Is Soccer a Great Sport?

 

shutterstock_187488458Here’s my number one rule of soccer. If you were born and raised in America, soccer cannot be your only sport. It’s fine to like it, and it’s fine to play it, but you must also follow at least one bona fide American sport or else you’re just a pitiful Euro-wannabe. (I might grant exceptions to particular sub-cultures on a case-by-case basis.)

Soccer isn’t an American sport. I’m not saying it’s un-American; it’s just not one of our great traditions. Baseball, basketball and football are all important parts of our culture. All in their own way provide insight into the American experience. NASCAR does that too; it’s absolutely an American sport. Hockey is less central, but living in the north I appreciate how hockey becomes bound up in a certain kind of Northern-American pride which is cultural important.

Soccer, on the other hand, is a sport that we’re famous for not playing. I think it’s interesting that Americans and Australians (who I would name as the most athletic nations in the world) are both noteworthy for their lack of interest in soccer. Like us, the Aussies don’t really need to obsess over soccer, because they have their own sports.

And their sports are better, as are ours. Personally, I just don’t think soccer is one of the world’s best sports. The reason it’s so popular worldwide is because it requires almost no equipment. Impoverished kids can play it in rural fields or urban alleyways or in hallways of condemned buildings. And they do. I’ve seen them, on four different continents. Everywhere you go, kids are playing soccer.

So I can appreciate the beauty of having a “global sport” that brings such a diverse array of humans together in the World Cup. My family did watch the U.S. beat Ghana, and my sons got excited about cheering for “our national team.” I feel like there’s a bit of family tradition there, because my Dad watched the World Cup when I was growing up. He lived in Brazil for a few years in his youth, so he always cheered for their team, and would watch the finals live at any hour of day or night if the Brazilians were in it. I also used to watch soccer frequently with Uzbek friends when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. One way or another I’ve seen a good bit, and I acknowledge that the great players have incredible body control, and that it’s fun to watch how fluidly the teams work together. There’s also a lot of nationalist pageantry to the World Cup, which I enjoy. But I still just can’t see soccer on a level with basketball, football, baseball or hockey. It’s an inferior sport.

There are the usual complaints of course. The lack of scoring. Endless running up and down the field, most of the time in vain because they hardly ever get the ball in the net. How could Americans love a game that’s so gosh-darn inefficient? Then there are those tie-breaking shoot-outs, which just seem ridiculous to me. After all that effort, the whole game comes down to this totally contrived little game? Why not play ping-pong for the win? Or just flip a coin? I’m waxing hyperbolic, but it really is a little hard to take seriously.

I also don’t like the way that soccer mostly excludes the use of hands. Hands are the most amazing of our physical tools, and sport is meant to display physical excellence. So a sport that handicaps its players from the start by barring the use of their greatest asset… well, it just isn’t going to be the coolest sport on the market. Baseball, basketball and football all have a huge edge right there.

Most importantly, though, soccer isn’t a very thumotic, or spirited, sport. Excellent sports should display strength and toughness and “grit.” I’m not saying that soccer doesn’t involve those things at all, but it’s far from superlative in any of those categories. If you compile a soccer player’s highlight reel, it looks more like dancing than a display of strength and power. Again, great body control, but not a lot of shock and awe. And in football you get the great body control and the shock and awe, though maybe not in the same players. Soccer has less specialization, which is good for back-alley fun, but not as cool on the world stage.

Is it really true that the kids are getting more and more pumped about soccer these days? To the point where, 10 or 20 years hence, we might start seeing our best athletes donning knee-high socks instead of ball caps or pads? That would be rather a shame.

There are 138 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Points of order:

    *Europeans and South Americans love a sport that’s played with no hands. That way they can get exercise while their hands are in your pockets.
    *Any sport must remain suspect if the clock in the stadium means nothing. You will keep playing until the score satisfies the ref’s bookie.

    • #1
  2. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Yes, it is a great sport.

    No disrespect, but most American sports (football, baseball, Nascar etc.) are incredibly boring. Although none of them are as boring as basketball (although that is not a “bona fide” American sport). I’d say the only other sport that isn’t pull-your-hair-out boring is hockey; but that’s just soccer on ice. 

    All the other criticisms about soccer from “Americans” seem to come from people who’ve never bothered to sit through a game before. Or bothered to learn the 3-4 simple rules of soccer. Heck, if you can sit through 15 hours of mindless standing around in a Baseball game, with its 3,000 pages of rules, learning to understand soccer should be pretty simple. 

    As for the scoring: I don’t get it. Compare soccer with basketball where there’s a score every 15 seconds. How boring is that? There’s no suspense at all. There’s no battle. Soccer games have “few” scores because it is actually hard to score.

    Plus, soccer actually has…athletes. Not sure “baseball” players qualify for that tile.

    • #2
  3. GKC Inactive
    GKC
    @GKC

    I write as a soccer player and someone who has always enjoyed the sport. It is a great game, notably enjoyable to play, and as the U.S.-Ghana match yesterday displayed, can feature impressive displays of athleticism, strength, power and grace. But soccer will never grow strong roots in this country, for the simple reason that any game with such a premium on goals/scoring that players will do anything to improve the circumstances for one is simply not palatable to American tastes and sense of justice as a spectator sport. I am talking about the flailing, the fake-injuries, the token dives, the whining, to earn a penalty in the box. It is ridiculous. The players (professionals?) come across as babies.

    The single easiest thing the game could do to create more circumstances is to modify the off-sides rule. No off-sides within the last third of each side of the field towards the goal, and the shots, the opportunities to score will magnify exponentially. It isn’t even the lack of scoring per se that is unsatisfactory. It is the dearth of opportunities to watch and enjoy. Change that, and you have a great game.

    • #3
  4. Jon Gabriel, Ed. Admin
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.
    @jon

    My hipster friends have transitioned from pretending to know something about the Triple Crown to pretending to know something about the World Cup.

    • #4
  5. Albert Arthur Podcaster
    Albert Arthur
    @AlbertArthur

    How anyone can think that soccer, a game in which players run back and forth and kick the ball at random for several hours without scoring any goals, is more interesting than baseball, I’ll never know. What I do know is that every 4 years I have to endure obnoxious people in New York City talking about how soccer is too sophisticated for Americans. 

    If you like soccer, fine. Don’t tell me I have to.

    • #5
  6. Sandy Member
    Sandy
    @Sandy

    Is this a serious question?

    To address just two points: None of our major sports required much equipment when they were first played (and some still don’t): a ball and a basket; ice, a puck, and a stick; two strong men and a crowd, two fast legs, a pig bladder and a bunch of strong men. Soccer is played around the world because people love playing and watching it.

    With regard to thumos, I think you could argue that baseball players (among others) look like dancers, too.

    • #6
  7. EstoniaKat Inactive
    EstoniaKat
    @ScottAbel

    I am watching Belgium-Algeria as I watch this.I am rather sick of arguing the merits of soccer. If you don’t like it, fine. Don’t watch.
    I could care less about golf, but plenty of people enjoy doing it and watching it. I find baseball incredibly tedious – four hours of scratching, spitting, and occasionally a play. And soccer has no action?
    I stayed up until 4 a.m. on a work day to watch the American team. And that was as excrutiating a game as I’ve witnessed in any sport (we won the first 30 seconds, and little after), even though it wasn’t “our sport”.
    Our best player has a broken nose, our best forward pulls up with a hamstring and is carted off. Players are so gassed they are about to drop on the field. And somebody you never heard of scores the winner in the final minutes. That was about as big a gut victory as you will ever see in any sporting competition.
    Looks American to me.

    • #7
  8. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Rachel Lu:

    Is it really true that the kids are getting more and more pumped about soccer these days? To the point where, 10 or 20 years hence, we might start seeing our best athletes donning knee-high socks instead of ball caps or pads? That would be rather a shame.

    Soccer is an up and coming sport now that we’ve lost control of our borders.

    Just pause the stupid clock when the ball goes out of bounds. Nearly every sport knows how to do this.

    • #8
  9. Albert Arthur Podcaster
    Albert Arthur
    @AlbertArthur

    GKC: Change that, and you have a great game.

     Exactly! Similarly, curling would be more exciting if they used land mines instead of tea kettles!

    They do use tea kettles, right?

    • #9
  10. Pencilvania Inactive
    Pencilvania
    @Pencilvania

    Why does this year’s World Cup logo have hands all around a ball if you don’t use hands? Or is it supposed to be a three-handed goalie?

    worldcuplogo4

    • #10
  11. Sandy Member
    Sandy
    @Sandy

    Albert Arthur:

    How anyone can think that soccer, a game in which players run back and forth and kick the ball at random for several hours without scoring any goals, is more interesting than baseball, I’ll never know. What I do know is that every 4 years I have to endure obnoxious people in New York City talking about how soccer is too sophisticated for Americans.

    If you like soccer, fine. Don’t tell me I have to.

    I recommend Umberto Eco’s How to Travel with a Salmon & Other Essays, in which he describes his efforts to deal with taxi drivers and others who insist he must know about and love soccer. Hilarious, and his account of his experience dealing with the Italian bureaucracy when he needed to replace a lost driver’s license is also memorable.

    • #11
  12. Johnny Dubya Member
    Johnny Dubya
    @JohnnyDubya

    AIG: “As for the scoring: I don’t get it. Compare soccer with basketball where there’s a score every 15 seconds. How boring is that? There’s no suspense at all. There’s no battle. Soccer games have “few” scores because it is actually hard to score.” 

    GKC: “I am talking about the flailing, the fake-injuries, the token dives, the whining, to earn a penalty in the box. It is ridiculous. The players (professionals?) come across as babies.”

    I agree that basketball is boring, and part of the problem is too-frequent scoring. My late father had the right idea: Raise the rim one foot.

    My solution to the scoring problem (and, yes, it is a problem, AIG) in soccer is similar: Increase the size of the goal. There is a happy medium in terms of scoring. Basketball, too much. Soccer, too little. The soccer goal should be whatever size translates to the winning team typically scoring in the range of 4 to 7 goals.

    The dives are unsportsmanlike. I don’t care for excessive celebrating, either. Brooks’s face-down blubbering was unseemly. Am I watching a stage drama, or a sport?

    • #12
  13. douglaswatt25@yahoo.com Moderator
    douglaswatt25@yahoo.com
    @DougWatt

    Basketball….Thump, thump, squeak, squeak
    Baseball….Hangnail go on the 15 day disabled list
    Pro football….Every touchdown scored players acts as if they’ve never been in the end zone before.
    Hockey….No faults that I can think of.
    Every sport has their problems, other than hockey of course.

    • #13
  14. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Soccer will never be an American love because the best in the world refuse to play here professionally until their skills have diminished to the point that no Euro club will have them.

    Look at the NBA, NFL and MLB. The foreign born players are the best and go home to play for their national teams in international play. There has been two Americans to take home a winners medal in the FA cup. (Tim Howard in 2004 and Julian Sturgis in 1873)

    • #14
  15. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Time for me to make stake out a third position, unpopular to all: The number of scoring plays is irrelevant to how exciting a game is.

    The idea that a 15-0 run in basketball that eliminates the other team’s lead is boring because there is “too much scoring happening” is just absurd. The same is true in reverse for Soccer.

    All sports have sections of the game which drag. The last two minutes of a close NBA game are hell because of the intentional fouls and timeouts. Baseball desperately needs a pitch clock. Huge sections of a soccer game are spent in the midfield with nothing interesting happening.

    They all have their elements of boring with the exception of hockey, which is a nearly perfect game.

    • #15
  16. Mendel Member
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    I have no problem with people who think soccer is boring, but I find it strange when they think it’s objectively inferior to, say, baseball or tennis.

    In baseball, the ball is only actually “live” for less than 1% of the total game time, and 7 of the 9 players on the field will spend less than 2 minutes of the game actually fielding the ball. And it’s so athletically taxing that most players are overweight and many used to chew tobacco throughout the game.

    Tennis is the exact opposite: constant action – but the same action, over and over again.

    In all of these cases, the sport doesn’t become interesting unless you take the time to get into it. If you played Little League, you understand how difficult batting can be, and the subtleties of pitching strategies. Similarly, once I started playing soccer in college, I started to appreciate it much more.

    So is soccer’s popularity baffling? Yes, but no more so than most other sports.

    • #16
  17. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    Scott Abel (formerly EstoniaKat):

    I am watching Belgium-Algeria as I watch this.I am rather sick of arguing the merits of soccer. If you don’t like it, fine. Don’t watch. 

    But I could make a similar argument about arguing the merits of different sports. Personally, I love arguing about what makes sport great, and which sports best exemplify those goods. Saying “it’s just a matter of taste” is a cop-out. Are there real goods here or aren’t there? If there are, we can talk about them.

    • #17
  18. Johnny Dubya Member
    Johnny Dubya
    @JohnnyDubya

    “I think it’s interesting that Americans and Australians (who I would name as the most athletic nations in the world) are both noteworthy for their lack of interest in soccer. Like us, the Aussies don’t really need to obsess over soccer, because they have their own sports.”

    I agree. Australian Rules Football is a vast improvement over soccer, because of its use of hands, and more-frequent scoring.

    • #18
  19. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

     

     What an asinine complaints. The constant stopping and pausing and clock maneuvers is one of the most annoying things about Football. It is a 1.5 hour game that take 3 hours to play, because it lacks dynamism, because the darn clock keeps stopping. Furthermore Football is a sport of freaks, because of its over reliance on specialized positions and play. Who really thinks a lineman is anything more than a glorified meat obstacle. At least soccer requires all its players to be physically fit, and develop both strength and coordination. Lets face it American sports are just weak. Basketball is only interesting in the last 2 minutes, baseball is only interesting once in a blue moon when a pitcher is on a hot streak, football is only interesting every other minute when it isn’t pausing for a commercial brake, and NASCAR is only as interesting as a car crash on the side of the road (and lets be honest that’s what everyone watches it for). 

    Now that I have glibly laid into American sports can I ask why people feel the need to just complain about soccer? It just seems like needless griping. 

    • #19
  20. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Doug Watt Baseball….Hangnail go on the 15 day disabled list

    You play 162 regular season games and 30 in the preseason and get back to me on that.

    • #20
  21. Mendel Member
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    Rachel Lu:

    I also don’t like the way that soccer mostly excludes the use of hands. Hands are the most amazing of our physical tools, and sport is meant to display physical excellence. So a sport that handicaps its players from the start by barring the use of their greatest asset… well, it just isn’t going to be the coolest sport on the market. 

     I would argue the opposite: one characteristic of nearly all good sports is that they take a natural human skill and hamstring it.

    For instance, we are incredibly agile on our feet – so hockey prevents them from being used. We are also much better at controlling objects we can wrap our hands around – so basketballs are slightly bigger than what most people can grasp (although not the pros). And the list goes on.

    And learning to kick a ball in such a precise manner while running is every bit as difficult as shooting a basket while being heavily guarded.

    • #21
  22. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Rachel Lu:

    Scott Abel (formerly EstoniaKat):

    I am watching Belgium-Algeria as I watch this.I am rather sick of arguing the merits of soccer. If you don’t like it, fine. Don’t watch.

    But I could make a similar argument about arguing the merits of different sports. Personally, I love arguing about what makes sport great, and which sports best exemplify those goods. Saying “it’s just a matter of taste” is a cop-out. Are there real goods here or aren’t there? If there are, we can talk about them.

     To be honest all team sports are deficient in terms of true athleticism and competition. True competition should happen between individuals and should require physical strength, coordination, endurance, and willpower. Thus in reality boxing and tennis are probably the best sports. 

    • #22
  23. douglaswatt25@yahoo.com Moderator
    douglaswatt25@yahoo.com
    @DougWatt

    The great thing about ice hockey is that the Brits and Scots in Canada were able to teach the French to excel on the ice so their only talent was not just confined to the kitchen. An accomplishment that never gets the recognition that it deserves. What a wonderful world.

    • #23
  24. EstoniaKat Inactive
    EstoniaKat
    @ScottAbel

    Pencilvania:

    Why does this year’s World Cup logo have hands all around a ball if you don’t use hands? Or is it supposed to be a three-handed goalie?

    picard

    • #24
  25. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    Disagree with both Mendel and Frank. Sports can be better or worse. We can actually make sports better or worse through rule changes and innovations in strategy. Football was kind of a mediocre sport until the passing game really took off; now it’s one of the world’s truly great sports.

    Sports tap different physical skills to different degrees. The ones that display more human excellences (in better or more spectacular ways) are just better sports. I mean, there’s a reason why we only watch, say, diving, once every four years when Olympians do it. It’s kind of interesting as a one-off, but not “a great sport” the way that football or basketball are.

    Sports can also have more or less interesting narrative structures. Nope, I’m not joking about that. A sport is more satisfying when you can see its “excellences” (skill, teamwork, daring) paying off in a developing storyline. A sporting match is a showcase of athleticism, but it’s also a drama, and like any drama, it can be “plotted” well or badly. Of course part of the joy of it is that it’s real and not scripted, but the rules can still affect the satisfaction of the emerging narratives.

    The NBA likes to argue that their players are the best “all-around” great athletes, and I think they have a case. Baseball is an elegant sport with a high level of athletic specialization, though I think it is a defect that it doesn’t encourage as much all-around athleticism. Football is simply the most strategically complex sport there is; it also requires enormous physical courage and strength. 

    So what about soccer? What’s it’s great strength? Keep in mind before denigrating my judgment that while I certainly make no claim to be either “a true fan” or highly knowledgeable about the sport, I have in fact sat through quite a number of soccer matches. And taken some pleasure in them. But just not as much as in our best American sports.

    • #25
  26. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Valiuth Now that I have glibly laid into American sports can I ask why people feel the need to just complain about soccer?

    THUGS

    • #26
  27. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Valiuth:

    What an asinine complaints. The constant stopping and pausing and clock maneuvers is one of the most annoying things about Football. It is a 1.5 hour game that take 3 hours to play, because it lacks dynamism, because the darn clock keeps stopping. Furthermore Football is a sport of freaks, because of its over reliance on specialized positions and play. Who really thinks a lineman is anything more than a glorified meat obstacle. At least soccer requires all its players to be physically fit, and develop both strength and coordination. Lets face it American sports are just weak. Basketball is only interesting in the last 2 minutes, baseball is only interesting once in a blue moon when a pitcher is on a hot streak, football is only interesting every other minute when it isn’t pausing for a commercial brake, and NASCAR is only as interesting as a car crash on the side of the road (and lets be honest that’s what everyone watches it for).

    Now that I have glibly laid into American sports can I ask why people feel the need to just complain about soccer? It just seems like needless griping.

    I realize part of what you are doing here is taking critics of soccer to task by using their tactics in reverse, but why would highly specialized positions be boring? What intrinsic part of people be extremely good at one thing each, and working together in a unit, could possibly make it boring as opposed to all players being jacks of all trades?

    Why would football’s bursts of intense action paused by no action for 30 seconds, be worse than bursts of intense action in soccer (which are far less frequent) paused by large gaps of effectively no action?

    The only difference in stoppages seems to be that sports aside from soccer have a frenzy at the end of the game to try and get the equalizer before the clock runs down. Soccer loses much of that magic by not knowing definitively when the game is going to end. Is this the last push downfield? Maybe. I maintain that the sport would be better served with the stoppage time being on a fixed clock, instead of in a ref’s hand.

    • #27
  28. Mendel Member
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    What does frustrate me about soccer is that it could be a much better game with a few tweaks, but those will likely never happen.

    It’s true that most of the game is just running around the midfield unproductively, that it often drags in the last third, and 0-0 ties (or game-deciding shootouts) are just pathetic.

    And all of these could easily be improved: the size of the field could be shortened, game time could be shortened, off-sides rules altered, more breaks brought into the game, etc. Compared to football or basketball, soccer has much more potential to be made more exciting.

    But the fact that it’s such a global entity (and ruled by the iron fist of FIFA) means that change will never occur.

    • #28
  29. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    Mendel:

    Rachel Lu:

    I also don’t like the way that soccer mostly excludes the use of hands. Hands are the most amazing of our physical tools, and sport is meant to display physical excellence. So a sport that handicaps its players from the start by barring the use of their greatest asset… well, it just isn’t going to be the coolest sport on the market.

    I would argue the opposite: one characteristic of nearly all good sports is that they take a natural human skill and hamstring it. 

    Not actually opposite, though. It’s true that all sports impose handicaps for the sake of developing other excellences. The problem with soccer is that its imposed handicap actually removes our most amazing, most characteristically human appendage from play. (Almost.) That lowers the ceiling on what sort of excellence can result.

    • #29
  30. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Rachel Lu:

    Disagree with both Mendel and Frank. Sports can be better or worse. We can actually make sports better or worse through rule changes and innovations in strategy.

     That’s not what I said at all. I explicitly laid out an improvement for baseball in the form of a pitch clock.

    What I said is that all sports (except hockey) are flawed.

    • #30

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.