Unlike the World Series, the World Cup is a truly global event. Soccer (football) is the most popular sport in the world by any measure. So why hasn’t soccer caught on in America like it has everywhere else? I lived in New York in the ’70s and early ’80s, when the greats of the sport came to America to play for the New York Cosmos in an effort to popularize the sport here. Pele, Beckenbauer, Chinaglia all played for the Cosmos at one time or another, filling 80,000 seat capacity Giants stadium. It was an exciting time for soccer in the U.S.
So, what happened in the almost 50 years since then? Why hasn’t soccer achieved the popularity and heights that were predicted for it here?
As beautiful as the beautiful game is, it has flaws. Offsides in soccer is the worst rule in all of sport. Many other sports popular in America strategically strive to get behind the defense to increase their chances of scoring (basketball, hockey, football). Not allowed in soccer. The Fix – get rid of the offsides rule.
As beautiful as the passing is, the beautiful game can quickly become a mind-numbingly boring game of “keep away” as the players continue to pass the ball backward to defenders and the goalie. The Fix – once the ball advances across midfield, it cannot be passed back over the midfield line. This rule, borrowed from basketball, will encourage more attacking and counter attacking, as well as increased ball pressure with more players in a smaller area of the field.
Eliminate shootouts. Deciding games that end in a tie by shootout is like having a free throw contest to decide a basketball game. The game should be decided by the game itself. The Fix – in overtime, remove one player from each team every minute. This will create scoring opportunities. When you get down to three on three full field, someone will score, and it will have been decided by a version of soccer and a test of fitness, not a shooting contest.
Run the clock down, not up. How can we build excitement at the end of a game when we don’t know when the game will end? Only the referee knows exactly how much stoppage time will be added on. (Talk about an opportunity for corruption. We need transparency in the time left in a game) The Fix – run the clock down so that the game ends at 0:00. And here’s a thought, stop the clock during “stoppage time.”
Please, stop flopping. If I want to watch a soap opera, I will change the channel. And no vuvuzelas. I can’t hear the fans sing.
Once again, I have boldly gone where, perhaps I should not have. I have already upset some in the local hockey community with a prior column. I am only trying to help. The media clearly agrees with me. Otherwise, why do we have the broadcasts 90 in 30. These are attempts to condense a 90-minute game into 30 minutes for TV because the full 90 minutes lacks action.
Youth soccer is a wonderful introduction to sport, even though a kid’s game looks more like a swarm of bees around the ball. Let’s build on the popularity of Ted Lasso and the latest fashion trend of celebrity team ownership. We have strong women’s teams. Let’s get the guys caught up. Oh, and if you have a sport you’d like me to fix for you, just let me know.
Jim Cross is a retired Fort Lewis College professor and basketball coach.