Still one of my all-time favorites, but for better or worse, its once-commonplace ideology is quickly fading into America’s past:
Three other World Cup thoughts, none of which I’ve seen in print, but none of which I would even remotely consider novel:
(1) The honesty of the commentators is so refreshing that it’s virtually comical to think about NFL or NBA announcers doing Word Cup games. When a player misses a great opportunity, the soccer announcers say exactly that. When someone shows a weak effort on a play, they say exactly that. If the referee makes a horseshit call, they say exactly that. If someone is arguably playing poorly because of distracting off-field issues, they talk about them frankly and link it to the on-field performance. In effect, they call the game exactly as we all call it with each other in our living rooms: with no fear of offending anyone, and no care if they do offend someone. When someone sucks or is dogging it, they just say it. It’s great. Especially when you add in the colorful British language and accent. Can you even imagine Joe Theisman calling a World Cup game? I’d be forced to buy a vuvuzela and blow it at my television.
(2) My combined experience with European sport — which consists of playing college rugby and watching international soccer and rugby on television — has solidified in my mind that there are two things I hate about American sports: the non-running clock and the constant whining. I have a hunch that the two are related. Both soccer and rugby have “quick restarts,” which means that after a penalty, the beneficiary of the call can immediately begin play. That means that anyone who stands around and complains about a call is going to be at a huge disadvantage. In both sports (but particularly in rugby), the offending team also has an obligation to get 10 meters back from the spot of the foul, or face the possibility of another penalty immediately stacked on top of the first. So there’s really no time to argue — it can only cost your team more. Contrast this with football or basketball, where any foul call results in a game stoppage that allows plenty of time to bitch and moan. And for the announcers to pretend the call was perfect.
(3) There’s one piece of soccer strategy I don’t really understand. When awarded a goal kick or after making a save, the keeper almost always boots the ball far down the field. But his team loses possession on this play a fair amount. I would think that it would be easier to get the ball over mid-field with a higher success rate by just working it up the field. Or at least it seems like that has a higher success rate. Now, I know there are other factors: if you maintain possession on a long boot from the keeper, you are in a much better attacking position than if you worked it up to the same point; and it you try to work it up the field, you risk putting the other team in a good attacking position. But it’s not obvious to me that those factors outweigh the percentage of time you lose possession on a long boot. Part of me can’t imagine that international soccer teams are using inferior strategies for something this basic, but the other part of me knows that NFL teams routinely kick field goals from the 2 yard line. If anyone who’s played more than zero days of competitive soccer could chime in, I’d love to understand this aspect of the game.