Some of my most- and least-favorite sports are made interesting by combining two or more endeavors. Baseball involves four main components — catching, throwing, hitting, and running — often happening at the same time. Golf has two: swinging and swearing, typically (as Tiger Woods knows only too well) in that order.
Other athletic efforts, deliberately or not, seem to combine a sport with a domestic imperative of some kind, for example javelin-throwing as an extension of the ancients' hunting for game. And isn’t curling, after all, an attempt to combine the skills of bowling and housework?
But soccer — running, kicking or busting one off the noggin — seems to have limited physical variety or anthropological precedent, which is ironic given that the sport’s participants probably are in better shape than any human specimens besides cyclists and Navy Seals.
Ever since the Northwest was given a new, regional big-league sports rivalry to replace what the National Basketball Association once offered here, I’ve been contemplating possible improvements for soccer. The goal (to use an infrequently invoked soccer term) would be to make it less unlikely that I’d watch, say, the nationally televised Saturday night (May 14) match at Qwest Field, pitting the Seattle Sounders FC against its new-to-the-neighb nemesis, the Portland Timbers.
Ordinarily, a first-ever Major League Soccer event featuring the suddenly beloved teams from both my natal home and the town I adopted in 1972 would be enough to get my high-def attention on ESPN2 Saturday at 8 p.m. I might even just watch it as an historic spectacle.
Such was the case when I attended the first-ever sports event at the Kingdome: the earlier-incarnation Sounders versus the New York Cosmos and the immortal Pele. Good thing I showed up because otherwise there would’ve been only 58,127 on hand that April night in 1976. As for the match itself, I seem to recall that the beer and hotdogs were pretty good.
Soccer has been explained and hailed to me on many occasions. My older brother, once a muckety-muck in Oregon youth soccer, actually has attempted to “cure” me from time to time with something like soccer-appreciation interventions, but to no avail. He sees on the field something like a three-dimensional high-speed kinetic chess match. I see athletes running around in their shorts and missing most of their shots on goal.
That’s why there might be broader appeal among non-soccer aficionados if the gods of the sport were to consider a simple innovation: Endow traditional soccer with certain aspects of professional football and prize-fighting. To wit:
Start every soccer match, pro and amateur, as though the teams are in sudden-death overtime. Let them play only until one team scores. Then it’s game over — same as a boxing knockout, or a touchdown, field goal, or safety during the sudden-death period of a pro-football game.
If neither team scores during the traditional allotted time of the match, have a shoot-out to determine a winner. No ties would be accepted.
Imagine the added urgency of playing it this way. From Minute One any shot on goal could put an instant end to the match and fans could go back to what they really like: chanting and drinking. Yes, it could happen as swiftly as the first-round “knockout” during the Clay-Liston fight in 1965. It also could go on for the typical couple of hours.
Moreover, such a system would elevate the joke I like to tell my brother during our intervention sessions. He usually has a terrific sense of humor but, where one matter is concerned, he’s as humorless as many of his fellow soccer fans. They don’t appreciate my facetious claim: that a great thing about their fave sport is you always know going in that the final score will be 1-0. With my system that would literally become the case.
Obviously doing it my way would never happen, which is too bad. It could actually make major-league soccer gripping — even more so, maybe, than big-time curling.