Soccer It To Me

June 30, 2006

First a clarification: I’m going to be throwing the term "soccer" around a lot which is what we in the United States (collectively called "Americans", even though Canadians, Mexicans, Brazilians, and, for that matter, anyone who’s a citizen of any country in North, Central, or South America could technically be called "American") call "football". Every four years the question comes up: Why do Americans hate soccer? I don’t think we hate it. I love soccer in spite of playing it for three years with a coach who spent most of our practices telling us why football was better, which is probably why we were always in last place. We don’t go berserk about soccer like most of the rest of the world, but neither do, say, the Japanese. I don’t see Japanese people painting their faces white, their noses red, and rioting in the streets because they were beaten by Paraguay. So why don’t Americans get in the spirit every four years? Here are some possible reasons:

10. We already have a sport called "football", which is why what the rest of the world calls "football" we call "soccer". I know soccer involves more contact between feet and the ball than football, but the American version of football dates back to at least 1869, while codified rules for soccer only date back to 1843. Erm, uh, wait. Sorry, nothing to see here, please move along.

9. What’s the deal with hands, anyway? Hands are what separate us from the animals. Well, us, chimps and apes, and many rodents. But the important thing is, aside from free throws and goalies, hands aren’t allowed in soccer. Since American football involves carrying the ball, have you ever thought about calling soccer "handball"? Except there’s already a game called handball. In fact the name "soccer" might be the real problem for us. Think about it: basketball, football, baseball, racquetball, volleyball. All ball-related sports have the word "ball" in them somewhere. Except tennis. And golf.

8. We have a lot of other sports to care about. Baseball is the national pastime, which is why a steadily decreasing number of people go to games, then there’s football, basketball, golf, boxing, tennis, the Canadians got us hooked on hockey, and there are assorted small-town festivals where people build giant slingshots to shoot pumpkins, potatoes, watermelons, tomatoes, or eggplants across a field, which does, technically, qualify as a sport. So give us a break. There’s a limited number of hours in a day.

7. The World Cup is held every four years. American football fans plan their year around the Superbowl because they have a pretty good idea where they’re going to be in a year. The World Series is held once a year. Basketball playoffs take place once a year. The Stanley Cup, the Americas Cup, and your Uncle Mort bringing out his dribble cup at a family gathering are all annual events. Golf has a major championship game about every twenty minutes. Maybe we just have a short attention span, but even professional soccer players can go from their prime to retirement in four years, meaning we could get really attached to a team that comes tantalizingly close to winning one year then attends the next World Cup match in walkers and wheelchairs.

6. Geography. I’m not talking about the fact that some Americans don’t know where Suriname is. It’s more of a question of size. Fans from Slovenia, for instance, which is slightly smaller than New Jersey, have a better chance of having someone from their home town on their World Cup team. Yeah, it’s a pretty lame excuse, so let’s just skip ahead to the next reason.

5. That’s a REALLY big field. I wonder why soccer fans watching at home don’t get seasick from the camera swinging back and forth up to keep up with the action. Soccer is played on such a ridiculously huge field that if your team has a good enough offense your goalie can sit in his box and play solitaire. I’m not sure whether this is a reason because American athletes are fit enough to keep up. Basketball players, for instance, will run up and down the court three hundred times in a single game. This is the equivalent of running up and down a soccer field twice.

4. Ninety-minute games with no time-outs. Given the hustle and bustle of American life you’d think this would be a plus, but it can be hard for advertisers who count on American football’s excruciatingly long time-outs. The average football game lasts at least six hours because referees have to stop the action every twenty seconds so they can gather around a little box on the sidelines and watch "Gone With The Wind". Baseball has a similar problem because its very nature makes it a game of quiet, steady strategy interrupted by brief bursts of activity. All games require brains, but baseball’s inherent slowness is why it’s often called "the thinking man’s game". This slowness also makes it an ideal drinking man’s game.

3. GOALLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! GOAL! GOAL! GOALLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That’s not really a reason. I just get a kick out of saying, er, typing it.

2. Not enough Americans play soccer. The number seems to be increasing with each generation, but this is a little strange considering the number of us who have ancestors who came from countries where soccer is practically the state religion.The only thing I can figure is they came here to get AWAY from soccer.

1. We’ve never won yet, which makes a vicious cycle. Speaking of cycles, most Americans didn’t care about the Tour de France, and some couldn’t even tell you what country it took place in, until Lance Armstrong won it a ridiculous number of times. The U.S. women’s soccer team won the world match, and suddenly Mia Hamm was appearing in commercials with Michael Jordan. Someday it’ll happen. The United States will win the World Cup, and we’ll all really love soccer. Just not enough to call it football.

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