There’s a lot to be said about soccer and the World Cup.
Granted, I am still what you would call a “casual” fan by any regard.
But… I am warming to the enterprise.
The thing about watching more soccer in four days, than I have in the four years leading up to this World Cup, is that I have a newly realized appreciation for all the things soccer is not.
Soccer is not like most American sports.
It is not full of itself. It is not complicated. It is, the simple, beautiful game, as they say.
I like the fact that there’s a running clock. Even if the referee adds a few additional minutes at the end of each half – arbitrary, yes, and prone to wild corruption if the opportunity presents itself – there is a real appeal to the concept of “ok, let’s keep this moving.”
In America, the constant stopping of the clock has become far more annoyance than virtue. Not only will we stop the clock after virtually every play in our sports, but we’re often fastidious about putting MORE time back ON the clock.
It is not uncommon to see stoppages in play to restore FRACTIONS of a single second on a clock in American sports.
Hell, I saw just last March in our college tournament a stoppage in play to put time back on our SECONDARY clock, the “shot” clock. Even though nobody had complained or protested about this supposed great injustice.
Think about that.
We have football and basketball in America, which have TWO clocks that we fuss over constantly. Calibrate them with electronic triggers on a referee belt back. Split them down to the 1/10th of a second.
And we’ll review a play like the Zapruder film with the clock spilling out 10th’s of a second in the corner of the screen, while our referees stare deeply into TV monitors hoping to stitch the two together to get it EXACTLY right. (Or so we think…)
The “shot” clocks exist to keep the game moving. And the “game” clocks are sewn so deeply into the rule books as to make sure the games never end.
Bah. I think soccer has the better angle here. It’s a game. Let’s finish sometime today.
I also love how soccer is under-coached, and under-officiated.
The rules of soccer are simple. Sure, offsides is a somewhat slippery concept, but aside from that, what else do you need to know?
How about our rules of American football? Hell, they are SO complicated, that networks are now hiring FULL-TIME referees and ex-referees just to FURTHER explain the complicated rules during games.
And this is to an audience of men, who ALL THINK THEY ALREADY KNOW THE RULES! (Hint: we don’t).
Hell, CBS just lured well respected and certainly-not-past-his-prime Mike Carey to QUIT THE NFL as a head referee, just to be their own Mike Pereira!
American sports are severely over-coached as well. And the coaches are over-glorified by the announcers, who rarely have a negative word to say about these sideline men.
In soccer, a coach gives his lads a basic plan before the match, and then it’s up to the players to figure it out together. Without timeouts, whiteboards, huddles, or designed plays (which usually fail).
Which brings me to the most beautiful part of the beautiful game: no commercials.
Sure, fans must put up with jerseys being crassly sponsored, television “pinch-ins” on the sides and bottoms of your screen, plus a barrage of pitch-side billboards.
But so what? Wouldn’t you make this deal with the NFL, if it were offered?
Sure, soccer remains dull at vast watches of time during a match, dreadfully low-scoring, hopelessly poisoned by diving and fakery, and sadly corrupt by officials at the highest levels.
But I gotta say. It has quite a bit going for it, still…..