The conventional wisdom is that the rest of the world is gaining on the United States. I would like to present evidence to the contrary: we don’t watch soccer.
Some of us actually watch a little soccer, but we don’t go crazy over it. We don’t have riots or murders over soccer. We simply don’t care that much about it.
While the rest of the world goes ga-ga over Euro 2012, with European nations coming to a virtual standstill during crucial games, the European soccer championship barely registers a blip on the sports radar on this side of “the pond,” as the British say. That’s a good thing.
Most United States residents couldn’t tell you which teams are in the Euro 2012 final. Even if we narrow the pool down to U.S. sports fans, most couldn’t tell you which countries are in Sunday’s final (Italy and Spain).
The preceding paragraph would be cited by many as evidence of ignorance, supposedly typical of Americans’ ignorance of world events. To the contrary, I cite it as evidence that we have discriminating tastes.
We have real football. We have no reason to watch futbol.
There are a few good reasons to watch soccer. As I wrote at the end of last week’s Fish ‘n Chips column, if you’re suffering from insomnia, Euro 2012 is a wonderful cure.
Here is my summary of the quarterfinal game between Italy and England: Italy controlled play and almost nothing of note happened until Italy won the game on penalty kicks, which is the dumbest way to decide the outcome of a game in all of sports. The most interesting play, and I use the term “interesting” loosely, was when Italy had a goal taken away for an offside violation, which is another stupid soccer rule that needs to be revised.
The game was boring beyond belief. The last time 22 people produced so little action was during an octogenarian orgy.
Even the overtimes weren’t exciting. Overtime is not conducted using a sudden-death – or “golden goal,” as soccer aficionados call it – format. Instead, fans are forced to sit through two 15-minute overtime sessions. As I wrote last week, I can’t fathom an overtime session in a Stanley Cup playoff game that approached the boredom level of these overtimes. I can’t even imagine a regular-season game between the Wild and Hurricanes containing so little action and excitement.
I don’t like to complain, however, without offering solutions. I can’t fix soccer, but I can help it.
First, go back to the “golden goal” overtime format. That’s a lot more exciting. And it’s not as if one team had a decisive advantage, as was the case for the team with the first possession in the NFL before it recently changed its overtime rules. Overtime is supposed to excite your fans, not bore them to death.
Second, get rid of penalty kicks as a means to decide a game. There are teams that blatantly play conservatively in an attempt to run out the clock during overtime because they think they have a better chance of winning during penalty kicks. Removing penalty kicks as an option would force teams to play more aggressively during overtime.
I don’t like penalty kicks, but I’m OK with leagues using them to decide regular-season games, the way the NHL uses the shootout. Both teams earn points, there is a decisive winner rather than a tie, and fans won’t have the dilemma of whether to stick around for overtime or go home and get some sleep before going to work or school the next day. But penalty kicks absolutely, positively should not be used for playoff or tournament games. Keep playing until someone scores.
While I’m fixing soccer, get rid of the stupid offside rule. No team should be able to force an offside by moving its back line forward, causing an opposing forward to be caught in an “offside trap.” In effect, a team is rewarded for not defending a play instead of defending it.
If soccer purists don’t want to scrap the offside rule completely, my solution is to only apply it beyond the penalty area. Make the front of the penalty box similar to the blue line in hockey. Once the ball crosses the front of the penalty area, players can no longer be considered offside.
I know some soccer fans’ heads are about to explode, so let me clarify a few things. I’m not anti-soccer. I encourage kids to play soccer. I’m not telling people not to attend soccer games. I know people who love going to Union games – more so last season than this season, but that has to do with the quality of the team. I suspect that soccer fans are constantly doing chants to compensate for the lack of action on the field, but if you enjoy the atmosphere at soccer games, please don’t let a cranky columnist prevent you from enjoying it.
Soccer on television, however, is another matter. If you enjoy watching soccer on TV, then keep on watching. My problem is with those who view our country’s disinterest in soccer as some sort of cultural inferiority, putting our lack of appreciation of soccer on the same level as failure to appreciate fine art, food or music.
The truth is we don’t watch soccer because it’s boring. B-O-R-I-N-G. It’s not because we don’t understand the intricacies of the game.
I played soccer. In fact, I was the first captain in the history of my high school’s soccer program. I enjoyed playing soccer. If it weren’t for this job, however, I don’t know if I would ever watch soccer on TV, with the possible exception of the Olympics.
The failure to appreciate soccer is not a sign of the United States’ ignorance or its impending downfall. To the contrary, it might just be a sign that we’ve got better taste or better things to do, such as mow the lawn or scrub the bathroom floor.
CLASS ACT: The trade of Jim Thome to the Baltimore Orioles is bittersweet. I hate to lose a class act like Thome, but I’m happy to see him have an opportunity to play more often.
Thome couldn’t play more with the Phillies because his back no longer allows him to play first base, a possibility raised by many observers before this season. Nobody begrudged Thome the opportunity to finish out his career with his mentor, Charlie Manuel, but that was before Thome went on a tear (.333, 4 homers, 14 RBI) as a designated hitter during the Phillies’ stretch of inter-league games. Thome’s performance during those games, as well as his walkoff home run – the 609th of his career – against the Rays on June 23, were two of the highlights of this dreary season.
Thome deserves the opportunity to play somewhere where he can contribute and make a difference. Many Phillies fans will be rooting for this class act to help the Orioles end their long playoff drought.
LOOKING TOWARD FUTURE: We won’t know how good the Sixers’ draft was until a few years down the road. They ended up with two first-round picks, taking St. John’s forward Maurice Harkless 15th overall and then trading for Mississippi State forward/center Arnett Moultrie, drafted 27th overall by the Heat.
If one of these players develops into a consistent starter down the road, the draft will be considered a success. If both players develop into above-average players or one becomes a star, the draft will be considered a huge success. And if neither player develops into a consistent starter, the draft will be viewed as a missed opportunity.
In the short term, I’m not sure how much impact either player will make during his rookie season. But the draft gave the Sixers two more pieces to complete their puzzle during this offseason of transition.
NO-WIN SITUATION: It’s mind-boggling that we’ve reached the beginning of July and Cliff Lee still does not have a win.
VOTE CHOOCH: The rosters for the All-Star Game will be announced today (Sunday). Unless the National League uses three catchers, there’s a chance Carlos Ruiz won’t be on the roster. If he’s among the list of players from which fans vote for the team’s final reserve, Phillies fans should make sure that Chooch wins the Internet balloting in a landslide.
FREE AGENCY: Sunday (July 1) is the first day of free agency in the NHL and NBA. NHL teams can sign free agents, starting at noon. NBA teams can begin negotiating with free agents, but can’t officially sign them until July 11.
The Flyers are searching for a defenseman and possibly a forward to replace James van Riemsdyk. The talent pool is relatively thin, with New Jersey forward Zach Parise and Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter as the top players available. The lack of quality depth in the free-agent pool should drive up the price for players such as defenseman Matt Carle, which is why it might be difficult for the Flyers to re-sign him.
The questions for the Sixers concern their own free agents. Will they attempt to re-sign Spencer Hawes or Lou Williams? Will they match any offers to restricted free agent Lavoy Allen, who contributed beyond expectations during his rookie season? And will the Sixers hire a new team president and general manager to make those decisions? The Sixers could change a lot during the next 11 days.
THE WAIT CONTINUES: I was disappointed to see former Flyers coach Fred Shero passed over again for the Hockey Hall of Fame. The same goes for Eric Lindros. Shero was one of the most innovative coaches in NHL history, the first to hire a full-time assistant coach on the bench and one of the earliest coaches to use video. Lindros was a dominant player who, despite reduced production his last few seasons, still averaged more than a point per game while playing in a low-scoring era.
Joe Sakic and Mats Sundin were deserving choices among those in their first year of eligibility. Some were surprised that Brendan Shanahan wasn’t chosen as well. Center Adam Oates and forward Pavel Bure didn’t make it their first year, but were chosen for the Hall this year. In my opinion, Lindros would have been a better “second-chance” choice than either Oates or Bure.
OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: With Rafael Nadal eliminated in the second round and Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer on the same side of the draw, there is a golden opportunity for England’s Andy Murray to reach the Wimbledon finals. But Murray, seeded fourth, is not the only player who could take advantage of this opportunity.
Fifth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, seventh-seeded David Ferrer and ninth-seeded Juan Martin Del Potro are all capable of reaching the final. Ferrer and Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, will meet in the fourth round.
Mardy Fish and Brian Baker are the United States’ two remaining hopes at Wimbledon. The 10th-seeded Fish, who had surgery this spring to correct a heart arrhythmia, plays Tsonga in the fourth round. Baker, making a tremendous run as an unseeded player, faces 27th seed Philipp Kohlschreiber in the fourth round.
Eric Fisher, who has been covering sports for more than 23 years, wishes Jim Thome the best of luck for the remainder of his Hall of Fame career.