.2008 11:33am
dearieme:
"snooze fest": quite! It lacks those committee meetings that make Murrican Fotball so fascinating.
6.10.2008 11:35am
dearieme:
"snooze fest": quite! It lacks those committee meetings that make Murrican Fotball so fascinating.
6.10.2008 11:35am
vivictius (mail):
Socccer isn't all bad, it is good exercise for my little niece (age 9).
6.10.2008 11:36am
advisory opinion:
To be fair, Poldi didn't celebrate, and he sang neither the German nor Polish national anthems, explaining that he "had his heart in both places."
6.10.2008 11:38am
Gabriel Malor (mail):
Don't listen to 'em, David. I wouldn't mind seeing more Euro 2008 updates here at the conspiracy.
6.10.2008 11:41am
Matt Pickut (mail):
Help me out, in the last week I watched one Euro 2008 game and tried to watch one MLS game. The Euro game (Austria-Croatia) was actually pretty exciting even though it was a 1-0 game. I couldn't make it through the MLS game. I don't know enough about soccer to really analyze the games, so help me out -- what gives is it just the luck of the draw or is there something missing from American soccer?
6.10.2008 11:47am
Jack M. (mail):
soccer will never become popular in the us as a spectator sport so long as football dominates on TV. The two sports' fan bases and players' professional lives are too similar: once a week games, large tailgating, people traveling a long distance, incredibly short playing careers (in comparison to baseball, hockey, and basketball, whose players can last until mid to late 30s and beyond, most football players are out by 30, if not sooner), fans dressing up and reacting violently, 100,000 people stadiums.

Quite frankly, soccer would have to steal football's fans. The passion people put into one sport can't be carried over to the other--it's too emotionally exhausting.
6.10.2008 11:56am
Visitor Again:
I've followed football for 60 years, and yesterday's match between Holland and Italy was one of the best I've ever seen. The Dutch display was mesmerising; brilliant passing and running, all at tremendous pace, from players blessed with superb technique. Their transition game--the switch from defense to attack--was breathaking, almost stunning. When they went ahead, they didn't fall back into a defensive shell, but continued to play attacking football. Three goals up near the end of the match, they were still trying for a fourth goal.

It wasn't that Italy, the reigning World Cup champions, played that poorly. In fact, there were spells in the second half when they played quite well. They were simply outclassed, and the final score, 3-0, was a fair result. Much credit to Holland coach Marco van Basten, who led Holland to the European Championship as a brilliant goalscorer 20 years ago. He promised his team would play attacking football, and he delivered.

I want more such football, and I hope we get it--and not only from Holland. Perhaps the Dutch performance will inspire some of the other teams.

For the record, I'm a fairly neutral observer, although I confess to feeling a bit pleased that the Italians were taken down a few rungs. My team, England, failed to qualify.
6.10.2008 12:00pm
A.S.:
Don't care much about the Switzerland and Austria games, since neither side would go anywhere anyway (even if they got out of the group stage). But yesterday's beatdown of Italy by the Dutch - wow. Now there's something to talk about.
6.10.2008 12:01pm
Rhode Island Lawyer:
There is something missing from American soccer. The quality of the MLS play has improved significantly over the years but is still way behind the level of play of the rest of the world. American soccer offense is too predictable and lock-step. There is a grace, fluidity and crsipness to the movement and passing of the best squads that makes us look pale in comparison. The best analogy I can make is this: the best squads play like Muhammad Ali fought; tje US plays like Jerry Quarry.
6.10.2008 12:03pm
socceroo:
Matt, I think you saw the difference in "level of play" between the US MLS league vs. the teams in Europe. There is a lot more "action", even though the score is low.

For those who find soccer boring, think about how baseball can seem "boring" to the uninitiated.
6.10.2008 12:05pm
A. Nony Mouse:
I listen to BBC on my morning commute, and they spent almost the entire time nattering on about the soccer tournament.

Baseball is mostly boring. Golf is all-the-way boring. But Soccer is so mind-numbingly dull that I want to kill myself anytime I find myself in the same room where it is playing on TV. Really, I would rather watch bowling - at least the commentators just say "strike" or "spare" or whatever. They don't say GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!! in such a drawn out way that it takes 3 breaths to finish.
6.10.2008 12:07pm
gwinje:
I couldn't get into hockey (didn't dislike it, and tried to get into it, just couldn't) until I saw a great Blues game live in St. Louis. The same thing happened when I saw a GREAT Boca game in Buenos Aires.

If we've got room for four major sprots (pluss college) why not soccer. Just play the games on Saturdays in the spring and summer. Baseball fans can miss a few day games and I don't think soccer and golf will have much overlap in the fan base.
6.10.2008 12:23pm
MarkField (mail):
Add me to the list of soccer fans. I had the same attitude as some of the commenters above until my daughter began to play about 12 years ago. That forced me to actually understand the game, and once I did I appreciated what a great game it is. The Netherlands/Italy game was fantastic.
6.10.2008 12:36pm
bornyesterday (mail) (www):

What? Has the Volokh Conspiracy become some kind of Euro/Commie blog? Like the metric system soccer is just another plot by the Reds to corrupt the precious bodily fluids of America's youth.


Clearly, Communism is just a red herring!
6.10.2008 12:39pm
Flydiveski:
Sorry, I'm rooting for Sweden (girlfriend there). I'll be happy if they just make the quarterfinals.
6.10.2008 12:40pm
Dr. Guest:
Sorry, but the problem with American soccer, though many of the ardent soccer fans here won't want to admit it, is that our best athletes don't play the game. You cut out the number of supremely talented athletes who play football, baseball, and basketball in this country, and you think that wouldn't have a demonstrable effect on the quality of the teams we field? Where soccer is more popular, all the kids play it. While it is increasing in popularity here, there are still many kids who never take the game up, and as long as that's the case, we'll be at a comparative disadvantage against the rest of the world.
6.10.2008 12:48pm
Gulf Coast Bandit (mail):
Scotland failed to qualify, unfortunately, but I think pretty much everyone in Europe is happy that the Italians got smacked around yesterday. I imagine they're also pretty happy that the Russians are getting smacked around now. It's 2:0 at half-time.
6.10.2008 12:48pm
martinned (mail) (www):
L.S.,

Yesterday, the whole country stood still as we (the Netherlands) beat Italy 3-0. 7 million viewers, in a country of 16 million inhabitants. Quick calculation => that's equivalent to 131,25 million viewers in the US.

Still, I would consider it the third biggest sporting event in the world, behind the Olympics and the World Cup.
6.10.2008 12:58pm
Cornellian (mail):
The most fun part of soccer is the part where you mock it.
6.10.2008 1:22pm
Sk (mail):

Actually, soccer is the ideal children's sport. A blowout is 2-0, everybody runs, everybody has a chance to be in the spotlight (like baseball), but there is no real humiliation by making a mistake (what, kicking in an odd direction?) like in baseball (extremely visual center-of-attention strikeout), and basically everybody is physically capable (unlike the height advantage of basketball or the size advantage of football).

But for adults? Ughh. Arguing that it is no more boring than baseball is not high praise.

Sk
6.10.2008 1:28pm
Terrivus:
Watching soccer highlights: awesome.
Watching soccer games: excruciating.

And this from someone who played the sport at a very high level back in the day...
6.10.2008 1:30pm
Carolina:

Sorry, but the problem with American soccer, though many of the ardent soccer fans here won't want to admit it, is that our best athletes don't play the game.


Why is that, though? An ersatz soccer field is cheap and easy to set up - much cheaper than, for example, a basketball court which must be paved. Yet our athletes would rather spend their time on sports like basketball, football, and baseball -- the exception being young children in the 'burbs, where soccer seems ubiquitous.

As someone who played just about every "youth" sport in the U.S., my impression as a child was that soccer was the least fun.

I wonder if so many Europeans would play it if basketabll courts, tennis courts, etc were more available.
6.10.2008 1:34pm
Zywicki (mail):
That's the problem with MLS--it is basically the equivalent of AA baseball. And will be for the foreseeable future. At its best, MLS will be a farm team for the wealthy European clubs, much like the Ukranian and similar leagues have been in Europe. Our best players hope to graduate from the US to go play over there (see Adu, Freddie). So that's the catch--all of our other leagues such as Major League Baseball, the NBA, and the NHL traditionally have been the top leagues in the world and all the best players come here to play. Moreover, MLS now has to compete with an utterly saturated soccer marketplace--I now have three full-time soccer channels on my cable system to watch the world's best players and unlimited access to info on the Internet.

So the question, it seems to me, is whether American sports fans will take to watching soccer played at a level that is obviously not the top level in the world, when all other top-flight pro sports here are. In addition, will fans come to see MLS soccer as a complement to European soccer or an inferior substitute. To my mind the jury is out on these. But if I had to guess, I would predict that soccer will remain a niche sport for a very long time to come and that hard-core soccer fans will watch and follow European teams rather than switching over to MLS. Especially for those who do not live in cities where a team is actually located--do people in St. Louis or Charlotte or Phoenix or Detroit actually care about the MLS, much less those in smaller cities and towns? It is hard to believe that they do, in comparison to the NBA, baseball, and NFL. In turn, this niche-sport status will keep the MLS relatively financially poor compared to the rest of the world, keeping it trapped at the AA level, with fan interest comparable to that of AA baseball.
6.10.2008 1:43pm
Matt Pickut (mail):
If its a question of level of play then the MLS is doomed. Americans won't watch what seems (when compared to the world game)like the equivalent of minor league soccer.

I guess I feel about soccer like I do about Notre Dame. I want to like Notre Dame (I live close to there and I like their focus on academics) but their fans are so annoying and over the top.

In the same way it seems like to be a soccer fan you must not only hate football but think that soccer is the best sport ever played by human beings and worthy of sacrificing goats to. Not that I'm against goat sacrifices mind you, I just reserve them for romantic encounters.

SK -- no humiliation? wasn't there some poor sap who was shot for an own goal two world cups back? Just one more reason for me that being a soccer fan would be like marrying a women with a crazy family. You may love her but you're always afraid someone will find out who your in-laws are.
6.10.2008 1:44pm
martinned (mail) (www):
L.S.,

@Carolina: Who needs a field? Even a quiet bit of road will do.

As far as I can tell, there are three key reasons for the difference in popularity between the US and the rest of the world. Firstly there is the tradition of substitute sports, as already mentioned, secondly there is the question of attention span/commercial breaks, meaning that the one thing almost all American sports have in common is that they stop and start over and over. (One attack in basketball, one batsman in baseball, one play in American football. The one exception is ice hockey, but that's more a Canadian thing anyway.) Thirdly, there is the general approach to sport. In the US, sport is a substitute for other entertainment, such as cinema. In Europe, to quote the famous line, "football isn't a matter of life and death, it's much more important than that". It would be inconceivable for, say, Manchester City football club to move to Leeds, to avoid the stiff competition with Manchester United. In both Manchester and Liverpool, the entire city is divided into a blue and a red zone. (City vs United and Liverpool vs Everton, respectively.) The club one supports is such a strong part of one's identity, that it is very difficult for other sports to compete here. (Viz. the aborted attempt to introduce American football in Europe.) From the popularity of club football, combined with the normally absent sentiments of nationalism/patriotism, comes the popularity of national team football.
6.10.2008 1:49pm
Jeff Lebowski (mail):
LOL @ bornyesterday...I didn't expect to see a Clue reference in a soccer thread!
6.10.2008 1:55pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Matt - sacrificing the goat is just a statement of contempt toward Chivas. :-D

Nick
6.10.2008 2:23pm
Ernst:
at Carolina:

Even an ersatz soccer field must be requires far more maintenance then a paved basketball court, that requires little upkeep once it's paved.

And yes, basketball courts, tennis courts, etc are readily available to any that wishes to play, usually at roughly the same distance as a soccer field. That soccer is the worlds most popular sport is not because of lack of viable local alternatives. The dutch national team is generally ranked as one of the best soccer teams of the world but the Netherlands are usually also highly competitive on the international level in sports such as speed skating, hockey and baseball for example. All sports that require significant infrastructure. Within a 15 minute (bike)ride of my house I've got besides a half dozen football fields, a tennis court, two baseball courts, a running track, a hockey field, a rugby field, a swimming pool and two generic sportshalls used for every indoor sport imaginable.

Despite having all that access to those other sports, soccer is still by far the most popular sport around by several magnitudes, The reason why soccer is popular is because people seem to enjoy the sport, not because they don't have any choice what to play.
6.10.2008 2:24pm
Whadonna More:

Sk:

Actually, soccer is the ideal children's sport.

Only if your aspirations for your children include surgery before high school. It's a terrible game for developing bodies, especially female bodies, and ignorance of that fact compounds the problem as kids are encouraged to play more than 3 days per week. It's the fastest growing cause of overuse injuries, on top of the other problems.
6.10.2008 2:24pm
Visitor Again:
I'm perfectly willing to accept that the vast majority of native born Americans hate or at least dislike soccer. I put it down to cultural differences. FIFA, the sport's international body, might want soccer to succeed in the U.S.A. for financial reasons. But the vast majority of the world's billions of football fans don't give a rat's ass what Americans think of the game. In fact, a significant portion of them would rather the U.S.A. stay away from the game for fear it will influence it in ways they do not like.

I wouldn't mind seeing the MLS succeed, but it'll be no big deal to me if it doesn't. It's slowly improving but it is indeed a second rate league. I can watch all the first rate soccer I want--virtually any match I want--on TV. And there are millions of soccer fans living where I live, in Southern California, enough to ensure that soccer matches will be played here no matter what.

I'd like to see the U.S.A. do well at the World Cup. But if it's not important to Americans that they have a decent national team in the world's most popular sport, that's okay by me, too. The U.S.A. will always be my second national side anyway since, like most sports fans, I remain loyal to the team I first supported, that of the land of my birth, a sports allegiance I just could not change.

Americans should feel grateful the rest of the world hasn't seriously taken up gridiron football. Already North American national teams have been beaten in major international championship tournaments in ice hockey, basketball and baseball, even though the best athletes in foreign countries all go into other sports, like soccer and track and field. If the best athletes of the rest of the world went into the sports most popular in North America, the U.S.A. would never win anything. Hee, hee.
6.10.2008 2:57pm
Dr. Guest:
at Carolina,

I think the primary reason kids don't play soccer is because it's not our most popular sport, which I realize is question-begging (why isn't it our most popular sport). As to the historical reasons for the development of other sports, I'll leave that to others to speculate. But whatever the reason, that fact is fairly enshrined in our culture at this point. Soccer doesn't come close to the popularity of football, baseball, or basketball, and it becomes somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy as children tend to focus on sports that receive lots of attention in our culture. College stadiums are filled by in some cases over 100,000 fans to watch an American football game. If you're a top-caliber high school athlete, which sport are you going to concentrate on? Even baseball, with the lure of the amateur draft and the money that comes with it, is much more of a pull for such an athlete.

People seem surprised that our pro soccer players aren't as good, and they write it off to lack of "fluidity," "familiarity," or whatever other sort of excuse they want in a contrived effort to explain away something that is, at the end of the day, very simple: our talented athletes just don't play soccer (at least not in the same proportions as our European counterparts). And that, perhaps, explains why our American women do so well in international soccer, because whether fair or not, the WNBA isn't the NBA, and a top-notch female athlete may be better off on a soccer field than on a basketball court. At a minimum, the same cultural influences that push male athletes to football, baseball, and basketball in America don't exert the same degree of pressure on female athletes.

Again, how we got here, I'll leave that for others. But it can't be reasonably disputed that our world-class athletes simply don't focus on soccer the same way kids from other countries do. As the popularity of playing soccer increases -- and it unquestionably has, for many of the reasons already stated (ability to participate, not as much pressure, etc.), I expect our level of play in international competition to increase. But it's not going to happen overnight, and as long as the other sports continue to enjoy so much popularity, it is going to severely limit our ability to compete with other countries. The fact that we are remotely competitive is a testament to our country's collective athletic prowess, not a knock on it.
6.10.2008 3:02pm
Matt P (mail):
Some things that could help soccer in America:

1. Change the offsides rule... just as a play is getting interesting the play gets called off. What's the point anyway? "Oh he got too far ahead of me, make him stop!"

2. Stop the flopping... you should be able to kick anyone laying on the ground after 5 seconds without fear of a card.
6.10.2008 3:38pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
Even pro-soccer articles make it sound horrible. Exciting 1-0 games! Inspiring 2-0 games!


In fact, a significant portion of them would rather the U.S.A. stay away from the game for fear it will influence it in ways they do not like.


Yeah, all the puny countries would lose.
6.10.2008 3:40pm
Steve H (mail):
I wonder how much of the perceived difference between a TV broadcast of an MLS match and a Euro Finals match can be chalked up to crowd noise. In just about any sport, a TV broadcast with a jazzed-up crowd is just inherently more exciting than one that sounds like it's being broadcast from a library (or a high school stadium). And so if there are 80,000 cheering fans, the most routine misplaced cross will sound pretty significant, even though it's just another play.

Don't get me wrong -- obviously the level of play at a Euro finals match will be much higher than that of an MLS game, but I'm not sure how much of that difference is visible to the novice.
6.10.2008 4:55pm
A.S.:
"That's the problem with MLS--it is basically the equivalent of AA baseball."

Americans watch inferior leagues of sports (in terms of level of play) all the time - they are called "college sports". Or maybe you think that the 100,000 who show up in Ann Arbor on Saturdays in the fall are not aware that there is a superior level of competition in football played only a few miles away in Detroit (no Lions jokes, please)?
6.10.2008 5:47pm
HipposGoBerserk (mail):
This discussion seems dated to me in any number of ways.

1) MLS is not AA ball - it's high AAA. And I maintain that the Chicago Fire team of 2003 would've avoided relegation in any of the Euro leagues that year. If you don't know what that means, I don't want to bother explaining it to you. If you disagree, fine.
2) The US national team is clearly the class of our continent, and is on the fringe of being a quality international side. Mind, we still don't get the Kobe quality athletes to play the game, but we get enough athletes that we field a real team. The run in 2002 was fortunate, but not a fluke. We have as much right to expect to make the World Cup second round as, say, England (which has had trouble even qualifying for the big tourneys lately - HAH).
3) Kids are playing soccer and learning to love it; in time it will take a legit place in the market. The trend is clear, but the distance to travel is large.
4) The aesthetic of soccer is very different from Americas other sports, but can clearly win over fans. Played well, it is the beautiful game, matched only by overtime games in Lord Stanley's Cup tourney. Played badly, well, it's very bad. I think it's because the game asks so much - if you can't give the game what it demands, it can be appaling.
5) Dang I wish I'd not botched taping that Dutch thrashing of Italy!!!!!!!

HGB
6.10.2008 6:02pm
martinned (mail) (www):
L.S.,

@HipposGoBeserk: I don't know about your internet connection, and your stance vis-à-vis copyrights &TV broadcasting, but maybe this is an option?

Amusing in a different way is this BBC-blog about the Dutch fans in Berne. (Click if only for the pictures!)

Excerpt:

Berne

Picture the scene - a huge, cavernous underground factory somewhere in the flatlands of Holland populated by industrious and willing orange munchkins.

They slave away producing every conceivable clothing item in bright, distinct orange to satisfy the need of a nation's football frenzy.

I doubt whether Berne has ever seen anything like what it witnessed on Monday as the Dutch provided a textbook lesson in the fine arts of bringing a major tournament to life.
6.10.2008 6:08pm
Lawyer (mail):
The problem with soccer: homogeneity in skill set. All the players have, and need to have, one skill: speed &footwork (save maybe the goalie). If you don't have this skill, and you live outside the U.S., you are forever doomed to trudge along with your "mates," convinced of your athletic inferiority, even though you might be much bigger, stronger, tougher, a better thrower, or make quicker decisions.

The case for football: inclusion of skills. If you're big, slow, and strong, you're on the line. If you're fast and big, but uncoordinated, you're on the D-line. If you're fast and coordinated, wide receiver, and defensive back if you're just fast. If you can throw, you're the quarterback. And yes, we even have saved two(!) spots for guys whose only job is to kick.

Football: the egalitarian sport and incorporates violence while integrating weeks of schematic preparation.
6.10.2008 6:35pm
GatoRat:
I've felt soccer would be tremendously improved with the following:

1) Make the field narrower

2) Eliminate the goalie (and make a crease like in lacrosse) or make the goal bigger.

3) Allow "running" substitutions akin to hockey (i.e. no timeouts.)

(Oh, and drop the lame tie-breaker crap for all games. It really sucks.)
6.10.2008 6:57pm
martinned (mail) (www):
In fact, a significant portion of them would rather the U.S.A. stay away from the game for fear it will influence it in ways they do not like.

Case in point: GatoRat.
6.10.2008 7:00pm
MeDavid (mail):
It seems that most people in the US don't understand the ballet-like skill required to be a soccer player. Measuring a game by the score is no way to judge a soccer match. What if the goalies were particulary good on that day?

Further, the score canard is disingenuous. A 21-7 score in a football game is a 3-1 score for all practical purposes. Oh, how boring.

To compare soccer to baseball is silly since in a soccer match, play is continuous. One can't say the same about baseball, a game that starts and stops and lasts at least double the 90 minutes it takes to play a soccer match.

In my experience, the reason that America is yet to turn its best athletes into soccer stars (and i doubt the assertion in the first place to some degree) is that American soccer coaches are not yet on par with coaches around the world who grew up with soccer. Rather, they are high school coaches with bad assignments or dads volunteering. Once the coaches are up to par, we'll be seeing a lot more action...
6.10.2008 8:08pm
wpeak (mail) (www):
I'm sorry I think I fell asleep there, did you say Soccer?
6.10.2008 9:47pm
wpeak (mail) (www):
I'm sorry I think I fell asleep there, did you say Soccer?
6.10.2008 9:47pm
MarkField (mail):
If we're going to have these threads, we need an agreement that no one will post scores until midnight EDT. I was pretty annoyed to see the Spain/Russia halftime score posted above when I was recording the game to watch later.


The problem with soccer: homogeneity in skill set. All the players have, and need to have, one skill: speed &footwork (save maybe the goalie).


Footwork is, of course, essential, but that's like saying all baseball players need some minimal level of hitting ability (nobody below the Mendoza line keeps a job).

As for speed, sure it's nice in soccer as in any sport, but it's hardly essential. Zidane was no speed burner, but he was the greatest player in the world. Lucca Toni (Italian forward) has no real speed, but he starts at striker for the World Cup winners. There are plenty of other examples.

Body types differ much more than you know. There's plenty of room for people of different body types to play; just compare Patrick Viera to Diego Maradona or Peter Crouch and Michael Owen.

You're also overlooking some critical skills: field vision and intelligence. Larry Bird was slow and couldn't jump, but that didn't limit his basketball achievements much. The same is true for players like Paul Scholes -- he's not fast, he's not big, he can't tackle. But he's a fine player nonetheless because he has those other skills.

The diversity in skills is actually quite substantial. I think non-fans just don't appreciate how great that diversity is.
6.10.2008 10:17pm
Katl L (mail):
Facts:
Fourth place in the first World Cup , 1930:United Staes Of America.
First UK appereance: 1950 :, eliminatesd by .. guess... USA 1-nil.The USA ,finish last.
Only team to score against Italy in the WHOLE World Cup, 2006.You are right: USA
7th team in the FIFA ranking by january 2006... USA.
Concacaf representative to the Federations Cup 2009: USA
First place in the Concacaf qualifitying round to the 2006 World Cup:USA.
Two times World Champion, female soccer: USA
6.10.2008 10:21pm
advisory opinion:
The problem with soccer: homogeneity in skill set. All the players have, and need to have, one skill: speed &footwork

Wrong, and hilariously wrong. It's like this simplistic caricature of basketball: 'You just need to be tall and know how to jump'; or football: 'You just need to be a big lump of oaf meathead, with a lot of acceleration' (this is how the rest of the world views American football).

There's a reason why soccer players have a 'best' position. Central defenders don't need fancy footwork, nor do they have to be particularly fast, even if speed helps. Positioning and anticipation matter more. By contrast, wingers need to be quick and fleetfooted in ways that a central midfielder doesn't need to be - for a central midfielder, vision, control, passing, ability to break up attacks, and the ability to dictate tempo is more important. Witness Michael Ballack of Germany, who is neither fast nor especially fleetfooted; in fact he almost looks like he strolls around the pitch with a cigar in one hand and a brandy in the other. Yet he is one of the best midfielders of his generation, imperious and visionary, the absolute lynchpin of Germany's play.
6.10.2008 10:27pm
Katl L (mail):
To Matt
Off side is the equivalent of the 3 seconds rule in basketball
6.10.2008 10:30pm
Martin Gramatica (mail):
The fact that the differences in skill sets among modern soccer players is so nuanced proves my thesis. According to advisory opinion, central defenders need "[p]ositioning and anticipation," wingers need to be "quick and fleetfooted" and a central midfielders require, an "ability to break up attacks, and the ability to dictate tempo". When compared to the vast different types of football players, these are all just ways of saying the same thing. In football, on the offensive line, by and large one needs strength. But for the quarterbacks and wide receivers, strength has little relevance. It's inclusive. Five foot five running backs literally play along side six foot six 350 pound linemen.

We can go on and on about the differences in body types of certain soccer stars (wow, you can see six abdominals in that one's stomach, and only four in that one's!) but it doesn't compare to football. Some players can only throw, but can throw well and are thus included. Some players are literally 350 pounds, can bench press six hundred pounds, but couldn't run 50 yards if their life depended on it. But they make the Pro Bowl (the NFL all-star game) nonetheless, because the game's inclusive. Olympic sprinters (and bobsledders) have been wide-receivers. The record for the longest field goal is by a man who was without the front half of his foot.

Thus, with a thorough comparison of the two, I think we can all agree that football better includes humans' diverse skills than soccer.
6.10.2008 11:06pm
advisory opinion:
Don't be daft. To a non-American football watcher he'd say that the 'differences' in American football are equally nuanced.

The ability to break up play and to dictate tempo are not the same thing as "speed" and "footwork." If you think they're synonymous, try looking up a dictionary.

Why not just accept that your relative ignorance of soccer is skewing your appraisal of it? You're wearing blinkers if you think there's not a range of fitness levels and body-types in soccer as well. David James (goalkeeper for England) famously admitted that he would be frequently out of breath and couldn't run to save his life due to a nicotine habit. Wayne Rooney, a forward for Manchester United, has no abdominals, and looks positively tubby.

Your thesis is better made with bowling - it's an inclusive sport too - skinny, fat, short, small, muscular, unfit - bowling is egalitarian. Muscle-bound steroidal meatheads aren't a requirement. By parity of reasoning, there's a "problem" with American football.

Apparently, you'd accept such an argument. I prefer to reject such parochial silliness.
6.11.2008 1:06am
SP:
Obviously, all of you who do not appreciate soccer are simply stupid, if not out and out illiterate.
6.11.2008 1:27am
martinned (mail) (www):
L.S.,

@SP: I wouldn't go quite that far, but I'd at least like to remark that the rest of the world views American football less as "You just need to be a big lump of oaf meathead, with a lot of acceleration", and more as a form of ballet for grown men, or something akin to synchronised swimming on land. Everything carefully planned out, orchestrated by the coach from the side.

That said, I'd take rugby over football (ours) anytime. But that's a different discussion.
6.11.2008 5:24am
Positroll:
Soccer, football, who cares? (o.k., 111.000 in the Big House can be pretty impressive) How about something completely different?
http://www.coachinghandball.com/userapp/
pages/whatIsHandball.jsp
6.11.2008 5:56am
spot:
Soccer is a game with flawed rules and I can prove it. First of all a team can be man down for an entire game and not be assured of losing. That means that the rules are set too far in favor of the defense, there is no other sport that you could play with 1 fewer player all game and still be competitive or actually win.

And the flopping is there because the rules are set so far in front of the defense. Say you are an attacker in the box and have the chance between shooting a shot that gives a 10% chance of going in or diving. IF you dive and get the penalty shot you have a 95% chance of scoring a goal on the PK. Given that an average soccer game probably has 2.2 goals scored per game, this is a ridiculously large advantage to getting the PK. If you started making freethrows in basketball worth 5 points don't you think there might be a little more flopping? OUtside the box its not quite as stark, but set plays still account for a large percentage of the goals of soccer and the incentive to dive is still there. Not to mention the incentive for yellow cards and potential disqualifications.

Its just a flawed sport, and they aren't willing to look at it because of tradition. If you are a fan and this doesn't bother you then thats all well and good, I just think from a strictly objective standpoints the rules of soccer are absolutely ridiculous.
6.11.2008 9:53am
Stevethepatentguy (mail) (www):
I have a very good friend from England, he is appalling to watch American football with. His frequent interjections of "Oh, they've stopped again" and "why didn't he get up and continue playing?" are unbearable.

Football and soccer each have their own charms but the underlying athleticism of each sport is evident. My English friend thinks that only massive men with small brains are suitable to play football. I have tried to explain but he just doesn't get it, nor does he care to.

Most of what I see above looks like arguing over wine. "I only drink red and white is for wussies and foreigners."
6.11.2008 10:26am
MarkField (mail):

Five foot five running backs literally play along side six foot six 350 pound linemen.


I think your ignorance is showing here. Diego Maradona was 5'4". Peter Crouch is 6'7". That's pretty much the range in heights you see today. Admittedly, there are very few, if any, fat soccer players. I don't see how that counts as a disadvantage.

Your comment about strength is also off the mark.If you don't think that Emanuel Adebayor is strong, you have odd standards. Besides, you're forgetting that essentially all professional football players use steroids to get their strength. That's not a tribute to human diversity, it's a tribute to chemists.


First of all a team can be man down for an entire game and not be assured of losing. That means that the rules are set too far in favor of the defense, there is no other sport that you could play with 1 fewer player all game and still be competitive or actually win.


Putting aside whether this is strictly true (hockey?), I'd agree that the rules interpretations favor the defense. That doesn't make the game flawed in any "objective" sense, because the amount of scoring you want and the types of play you like to see are largely matters of aesthetics. Do you prefer your baseball scores to be 1-0 or 10-9? Baseball can, and has, set its conditions of play to achieve either result.

Flopping is a problem in soccer, but it is in basketball too. I'm actually surprised that TV replays often show contact when I'd thought there was none; perhaps there's less than we think in either case.

But really, this complaint isn't very meaningful. In every single sport the players tend to game the rules. Baseball pitchers scuff the ball, fielders pretend to catch balls they've trapped; football players use their hands in forbidden ways; basketball players flop, etc.
6.11.2008 11:01am
Anonymous Attorney:
I'll have to agree with MarkField here. I'm not sure what it would mean to evaluate rules in an "objective" sense. What it objective about an arbitrary set of rules governing a game? None of the rules make sense in a objective way - it just depends on what kind of game you're trying to create.
6.11.2008 11:13am
advisory opinion:
What it objective about an arbitrary set of rules governing a game?

Precisely nothing. It's just sporting parochialism masquerading as objectivity - a point I made in my original post; and which StevethePatentGuy helpfully described as "arguing over wine." The people dissing a sport they are generally ignorant of are exactly like his American football-mocking English friend.
6.11.2008 11:27am
spot:
A team playing man down in hockey would get slaughtered.

And I think that once you determine that a team can be just fine on defense without one of the players then its a pretty clear cut sign the rules are misguided. Its to the point where good offense isn't enough for a goal to score, it takes good offense and at least one mistake by the defense.

And no flopping isn't just an preference, its encouraging the wrong behavior. Put it this way, could you ever envision a sport trying to come up with ways to encourage more flopping? Unless you think that some sports WANT flopping then I think objectively its a negative for the sport. And rules that have the affect of strongly rewarding flopping should be examined very closely. And when the only reason they are still that way is tradition then you have a flawed sport.
6.11.2008 11:39am
advisory opinion:
once you determine that a team can be just fine on defense without one of the players then its a pretty clear cut sign the rules are misguided.

Lame argument, since that is precisely one of the charms of soccer - namely, that even when at a distinct disadvantage, a team may still overcome the odds and draw - if not win - because of superior teamwork, talent, a stroke of genius, or perhaps even luck.

Wars are replete with examples of a small number of troops fending off or even routing a larger force, and we enjoy that spectacle. Gladiatorial contests of old probably held the same appeal for its Roman audience for similar reasons.

One could just as easily make the argument that your yearning for sporting predictability makes for dead boring sport. Is it an arbitrary standard against which to measure a sport? Sure it is, but so is your absurd rule-questioning.
6.11.2008 11:53am
advisory opinion:
Unless you think that some sports WANT flopping then I think objectively its a negative for the sport.

The mind boggles. Rules govern behavior, but a consequence of those rules is that players try to bend, skirt, evade, or otherwise take advantage of those rules. MarkField gave several such examples in other sports. To imagine that rules are meant to "encourage" flopping - which is simply a skirting or taking advantage of of the rules - is ridiculous.

If we test the urine samples of track athletes for drug use, and as a consequence they come up with novel steroid-cycling or false sample means to evade the tests, are we to say that the rules of athletics "encourage" steroid-cycling?

Because that's what your argument amounts to. One surmises that 'objectivity' isn't your forte.
6.11.2008 12:00pm
spot:
advisory opinion- my point was that flopping is obviously something that no sport would go out of its way to encourage. So when the rules of soccer are set up to give great preference to diving compared to actually trying to score the goal its a problem with the rules. If in Hockey penalty shots were awarded 3 points then there would be dramatically more flopping and it would be objectively a problem with the rules.

And if the game where to be created now, there is no way that they would be set up so that a team could be man down for an entire game and still have a chance to win. The only reason these flawed rules are in place is because of tradition.
6.11.2008 12:42pm
Anonymous Attorney:
Sport, it's okay - you can admit that you just don't like soccer. There's no need for the pseudo-intellectual deconstruction of its rules or protestations of being an "objective" evaluator. You just don't like the game those rules produce, which is okay. I don't particularly like the game produced by the rules of American football, but that's just my own subjective preference.

And as an aside, since you can be cautioned or sent off for "diving" I don't really think you can claim that the rules encourage diving. As has been pointed out many times above, every sport has gamesmanship regarding the rules - for instance, go ask an NFL player about how strictly the offensive and defensive linemen stick to only those types of contact specifically permitted by the rules of the game.
6.11.2008 1:17pm
MarkField (mail):

So when the rules of soccer are set up to give great preference to diving compared to actually trying to score the goal its a problem with the rules.


I think you radically overestimate the number of penalties awarded in soccer and their respective influence on the game.

But that's quibbling, to an extent. In addition to my previous point that all rules will be gamed, your example is internally contradictory. The obvious solution to your specific concern about diving would be to never call a foul in the area. That would, of course, increase the influence of the defenders and make scoring nearly impossible. This is not a rule set up to encourage diving, it's a rule designed to encourage scoring.
6.11.2008 1:20pm
Annonymous Coward:
OK, Spot you have said the same thing a couple of times. Let's just agree that you don't know anything about soccer, the rules, the competition or the traditions. One of the features of soccer is that the small fouls are ignored to promote the flow of play. I am willing to bet that you have never watched 90 minutes of soccer and are still boring your friends with "and then I took the handoff . . ." stories.

You have never seen a basketball player draw a charge, a football receiver come off his route after slight contact or a first baseman lift his foot off the bag before he catches the ball? Flopping doesn't happen in soccer nearly as much as non-fans think it does and they use 'flop' as shield from their own ignorance.

Have a Bud and sit down and watch the the Lions play the Dolphins, enjoy.
6.11.2008 1:25pm
Yankee_Mark:
While I do rather like Soccer ... though not so much as Football (Am.) or Hoops I agree with an earlier poster that the offsides rule pongs mightily. (I'd also like to see more subs than 3/game...)

The idea that the deep defender run AWAY from his own goal to 'put' an attacker offside as the play is developing just makes me queasy. I can buy an attempt to prevent cherry picking, say mod the rule so the player becomes offside if he moves himself beyond the 2nd-last defender...

Sports can adapt LOL Hockey managed to shed the NJ Devil's neutral zone trap that rendered the sport unwatchable)
6.12.2008 12:49am
GatoRat:
In fact, a significant portion of them would rather the U.S.A. stay away from the game for fear it will influence it in ways they do not like.

Case in point: GatoRat.


What silliness. I don't care one way or another if Soccer becomes popular. In fact, I do enjoy watching the very top teams play. I just find the average game unbearable.

But never fear, I'm an equal opportunity offender. Baseball is dreadfully boring, especially with the games lasting so long now. Basketball courts should be longer in the pros and the baskets higher. TV timeouts should be eliminated in all sports (one thing soccer does right.)
6.12.2008 10:55pm
Bobson (mail):
Soccer = most dominant spectator sport in the world hands down. Thats why it is BY FAR the most watched, most richest, most diverse, most important and most loved sport on the planet.

Ironically, this is exactly why americans hate it. It represents everything except american superiority. Globalism was meant to be american culture being taken by other countries, not the other way around. Football or baseball should be the world's sport, not soccer.
6.17.2008 4:15pm