A few tweaks could make soccer more appealing to Americans

COMMENTARY — Soccer is not boring to watch. Soccer is maddening to watch. You’ll blow a gasket watching a game that is stuck not so much in tradition, but in ritual. Give America 15 minutes alone in a room with FIFA, and we’d fix all kinds of things.
by Berry Tramel Published: July 15, 2014
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photo - German players celebrate after Germany's 1-0 World Cup victory in extra time during the final soccer match between Germany and Argentina at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, July 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
German players celebrate after Germany's 1-0 World Cup victory in extra time during the final soccer match between Germany and Argentina at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, July 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

The World Cup is over, so Americans can go back to caring about other things in the sporting world. Football. Basketball. Baseball. Golf. Soccer.

Yes, soccer.

The World Cup fever that spread across America had nothing to do with the sport and everything to do with the flag. This was nationalism. This was patriotism. This was our-country’s-better-than-your-country. This was the same passion we see every four years for the likes of swimming and gymnastics, when they’re staged under the Olympic flame. But put the same competitors in a meager World Championships in Sofia or Amsterdam or Indianapolis? Crickets.

Americans like soccer. Like to play it. Like to watch it, in certain ports. Even in Oklahoma. But the notion that the 2014 World Cup is the latest big surge in soccer sizzle, well, that’s just silly. ESPN hypes it, but just like those mammoth stadiums built in remote regions of Brazil, when the World Cup is over, all that’s left is an empty shell.

Truth is, FIFA, the organizing body of international soccer, doesn’t want America to get too fired up about futbol. Get Americans involved, make us care passionately for more than just five weeks every four years, and we’d turn the game into something we can stand to live with it.

And not for the reasons you think. Soccer is fairly exciting and dramatic. It’s not boring to watch. Soccer is maddening to watch. You’ll blow a gasket watching a game that is stuck not so much in tradition, but in ritual. Give America 15 minutes alone in a room with FIFA, and we’d fix all kinds of things:

Officiating. FIFA uses one referee and two linesmen, plus an alternate referee who keeps track of time and substitutions. Only the referee can call penalties. The linesmen help with offsides and such.

So you’ve got a field wider and longer than a football field, you’ve got guys flopping all over the place trying to draw phantom fouls, you’ve got guys biting opponents, and you police such mayhem with one peace officer. This is what is known as anarchy.

One of the charms of soccer is all that open space. Lots of green grass on which to put more yellow shirts. So do like every smart city in America, FIFA, and beef up your police presence.

Replay. Baseball, which sometimes is no more innovative than the Amish, has adopted replay review. It’s time to bring it to international soccer. Run the thespians from the game.

When James Harden or Manu Ginobili gets away with a flop in an NBA game, it often costs their opponents two points. Two points in a game that typically totals 210 points. And the NBA is alarmed and outraged.

When Portugal’s Joao Moutinho or somebody acts like they’ve been shot, a gullible referee often will call the foul. Which can lead to a goal. In a game that typically totals one goal.

If these guys want to go all Dick Van Dyke, fine. Stop the game, go to the monitor and let officials decide exactly what happened. If there’s a foul, call it. If there’s a flop, hand the offender an Oscar and a yellow card.

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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