Last Friday, my fellow columnist Ryan Isley wrote about how to make soccer more appealing in the United States. While he made some pretty good points, he prefaced it with the statement that he did not believe that any of these changes would ever happen. He also said that a game should not be altered just to improve its popularity in one country. Well, those are two of things I can agree with. However, Ryan’s five solutions to fix the game of soccer in the U.S. also have downfalls to each of them.
Here’s my attempt at playing Devil’s Advocate for More Than A Fan.
Make the Field Smaller: This may sound like a good solution to create more action on the field and thus create more quality scoring chances. On the other hand if the field is smaller then there is less room for error and the ball will spend more time out of bounds. For a game that has the reputation for being boring, adding more stoppages in the action would make it twice as hard to watch. The space is needed to create one on one opportunities that Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi salivate over. Some of the most popular highlights start with the ball in space and the player either gaining a head of steam and making the defenders look silly or a player crossing the ball in and the result is a beautiful volley or header that leaves us in awe. Just take a look at this Wayne Rooney goal. Everyone loves to watch the spread offense in the NFL. Well, that is what having a large playing surface does–it is a spread offense creating more space and more opportunities. If it was compacted, possession would change more often and that would make it harder to score.
Eliminate the Offside Call: This call is one of the hardest calls for an assistant referee to make. Yes, this would spread everyone out all over the field because there would always be that lazy striker who would cherry pick at the top of his opponent’s penalty box. But, that just means more defenders would have to stay back making it harder to score. Also, many offensive attacks involve some of the backs getting into the final third of the field. If there is no offside then they have to be more cautious about leaving the forward alone down the field. Playing a ball in behind the defense is probably the easiest goal a forward can get. One on one with the goalkeeper almost always favors the offense.
Stiffer Penalties for Flopping: I cannot imagine how hard it is for an official to determine (in real time) if the player was actually hit or if he just auditioned for an Academy Award. If an official actually recognizes the dive he usually issues a yellow card, which can suspend a player if he has accumulated too many in a tournament or season. There have been some stiff fines too for players found to be taking dives. That may not convince players to stop altogether, but when it hurts their bank account they may think twice about it. Diving is a strategy in soccer. Just like all other strategies, some people may use it and some may be totally against it. Sometimes it is used to get a call and other times it is used to stall. It is up to the official and his crew to deal with it properly when they realize someone has flopped. Diving is like throwing at a player in baseball, in my opinion. It is wrong to do, but it has become a part of the game.
Change the Clock: This is one that Ryan and I can somewhat agree on. In America, soccer is played with the clock counting down in every sport at every level except for professional soccer. Even college soccer is played with a clock counting down to zero–without stoppage time too. It makes sense for the MLS and all other professional soccer leagues in the U.S. to go to that same timekeeping. However, with how prevalent soccer is around the world all international games should be with a clock counting upwards and still include extra time. Most major sports tweak the rules a bit when competing internationally. Just take a look at the lanes in international basketball games.
No More Ties: No one likes to tie a game. But, I would rather tie a game than lose on penalty kicks. Actually, a game decided on penalties is still considered a draw in the box score. It is just soccer’s way of determining who will advance. This is one debate that has gone on for decades about how to determine a winner in soccer and if it is even worth it to change the game. I’ve thought about it a lot and my best solution is having one sudden death overtime.
Keep your eyes peeled and ears open for the MTAF Podcast too. It’s on iTunes!