Postgame Press: America’s soccer problem

If you did not know, America is not the center of the universe. It is tough these days not to focus on the United States and the United States alone, but there is plenty more going on out there. This is an attitude that extends from pop culture and politics to sports.

America has the four major sports: football, baseball, hockey and basketball. Where does soccer fit in? Soccer is only the most-watched sport on earth with about four billion fans. American football, the most popular sport in the United States, comes in with 400 million fans. Not even in the top ten. This year, seven percent of Americans identified soccer as their favorite sport, only two percentage points behind baseball and four percentage points ahead of hockey. So despite America being well behind on the most popular sport on earth, soccer is on the up and up.

There are more than a few reasons why Americans do not like soccer. While anecdotal, I have heard the following sentiments from my friends. First, we are not good at soccer. While that is not necessarily true, I know not making the World Cup was a tough blow to Americans wanting to get into soccer. People have complained about flopping, but I guess we put up with it in the NBA, so that should not be a huge disclaimer. Finally (and this is the biggest disincentive to me): ties.

When a sport ends in a tie, it feels like a waste of time. Spending 90 minutes watching regulation time, with 15 minutes at the half, seems like a ruined afternoon when neither team scores even once and they end in a tie. You might get some excitement from good shots and good saves, but people like scoring. When a game ends in a tie, especially one that is 0–0, people seem to take issue with it.

I now offer some ideas on how to make soccer more fun to watch. Let me tell you: one, Tufts is good at it and the games are fun to go to, and two, if the entire rest of the world loves something, it is probably an America problem, not a “them” problem.

Soccer is super hard. I know it looks like kicking a ball is easy, but watching soccer players do it is as impressive as other sports. Their precision and control are amazing. Appreciate that and you start to appreciate the game. They do not stop the clock every second. Part of me hates this because I want a specific amount of time in every game, which sometimes they get way off; at the same time, basketball games take forever to end with timeouts and fouls. Finally, the best part: the players and fans call the refs “Sir.” It is hilarious to watch furious people call someone “Sir.” Rugby players do this, too. And if you do not enjoy that, you will not enjoy soccer. But you should probably try. The rest of the world has some pretty good ideas.