The quadrennial, American pseudo soccer craze ended on June 30 when reality crashed the party – the US team was outclassed by that world mega power, Belgium. Every four years, the American sporting public is assured that the US soccer team is good enough to compete with the best in the world. But more than that, we are reminded forcefully that soccer is the most popular game on the planet; that it entails great physical stamina, delicate strategy, beautiful performances and high drama. It is pointedly suggested that our failure to elevate soccer in popularity to the level of the big four (football, baseball, basketball and hockey) is a testament to how out of step the American sporting public truly is.
Well, I’m not buying any of it. Yes, I dutifully watched the telecasts of the four US games in Brazil. But, with the exception of the game against Portugal, I found myself mostly bored. My eyes wandered endlessly to the clock in the upper right, thinking “how much more of this can I bear?” There is virtually no scoring. An absurd percentage of the games report a scintillating half-time score of ‘nil-nil’; and in too many of them, at the conclusion of the full (interminable) 90 minutes, the scoreboard is unaltered. And if – miracle of miracles – one team does manage a goal, then they spend the remaining time striving to arrange a thrilling final score of ‘one-nil.’ BORING!
Now don’t mistake me. I appreciate the skill, dexterity and physical prowess of the players. Some of the moves they make with the ball defy imagination. And I understand the teamwork that goes into advancing the ball and securing a shot on goal. But spectators go to a sporting event to witness a competition. You win a competition by scoring points. The act of scoring is the main objective of the players and coaches; and it is the moment that spectators pay to see. The more the better.
Again, don’t mistake me. I can appreciate a low-scoring pitcher’s duel in baseball. And every once in a while, it’s a pleasure when two superior football defenses deny their opponents the goal line. But I wouldn’t want that to be the norm. If it were, baseball and football would lose their popularity in the US rather quickly.
But that is the state of affairs in soccer in nearly every game. It’s akin to living your whole life knowing that there are going to be only one or two memorable moments in the entire journey. Why bother!
I have never been to an MLS game in the US. In the last ten years, I’ve watched maybe 15 minutes of it on TV. I suppose I will gather myself to tune in on the US team in 2018 – but I doubt anything will be different. There is nothing in soccer that can match Peyton Manning or LeBron James lighting up a scoreboard.
I suppose this attitude says something about me as an American. But I’ll leave the sociological analysis to the sports and culture sociologists. For me, soccer has no scoring, leaves me snoring and so I’ll go on ignoring the game the world calls football, but which I call boring.
This post also appeared in The Sports Column