|Posted on July 11, 2014 at 5:20 PM|
I’ll admit up front that I watched the Netherlands’ semi-final game (but only because I was in the Netherlands) and the US knockout round game (but only because I was born in the US), and that the last 30-or-so minutes of both games were exciting. The feeling that, at any given moment, the entire fate of those countries’ soccer programs could change dramatically was exhilarating. That being said, international soccer bugs me. Here are the five reasons why, in order of increasing bugginess:
1) Stoppage Time
Adding time to the end of each half to make up for the running clock during stoppages in play is really pointless. First, the amount of extra time isn’t even calculated exactly; it’s estimated by the referee! Seeing how much people care about the outcomes, you’d think it’d be a bad idea to leave the length of the game up to the opinion of a single person. The players also have no idea when the game will end. Imagine if in the NBA Finals, instead of the clock counting down to 0, it counted up to some arbitrary number determined by Joey Crawford when he felt like the game ought to be over. Lastly, why not just stop the clock when the game stops like, I don’t know, every other sport?
2) Flopping / Refereeing
Whenever there’s marginal contact, count on at least one player to just dive head first to the ground like Dennis Rodman and Karl Malone sticking together. Count on that player to grab his face even though he got kicked in the shin. This is because there’s one referee watching 22 players on a huge field who can’t possibly see most of the fouls, so players have to embellish to get calls. Another side effect of having one referee is that defenders get away with cheap-shots and playing rugby in the penalty box (although another reason this happens is because calling a foul in the penalty box results in a penalty kick, and refs are scared of making such an impactful call, which is equally silly).
Watching 90 minutes of a sport without a winner being determined makes me feel like I wasted my time. In the knockout round this is alleviated by the incredibly-thrilling-but-ultimately-a-total-crapshoot-and-a-terrible-way-to-determine-which-team-is-better penalty kicks, which is almost complete luck because the kicks are taken from so close that the goalies have to randomly dive one way or the other. A better solution would be sudden death but that wouldn’t work because…
4) There’s no scoring!
The day the US and Argentina played their Round of 16 matches, there was a stretch of 3 hours and 50 minutes of soccer during which one goal was scored. Oh, and this is the highest scoring World Cup since 1970. The actual goals in soccer are among the best highlights in sports, but we rarely get to see them, and mostly just watch the teams go back and forth without taking any shots. I understand that the rarity of goals makes each shot more exciting, but the chances of scoring are so slim that I often lose interest while watching, especially if I’m not rooting for a team. It also creates a game where a team can dominate the ball for long periods of time and not reap any benefit, or even lose a game because of one missed clear by a defender or one foul in the penalty box.
5) There’s no scoring!
What am I missing by just watching the highlights online, where I can catch all the goals in under a minute? I have four suggestions for soccer to increase scoring, and the implementation of just two or three of them would improve the watch-ability of the game dramatically.
• Add two referees to call more fouls on defenders: If the offensive and defensive players are running the length of the field with their arms on each other, the disadvantage is clearly with the offensive player, who is trying to control the ball.
• Get rid of the offside rule: Allowing players to be closer to the goal is a no brainer to add highlights, goals, and tension. If traditionalists are too concerned about dramatically changing the sport, then make a mild rule change, like “you can’t be more than five meters offside.”
• Allow 10 substitutions per game and allow substituted players to return to the game: I marvel at the endurance of soccer players who play the entire game (only three substitutions are allowed per team), often through injury, separating the men from the boys, so to speak. But ultimately, players’ being hobbled and tired leads them to stand around to catch their breaths and move the ball down the field much slower. The mid-2000s Phoenix Suns wouldn’t have been as fun to watch if Steve Nash hadn’t been able to lie down and stretch at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters.
• Make the game 9-on-9 instead of 11-on-11: More space for the offense to operate, harder to double-team elite scorers, fewer players to form walls on free kicks… all positives
There are a lot of admirable characteristics of soccer, but it could be so much better. If you’re angry that I want to take a sport loved by billions of people worldwide and turn it upside down to make it more like basketball, that’s semi-legitimate, but just remember that basketball is the most fun sport to watch, and I would like as many things as possible in my life to resemble basketball.
Categories: Other Sports