How to Make Soccer More Interesting to Americans, Everyone Else

When I was a little kid, I played in the local pee-wee basketball league. We were all so short, slow, and uncoordinated that scoring even an uncontested layup was a rarity. We won one game by a score of 2 – 0 in overtime. Bless my sainted mother, who cheered from the bleachers while bored out of her mind. Well, the soccer World Cup final was decided yesterday by half that score with an overtime victory by Spain over the Netherlands, and it was hardly more interesting than watching ten inept third graders in tube socks. Sure, I’m a crude American with no appreciation for soccer’s nuances, but I was joined in my living room by my long-suffering English soccer fanatic friend Steve, and we were both bored to tears by the relentlessly defensive game played by both sides. Apparently, it’s better to never score at all than to be scored on, a strategy that only intensifies as the game goes into overtime. We both agreed: Thank god we didn’t go to Nevada Smiths to watch this crud. But what can be done to make soccer more watchable? Well, we Yanks pioneered the use of the 24-second shot clock for basketball back in 1954, and it revolutionized the game. Maybe it’s time for a soccer shot clock as well.

I imagine that more than a few Europeans, South Americans, and Africans don’t think there’s anything wrong with the World’s Game, and if I have a problem with it, I can go jump in a fjord. I’d ask them, respectfully, if they’re being honest with themselves. Who can sincerely tell me that they find watching nearly two solid hours of a sporting event with bugger-all happening on the pitch interesting, regardless of the complexities of the defenses being deployed? Seriously dudes, it sucks, and the only thing that would have made yesterday’s final worse would have been if it ended in a shootout, as it did four years ago. No head-butt could mitigate the complete absence of satisfaction left in the wake of that train wreck. At least this year’s final was decided by a goal scored in competitive play. One sad, lonely little goal.

Soccer’s great, when it’s played by actual players, rather than professional risk managers who take every opportunity to hedge, dance, and dive, attacking only when the time is absolutely right. It’s not their fault. The game has simply evolved to the point where defense is favored over offense. There’s an imbalance. When that happens in a sport, you fix the sport, you don’t rationalize it by telling yourself this is what you deserve as a fan. That you’d appreciate it if only you were more sophisticated, so it’s best not to complain, lest you be branded an oaf.

Sorry, but having no real soccer tradition ourselves (other than every school kid in the nation playing it) we Americans are in a unique position to say the emperor has no clothes. The rest of the world will call us philistines regardless, so we’ve got nothing to lose by saying, World, you need to amp up the action in your sport.

So, a shot clock. The team with possession of the ball has to at least be setting up an attack after 30 seconds or so, otherwise the other team gets it. Of course, it might not work because teams rarely have possession of the ball for 30 consecutive seconds, but it gives them something to work toward. Always advance the ball, never back up, and lower the defenses on your own goal to do it. You get scored on, fine. Go get it back. Seriously, what else could be done to increase scoring, short of making the goal bigger?

That said, South Africa did a great job hosting the games, and the fireworks at the end were a nice touch. They filled the void left on the field.

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