We got past the whole 'AMEURCANZ DONT LIEK SOCCER' thing in, like, 2009, right guys?
Like, we got past the point where people would be publishing 'How to make Americans like soccer with these simple five steps' posts unironically several years ago, right?
Apparently not, since Mark Knudson of Mile High Sports published ... well, it was a post about how much Americans hate soccer and have always hated soccer today. He watched the US-Mexico game, sat down at his computer and decided that this would be a good thing to write. Normally, I try and avoid these sorts of things, because we all know how unoriginal they always are.
This time though, the terribility -- new word! -- of it was too much to bear. Literally every single line is dripping with the same level of 'Are you $#&*ing joking?' that every post like it has contained since about 1993. I'm still seriously stunned that this post was published in 2013, and not 2003, 1993 or, more fittingly, 1913, the first year that US Soccer existed. (I believe Handegg was just catching fire at that time!)
First of all, he should not have published it under the title, "Knudson: How to attract Americans to soccer". A more fitting title would have been "Knudson: How to attract me and me alone to soccer, other Americans be damned". I'm fairly sure that the 7 million people who tuned in to watch US vs. Mexico on Tuesday night would be just fine and dandy without any of the 'fixes' in this list.
Onto the fun:
A lot of us have been very critical of the game itself, not only for its lack of scoring (the Team USA vs. Mexico 0-0 draw on Tuesday night being a great example), but more importantly, for its lack of attempts at scoring.
In Tuesday night’s scoreless tie, the U.S. team mustered a grand total of one shot on goal, while doing its best rope-a-dope for 90-plus minutes on national television. It was, in a word, boring.
The United States didn't have very many chances by design, of course. Why not mention Mexico, who had 19 attempts on goal, and indeed would have scored three or four on a more lucky evening? (Indeed, I never hear anyone calling hockey boring when a team is leading in shots 43-12 but are getting stonewalled by the keeper and the pipe.) Mark paints this particular game as if it was two midfields battling for possession and never bothering to venture forward the entire match, like that infamous episode of the Simpsons, instead of what it actually was -- one team playing turtle ball while the other team relentlessly attacked the opposing net.
It's a classic archetype of a game, and the type of game that the US needed to play. Had the States attempted to play the game that Mark was preferring they play, with every man forward and shooting on sight -- which they actually did show occasional spells of, though not to the effect of shots on net in the end -- they would have lost 5-0. Certainly, I don't think that the way to attract Americans to the game is to lose every game 5-0 in the name of 'flair'.
Pointing out the brilliant defensive performances of Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler isn't the American way, though. If there ain't no goals, there ain't no fun.
Critics were vocal the next morning, a scoreless tie providing plenty of ammunition. Yet instead of heaping continued criticism on the game, perhaps it would be better to offer up some legitimate – not radical – ideas on how to improve soccer. There can be tweaks that improve the game and make it more appealing to American sports fans without messing with the essence of the sport.
We’re not talking about anything like "let them use their hands" or "get rid of the goalie" or anything like that.
By critics, he of course means "lazy sports journalists who didn't actually watch the game".
The last line in that quoteblock is my very favorite of this entire piece, because Mark starts the whole thing off by saying that there's no need to radicalize anything in the most popular sport in the world, and then goes on to suggest that the entire world essentially take on MLS' rules from 1996 simply because he and a handful of other Americans don't happen to like it.
A great place to start? How about the elimination of the whole "stoppage time" nonsense. Yes, it’s a tradition that’s more than a century old. So what? It’s outdated and asinine. As it stands, soccer games have a running clock that continues to run when the ball goes out of play. At the conclusion of play, the referee – who is also the official timekeeper for some reason – is allowed, at his sole discretion, to "make an allowance for time lost through substitutions, injuries and other stoppages." It is up to the referee alone to signal the end of the match.
It seems like a no-brainer to simply run the clock the normal way other sports do. A pair of 45-minute halves where the clock stops when the ball goes out of bounds or an official calls timeout, etc. When the half is over, it’s over. There should be no mystery as to how much "extra" time is left at the whim of the referee. The entire concept of stoppage time is ridiculous and needs to be tossed.
When I said he wants the entire world to change to 1996 era MLS rules, I wasn't kidding. Because clocks that count down were a thing back then, and guess what? Somehow, MLS is doing better now despite changing to the actual rules of the game that everyone else follows. The only place that you still find that rule is college soccer, and the only people who actually like college soccer are people from Indiana and Akron.
Stopping the clock every time the ball goes out of play would be ridiculous and lead to three hour long matches, just like American Football boasts. It would slow down the game considerably because players would get to rest between every throw in, maybe go grab a bottle of water. Removing the 2-5 minutes of stoppage time would, ironically, add 20-30 minutes of just plain old stoppage. Part of the charm of soccer is that it takes just about two hours, give or take a minute or two, to play, just about every single time. You never have to schedule around it because it might go long, like a four hour long football game can.
The fourth official, not the referee, is the one who establishes the stoppage time. The referee can override them, but I can count on zero hands the number of times I've seen a match go unfairly above or below the fourth official's time count -- at least in games that didn't involve Alex Ferguson, but that's a different story.
Also, am I the only one who is just now hearing about the massive American hatred of the concept of stoppage time? That's a new one on me.
Next, eliminate all ties. If the game is tied at the end of regulation, then have a normal 10-minute sudden death overtime session followed by a shoot-out, the same way the NHL does. Simple and effective. This would have prevented the boring rope-a-dope strategy of Team USA on Tuesday night and given fans a winner.
This has been so done to death over the years that I hardly feel the need to expound, but since we're here... that's also an old school MLS rule. They did shootouts in 1996 -- note, not penalty kicks, which the rest of the world does, but NHL style 'start in midfield and run in' type shootouts. In fact, if not for the bonus points that shootouts provided, the really quite terrible 1997 Rapids would never have made the 1997 MLS Cup final.
Ask any NHL purist, and they'll probably tell you that they hate the shootout, by the way. Just because the casual American half-fans can't stand to see a game without a winner doesn't mean that actual fans of the sport don't have things to say. Though, plenty of people also think that Americans really don't like hockey, which is why they made some of those ridiculous rule changes during the second to last lockout in the first place. (NEED MORE GOALS!!!)
By the way, how would that have prevented the rope-a-dope strategy of the USMNT on Tuesday? They would have had more incentive to play for the 0-0 tie if there was a shootout to follow, because they would have had a real chance to win in the crapshoot of a finish by holding the line! (As an example from not too long ago that actually fits this scenario, look at Chelsea's run to the Champions League crown in 2012. Defensive, clogging football from start to finish, the type that would make Mark cry, and a trophy won in the end after a hoofball goal and a PK shootout.)
Add a shot clock.
Never have four words so deeply understated a lack of knowledge of the game of soccer before. Here's the only thing I'll say in regards to this one: Barcalona, a team known for incredibly long build-ups to some of the most beautifully crafted goals in the entire world, would be absolutely fucked if a shot clock were added to the game. Nice.
(How would that even work? Do shots off target count? If they don't and every shot has to be on target for it to count, I'd argue that would make scoring go down because everything would be aimed right at the keeper, since aiming for the corners would risk missing the net.)
Penalize, don’t reward, flopping.
Good news, Mark! MLS is actually doing something about that, having handed out several retroactive penalties for flopping in the past few years. Unless you want to add sixteen more referees to the game so every angle of every play can be seen though, there will always be an element of flopping. Just like there is in the NHL and NFL, though we try and avoid ever talking about it.
Shrink the playing field some.
Playing fields in soccer can vary depending on the park, it's a bit like baseball in that way. And making playing fields smaller can detract from good, flowing play that leads to goals -- ask anyone who complained about the bandbox that is JELD-WEN Field last year.
Things like that would also speed up the pace of the game and make it more appealing to Americans.
Nah, just you. The 19,000+ people at DSGP last Saturday night would probably disagree with just about everything you've said that 'Americans' need to see here.
As American sports fans, we are not yet on board, but we are willing to negotiate. There’s nothing wrong with asking the sport to meet us halfway.
I'd really love for someone from another country to do one of these sorts of posts on Gridiron Football, just to see the Americans rushing to defend its honor. Quite frankly, Mark, it's not that soccer needs to change so that we can finally add you to the growing ranks of soccer fandom in this country. I'll be honest: we really don't want you.