Kickoff in One Week

Friday, June 04, 2010

Next week, the 2010 FIFA World Cup begins play in South Africa, and this time, I own a TiVo. This is also the first time I have followed things this closely heading into the tournament, thanks mainly to the excellent commentary and coverage available at RealClear Sports and the Fox Soccer Channel, respectively. I know that the former site didn't exist four years ago and suspect that the latter didn't, either. I see the proliferation of sites covering the game for an American audience as a positive sign of the maturation of soccer as a popular sport here.

In addition to there being more commentary geared towards the American market, I think the quality of that commentary has improved. Assessments of the chances for the American team seem more sober and less geared towards simply stirring up interest in the game here by glossing over our team's deficiencies. For example, Steven and Harrison Stark offer a very frank assessment of our team's roster titled, "The US Roster Isn't A Surprise For A Third-Tier Soccer Power."

We seem -- finally -- past the point that we're excited just to have made the tournament and now want to advance significantly there. (Our draw should help in that regard, as the English indirectly note as seen to the right. Let's hope Coach Bradley waves that rag around in the locker room before our squad's opening game with the Limeys, thereby provoking an upset!)

In addition, the reading choices among American fans show that they aren't just showing up every four years to cheer on the American team. Take today's "Most Read" list from Soccer America.

  1. Cover boy Rossi dropped by Azzurri
  2. Jose Torres makes East Texas town proud
  3. USA must fine tune backline
  4. USA 1-23 [US Men's National Team jersey numbers --ed]
  5. Stronger, broader game boosts Torres' value
  6. 'Shambolic' start to campaign
  7. Where will you be watching?
  8. ESPN2 offers 24-hour World Cup countdown
  9. Brazil gets scare in Zimbabwe
  10. U.S. star Boxx moves to third team
The many detractors of the American game will doubtless chortle and say, "Just as well," but who truly appreciates a sport who can't enjoy greatness on the part of any athlete who plays the game? That's what the World Cup is all about, and I'll have a great time watching it whether our team once again folds like a cheap lawnchair or surprises everyone by "punching above its weight," as I recall one commentator put it after a 2-1 tuneup win against Turkey.

Along those lines, here's a list, in no particular order, of interesting World Cup commentary I have encountered over the last few days. Any notes of mine follow, separated by a dash.
Finally, RealClear Sports previewed each of the initial eight groups of four teams (A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and H). The Starks regard Group F as the easiest, and D as the most challenging. Group C, where the Americans and the English begin play, they deem the most overrated. They previewed the groups in alphabetical order over a period of a couple of weeks, so the earlier previews are more likely to be less accurate due to injuries.

The tournament runs from June 11 until July 11, for a full month of soccer excellence. What say you, fellow soccer aficionados? What do you most anticipate? What is your favorite source of soccer news and commentary?

-- CAV


Mike said...

Ah, Soccer! High-kicking! Low-scoring! And ties? You bet!

There needs to be some sort of rule change vastly increasing offense if soccer is ever going to succeed in the USA. The same problem exists to a slightly lesser extent with hockey, which at least has its speed aesthetic going for it. In either game, the offense can execute a brilliant series of exchanges to work their way into scoring position, only to have a defender screw it all up with relative ease and put the offense right back where it started. Any time it's easier to "peel" than to score, a game suffers and you're stuck in zero-zero and one-zero territory (see also Curling before the recent scoring changes) because whenever peeling becomes effective, it always crowds out other strategies by its "default" nature.

Gus Van Horn said...


Yours is a common complaint that I'll quickly address two aspects about here. (To your credit, you didn't launch into unwarranted philosophical generalizations about the game being a "perfect product of socialism" "diabolically designed to deprive us viewers of the sight of success" like Robert Tracinski did around the last World Cup and some conservative almost reliably does every four years.)

In answer to the complaint among many Americans that soccer doesn't involve "enough" scoring, I'll take a couple of excerpts from the old post linked above. Note that both of these are facetious arguments:

"[W]hile we're on the subject, would someone please tell me how one 'scores' in figure skating? What was that? Oh! They're awarded by a panel of judges from countries whose residents regard America in Iraq as worse than Iran having nukes? Talk about a 'diabolical way of depriving us viewers of the sight of success.'


On the subject of scoring in sports (when such scoring isn't subject to judicial fiat), one could make a similarly facile argument condemning basketball for the opposite sin as soccer: having 'too much' scoring [and being 'Keynesian'].

Again, I don't think you're taking things even that far, but only stating why you think soccer can't catch on here.

There may be something to that, at least in the near term, and soccer likely will never become the most popular sport in America in our lifetimes, but it is catching on, and millions have played it as children and do so today. Those people understand the game enough not to be upset by the low scores.


Grant said...

I'm not at all put off by the low scoring in soccer. If I were, I could never be a severe baseball fan. However, what I don't understand is just why soccer - as opposed to games with a similar dynamic such as hockey and basketball - is generally embraced by the very same Americans who have absolutely no interest in those other two sports (and vice versa). In my experience, Americans who are interested in soccer are people who, for whatever reason, consciously chose not to be interested in sports, have come to regret it, and instead of admitting they were wrong, have picked up an interest in soccer because it implies to others that it was never that they didn't like sports per se, but simply that they didn't like American sports.

Of course I won't say that soccer is an inherently negative form of entertainment - although I do regard baseball and American football as superior (to both it, as well as hockey and basketball) - but this modern American interest in soccer strikes me as very pretentious.

Mike said...

Great post you linked.

The high scoring in basketball is a consequence of a separate rules flaw: hoops is a game in which it is too often an advantage to commit a penalty, and too often an advantage to "bait" a penalty.

Until a player fouls out, the number of fouls that player has is a meaningless figure. It's not like in a boxing match where a player getting scored upon repeatedly is generally going to be taking damage and thus less likely to mount an effective comeback. In basketball, reserve players can be used to foul with impunity and the worst thing that can happen is that the other team gets the points they were going to get anyway and your benchwarmer gets a temporary checkmark that will be erased at the end of the night. Best-case scenario, whiffs on the free throws and the penalty was pure advantage.

This draws out games at the end and makes the second half of close fourth quarters just a series of free throws and desperation drives. It's hurry-up-and-wait. It's like watching a Formula One race with traffic lights here and there along the track. Yeesh!

Worse yet, it's almost impossible to force an offensive foul because both of a defender's feet must be set. In a game where superathletes weave around one another with ease and grace, this virtually never happens, and referees have just about an impossible task of being sure of a defender's stance as a point guard comes blasting in full steam as they seem to do on every damned play.

If basketball awarded one more free throw than the number of points a shot from the spot of the foul was worth, keeping the "and-one" rule for shots in motion, you would see fouls virtually disappear and endgames vastly shorten. Couple that with eliminating the rule that a defender's feet must be set for an offensive charge to be a foul, and basketball becomes about 1000% better. Conditioning and finesse become more important, and thuggish tactics lose value.

Gus Van Horn said...


Certainly, soccer does end up looking pretentious due in part to its frequently being embraced for social metaphysical reasons -- by people for whom the main appeal of the game seems simply that it isn't what the hoi polloi in America like, and because it seems "European" (read: culturally superior) to them.

There's that, and the fact that some people (usually younger people) are genuine fans, but get carried away and start adopting British terms or even affect British accents when talking about the game. This even includes announcers sometimes, which can be particularly grating or embarrassing to listen to.

That said, why does there seem less affinity among soccer fans for hockey and basketball? Look no further than the differences between those games and soccer. If a frequent basis for fandom is having played the game, as it is for me, then hockey and basketball might both be out.

In my case, for example, I was short, slow, and slight of build, and would likely have gotten seriously injured attempting to play hockey (even if it were played in Mississippi when I grew up); and I was far too short to play organized basketball.

There are also matters of taste. Some people are turned off by contact sports like hockey. I personally find that there's too much scoring in basketball for my taste. (For what it's worth, I like (but don't usually follow hockey), and don't generally care for basketball.

I don't expect that to turn you into a soccer fan, but perhaps, in the vein of understanding something making it seem less annoying, I have helped!


Thanks. Your comments on basketball have explained some things that always had me scratching my head about hoops. (And your race-with-stoplights analogy is spot-on.)

It's probably too late for the rule changes you suggest, though: Those rules and their consequences have so thoroughly affected the strategy of the game, that changing it now would, I suspect, meet a huge wall of resistance.


Grant said...


Thanks for your thoughtful, fair-minded comments on mine. Also, even though I regard baseball and American football as superior forms of entertainment simply because they're more intellectually engaging, I agree with you that between hockey and basketball and soccer, for the reasons you mentioned, soccer is the most enjoyable to watch.

Gus Van Horn said...


You're welcome, although I find myself intrigued by the issue you raise with your contention that one sport is more intellectually engaging than another.

I think, of course, that you can make such a determination, but that the question is far from straightforward.

Part and parcel of weighing that question is often asking, "engaging -- in what way?"

Take baseball. Before I saw my alma mater, Rice University, win the College World Series, narrated by an exceptional announcer, that game was, to me, all fat, superstitious guys standing around, chewing tobacco and scratching themselves. But this guy made the game come alive for me by explaining the strategy and what kind of thinking went into the coaches' and players' decisions.

Before I watched that, I thought soccer was the more intellectually engaging of the two games. Now, I see that both are engaging, but in different ways, with soccer, due to its free-flowing nature, much more improvisational and much more up to the individual players than baseball. Baseball, by contrast, is more deliberate, but has less room for jazzing things up on the fly.

In any event, thanks for your comment. That's an interesting issue.


Anonymous said...

For those baseball fans seeking other intellectual sports, I would recommend "test match" cricket - a 5 day international match.

Is it covered in the US?

Ignore the fact that a game of cricket can be stopped due to bad weather, and that even after 5 days the match could still end in a draw!

There is a shorter "one-day" version (also called "limited over" cricket) which 99% of the time, weather permitting, a positive result. This type of game lasts about 7 hours.

Interestingly, a new shorter version of the game, lasting about 3 to 4 hours was recently introduced to great success...and great entertainment.

Called "Twenty-Twenty" it is less technically pure than the 5-day game, and is suitable for people with short attention spans!

This begs the question about whether a fan of a particular sport would consider it reasonable for the games administrators to change the format of a game? In England, there are the purists who are aghast at such meddling with a game's format.

Yet cricket has so many different version that each can appeal to a different type of audience and each format can exist in its own right.

Sheffield, England

Gus Van Horn said...


First, apologies for posting your comment so late. I was flying Saturday and then didn't receive the emailo notification of a comment in the queue I customarily get.

Cricket beats soccer hands down as a sport that draws blank expressions and probing questions like, "What's that?" from Americans!

The game is barely a blip on the radar here, although I recall hearing that an international exhibition match (I don't recall which type.) was played in Florida recently on a site prepared for the purpose. (I recall it still not being quite right for the game.)

There's little coverage of the game here. I see snippets of cricket news occasionally when Fox Sports Channel slips in Sky News feeds, but that's it, as far as I know.

I'll keep an eye out for twenty-twenty, as it seems like it might be a way for me to see enough of the game to reinforce the smattering of cricket knowledge I do have, and perhaps also gain some appreciation for the game.

Baby steps...