I, like nearly everyone in California who grew up in the 80s and 90s, played soccer. I played youth soccer for 5 years at the very basic level, and I played sporadic pickup games throughout college and beyond. I’ve been to a couple MLS games and I’ve been a casual-to-serious World Cup watcher since 1998. But am I going to pay much attention after this wraps up? Probably not.
Soccer is undoubtedly becoming more popular amongst Americans, but it is still a long way from being loved here in the way that it is loved in much of the rest of the world. Despite what most think, it’s not because of the low scoring or the frequency of tied games. Or, rather, those are reasons but they’re definitely not the top 3. What are the Top 3, as far as I’m concerned? I’m glad you asked.
- Dives. The fact that a major strategic aspect of the game is the deliberate feigning or exaggerating of injury is the biggest barrier to enjoyment. There is just something profoundly un-American about it. When our most popular sport involves 350 pound linemen taking cortisone shots at halftime so they can play the second half with cracked ribs, seeing a bunch of pretty boys rolling around on the ground grabbing their shins and looking like they’re about to cry, really takes soccer down a bunch of points. This is not meant to minimize the very intense and very real injuries that can and do occur on the field.
- Penalty kicks. This would not be such a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that they happen so often. To have the outcome of a soccer playoff game, played spectacularly well, to be determined by what is essentially a guessing game by the goalie takes the wind out of the drama. I’m not sure what the answer is, as playing unlimited overtime would no doubt involve the routine player deaths by exhaustion.
- Pretty boys. Look, soccer players are in great shape. In many ways they might be the most fit, well-rounded athletes in professional sports. But they also all look like that guy your college girlfriend hooked up with on her semester abroad and then dumped you over Facebook message. Which is probably because that’s exactly what they are. Good-looking soccer players exude an effete handsomeness that is decidedly counter to the broken-jawed, crooked-nosed masculinity that Americans associate with proper professional athletes. Tom Brady is bad enough.
And after that, maybe the ties. But I don’t mind ties and, with more exposure to the sport, I think that Americans will come to appreciate the experiential beauty of soccer, seeing the plays develop and coming together and more often than not fail to result in a score. But there’s something amazing about how the sport is played that makes a 1-1 tie not the worst way to end a hard-fought match.
It’s just the penalty kicks that suck.
What about you? Why don’t you like to watch soccer? Or why do you watch it?