I am a devoted American sports fan. I have always embraced the perspective that the Big Four team sports in the United States — baseball, basketball, American football, and hockey — are the greatest team sports in the world. However, lately I've been giving soccer a chance.
I recently attended a Major League Soccer game and have been following the World Cup closely. I've enjoyed watching the World Cup, but after taking a close look at soccer, I'êve determined the sport has at least five major problems that make it inferior to the Big Four.
Here is my list:
- Penalty kicks should never decide the outcome of a match, especially a match as significant as an elimination game in the World Cup. Penalty kicks are basically pure luck. There is virtually no skill involved. Perhaps there is some mental skill in trying to trick the goalkeeper into diving the wrong way, but at the end of the day, the arbitrariness of deciding a match on penalty kicks is beyond unfair. Is there another major sport in the world that relies on such an arbitrary method of determining a winner? I can'êt think of one. Why not just flip a coin?
Japan'ês loss to Paraguay after 120 minutes of a 0-0 deadlock (yes, 0-0 after 120 minutes!) was devastating to its players and fans. Imagine being a player who has prepared for 4 years for the World Cup or a fan who has traveled to South Africa only to lose on what amounts to a coin flip.
- Soccer manager should be a part-time job. What do soccer managers do other than determine personnel? Soccer is such an essentially simple game — perhaps that is the source of its broad appeal — that I can't figure out what a soccer manager really does. What is there to determine other than which players are faster, shoot and pass more accurately, or defend more robustly than other players? Seriously, what do these folks do with all of their time? Develop some new gimmicky scissors-type kick?
- So many of the goals scored in soccer are fluky, accidental goals. Whether they roll off a goalkeeper'ês hands (thanks, England!) or bounce off a defender or merely land in front of an offensive player in the right place at the right time, so much of scoring in soccer is complete luck! Yes, sometimes goals are the result of brilliant, even spectacular athletic performances, but almost equally as often they are not.
- The referees are horrendous. They make phantom calls and miss calls constantly. Ask the USA, England, and countless other nations how the refs blew calls in their game. Sure, this happens in other sports, but how often does it impact the outcome of a game? The only incident I can think of in any major American sporting event was the bad call by Don Denkinger in the 1985 World Series that cost the St. Louis Cardinals the championship against the Kansas City Royals. The flopping is unparalleled. If you want to get a sense of how ridiculous it is, watch this.
Just to ensure that readers don't think I am merely another ugly American who doesn't grasp the intricacies of the world's most popular sport, I played soccer growing up and have continued to play it as an adult. I'êll fully admit there is perhaps no better team sports-related exercise out there. In fact, I love playing soccer.
I even enjoy watching soccer, but these five problems drop soccer to fifth for me in terms of the major team sports in the U.S. and the world. Baseball, basketball, American football, and hockey all have more fair methods of determining the outcome of a game (although the NFL's overtime coin toss is deeply flawed).
These sports also draw on far more complex strategies to ensure success and rely less on fluky, accidental occurrences to secure victories. They certainly have their troubles with officiating, but nothing comparable to what I've witnessed in watching just a few hours of the World Cup. As for the flopping, well, that's just irritating.
That being said, I'll enjoy the remaining rounds of the World Cup and maybe even take in another MLS game this summer. But if you ask me, there's no question that America'ês Big Four are superior to soccer.