Monday, June 23, 2014

Two Worlds, One Cup

I did love the recent world cup game with the US and Portugal, to a point.  Hear me out.

Soccer's got 99 problems, but being boring ain't one.

That the game can be boring is way down the list of why American's don't care for soccer. We (and I) love baseball and that's the most boring sport there is.  Being boring has little to do with why this sport hasn't caught on in the US, though it's what every non-soccer fan will tell you.

The real reason Americans don't dig "futbol" is flopping.  Flopping is why I don't watch soccer.  Players fake injuries, ALL the time.  It's systematic, it's inherent in the strategy of the game.  Soccer players pretend to be hurt even more than NBA players which is saying something.  It is un-sportsman like behavior of the most craven kind.  It's really hard to stomach, professional athletes, incredibly skilled - rolling around like little babies until they get the call they want.  Then, back in the game with no consequences.

The lack of a replay rule to deal with these theatrics at this level of play is absurd. Also, that there is no replay rule for the easily reviewable but often controversial offside decisions is just flat out stupid.  Also also, that the game clock is unofficial and that it goes into extra time that the referee adds in his head is ridiculous, and is a lightning rod for controversy where there should be none.

And then there are problems with the antiquated World Cup format itself.  My dear Berkeley brethren, they of the soccer love, sent me this chart to help answer my questions regarding team USA's fate in advancing, after the Portugal game ended abruptly with the score tied.  (Apparently, this is also common, like hockey, they let the game end undecided.  Dumb, yes, even in the most crucial of games like say, oh I don't know, the biggest sporting tournament on the planet.)

First of all, I'm not really enough of a math genius to comprehend this absurdly intricate graphic - so there's that.  But look closely, yes, those are yellow boxes with the words "coin toss" in them.  So if the score of the Portugal/Ghana and US/Germany games fall in some random fashion, the fate of the potential champions of the world will be determined by a coin toss?  Really?

As a former youth sports official, I have twice actually run across rules that involve a coin toss to determine a winner.  One was a single day baseball round robin that had an odd number of teams.  The coin toss determined who would get a bye in the first round.  The players in this tournament were 12 years old.  It was a pre-season fun one day event.  Nothing but bragging rights at stake.

The other event was again, a pre-season event; a soccer tournament over a weekend, where they allowed ties in every game but the "championship" match.  If the teams were tied at the end of a game, the referee would toss a coin to determine who moved on.  These were 10 year old traveling teams, so they were All-Stars, but THEY WERE 10, and many of them were irritated at the random unfairness of this procedure.

Now we are on the world's biggest stage, with the very best players in competition for the most significant championship anywhere - and we're going to toss a coin.

And my friends wonder why this sport hasn't caught on in the States.

Bottom line, Americans like their play fair, and coin flips notwithstanding, the game of soccer itself is replete with antiquated rules and procedures which make it not so. Until the game rectifies these glaring problems, ie gets a uniform game clock, implements the replay rule at the highest levels and puts an end  to the acting shenanigans, soccer will continue to be a game for the rest of the world that just assumes that the system is inherently screwed up, while those of us in the land of opportunity know better.

Someone much more eloquent than me once said that the rest of the planet loves soccer because it is a sanctuary of serenity in a chaotic world, while Americans love football (our gridiron version) because it is a sanctuary of chaos in an otherwise peaceful and free country.  I know this is not entirely the truth, but it is pretty darn close to being correct.

To their credit, the American team has said they don't "flop" and that they don't include the concept in their strategy and approach to the game.  At least that's what they say.  I know the guy who got his face kicked in in game one wasn't faking. This makes it easier for me to root root root for the home team - though honestly, as a big a jingoist as I am, I wouldn't be too heart broken if the God forsaken country of Ghana had won.  I think they need it more than we do.

No comments: