The world's favorite sport has come to Brazil and many Americans still aren't too impressed. Soccer, or football for the rest of the world, is not so popular in the U.S. and the World Cup is not about to be confused with the Super Bowl. The sport is simply not that popular in the United States.
There are many exciting athletes that play the game and some exciting plays are sure to be made throughout the Cup, but many Americans will not be tuning in. The indifference to the sport might have to do more with the popularity of the other sports that Americans embrace and what many Americans perceive as glaring weaknesses in the sport itself.
Sports in the United States are about scoring and making touchdowns, hitting buzzer beating shots, grand slams or even hat tricks. Soccer has very little of that and also is battling the following 10 issues Americans currently have with the sport.
10 No Major USA Wins
Americans love winners and teams like the Yankees, Cowboys, Celtics and Lakers have been consistent winners through the years. Even the U.S. Hockey team was able to win at the Lake Placid Olympics in 1980. The U.S. Soccer team has yet to achieve any such milestone win and trails the world's best by leaps and bounds. This does not bode well for the popularity of the sport in the United States.
They are a country with many athletes, countless sports junkies and plenty of fertile ground for soccer to establish itself. However, having no major American victories only slows it down. Women's soccer has made incredible strides thanks to many noteworthy victories against countries that have just started to develop their women's sports programs as well. The U.S. is on an even playing field in this respect and has enough quality female athletes to play the sport. Young girls see this on TV, while young boys see defeat after defeat.
9 Limited Substitutions
Why limit substitutions? If someone gets injured, what is wrong with allowing a free substitution to bring in another player. Every U.S. sport has benches and often it is players who come off the bench that can make the difference for their team. If one team has a better overall team with more depth, what a better way to prove it than being able to use the whole team throughout the match.
Fresher legs would lead to more excitement and maybe more scoring opportunities. Stars could be rested before halftime and come out with more energy to start the second half. It is not like the sport is a "gladiator sport" and we all know the players are in great shape, so it is hard to understand what is so bad about making more substitutions throughout the match, especially when players get injured. A team shouldn't get punished for losing a player and then losing an opportunity to substitute later in the game.
This is an idea that confounds American viewers and fuels their disinterest in the game.
8 Penalty Kicks
A foul inside the box is certainly a penalty, however, in a game where goals are not easy to come by, players are rewarded what amounts to a layup in basketball. A game can be scoreless for 90 minutes and one frisky play in the box can decide the whole match. That seems a bit too extreme for a sport that is based on defense to begin with. Of course defenders are going to get even scrappier close to their own net, but the reward is such a game changer and seems to do nothing but evoke controversy when deciding games with such easy chances.
This also puts too much pressure on officials to call, or sometimes not call, fouls made inside the box. What official wants to decide a close tie game game by awarding a penalty kick? Players take dives, defenders grab jerseys and hands are "accidentally" extended to try to gain any advantage inside the box. It is often hard to single out any one foul and award a penalty kick and that frustrates many Americans who don't like games decided by officials.
7 Ties and Shootouts
Americans can't stand ties. There always has to be a winner and a loser and that is about as American as apple pie. In the United States we will play a 5-7 hour baseball game to decide one outcome in a 162 game season. How can an important soccer match end in a tie? Nobody wins in a tie and that is unacceptable in the American sports culture where draws and ties are more stunning than losses.
Then there is the shootout in soccer. How can men battle for so long and then determine the winner by a shootout into a huge net. The goalie has very little chance and usually one lucky guess or a less than perfect shot is all it takes for one side to secure the win. It is less about skill and more about luck and mistakes when the net is as big as an ocean. You can go from a scoreless tie to 8-10 goals scored in a shootout in a matter of minutes.
6 Poor Officiating
In a sport where one call can lead to a goal or take one away, the officials have too much influence on the outcome of the game. With offside calls, penalties called or not called in the box and key foul calls throughout the game, one call can lead to a huge play in a sport where scoring is hard to come by. With this said, there are only four officials to police a field that is bigger than big. In the NFL, there are seven officials to police the game and there is always stoppage time for them to get in better position to make calls.
Amazing how soccer has fewer officials, but more field to cover and more ongoing action to keep up with. The sport itself seems to put more pressure on officials and how some officials have to come from the opposite side of a field to pull a yellow card out to penalize a player, seems to add even more pressure to their jobs. No replay to help out and fewer officials for a big field with ongoing action, just doesn't contribute to many well called games.
5 There are Few American Stars
Certainly more young people are playing soccer now than ever before in the United States, but the best American athletes are still playing the other sports. The kids that can run 4.3 second 40-yard dashes are playing football, kids that can dunk the ball and run effortlessly for long periods of time enjoy playing basketball.
Soccer is the sport of the wealthier kids in the suburbs here in the U.S. The best athletes look at the money and endorsements in football, basketball, hockey and baseball and want to play those sports. Many of the best players in the country were born or raised elsewhere. Soccer is a great sport, but it is not drawing the best athletes to the sport in the United States. That is not helping popularize the sport, especially when some of the best players have to play in Europe to better their games.
The sport has more "flopping" than any other televised sport. Every single foul is incomplete unless the fouled player hits the turf with a grimace of pain holding a leg or shin. The NBA got sick of it and has started levying fines, but it happens almost every minute of a soccer game. In MMA, some Muay Thai experts will tee off on an opponents leg and the recipient of the kicks stands tall and continues to fight on, so why don't soccer players?
Ever notice how quickly most of these players jump up to take the free kick after earning the foul? It is disgusting and unmanly how exaggerated some of the reactions are to even a little contact in soccer. This turns many Americans off and that is precisely why the NFL is so celebrated in the U.S. The United States enjoys contact sports and crying about a tap on the shin is a disgrace when you consider the collisions in American football.
3 No Time Stoppage
How can you go to the fridge and get a beer? The clock keeps running even with players down on the turf and when teams take forever to set up a corner kick. There are moments where the action stops for almost a minute, but there is no time for a commercial and it is hard to determine whether there is time to get up and use the bathroom or head into the kitchen. Why not stop the clock, it is not like the players don't use the time to take a breather anyway.
Not stopping the clock does two things that don't help the sport. First, it gives no time for additional advertising revenue that helps power most sports in the United States. Second, it creates what is called "stoppage time" that leaves the viewers wondering how much time is left on the clock at the end of a game. Why does this have to be such a secret anyway? Stopping the clock for major injuries, setting up corner kicks, penalty kicks and even substitutions would be simple enough. Then when the clock reaches 45 or 90 minutes, we all know that is it.
In the United States, we celebrate getting ahead of the defense in just about every sport. Even in baseball, jumping out in front of a fastball and pulling out down the line can lead to a double or home run if the ball is hit in the air. In such a defensive sport, Americans simply don't understand why a "fast break" and speed can't be celebrated and rewarded.
The other problem with the rule is how controversial offside calls can be. Any close call usually goes to the defense, while it should be the other way around. Defenders will routinely step up and create offside, which leads to tricky calls for the ref and some incorrect calls.
1 It is a Defensive Sport
All the rules of soccer favor a low scoring defensive game. To begin with, it is harder to control a ball with your feet as opposed to your hands, so that alone helps to limit the scoring. The offside rule then acts to reign in the speed that Americans love and cherish. Defenses always have a numbers advantage and it makes it difficult to find any free space close to the box.
Americans simply don't find 1-0 soccer matches to be very entertaining when so much running and passing leads to so little scoring. This leads talented youth to play other sports and spectators to turn their attention elsewhere.