I received a bunch of emails about my soccer column, which ran in the Wednesday Oklahoman and which you can read here. The majority of emails were supportive of my ideas to improve the World Cup and the profile of soccer in the U.S. But not all. Here’s a sampling:
Christopher: “Do us all a favor, and keep your idiotic opinions to yourself. Your ignorance of futebol is blatantly obvious.”
Do you think Christopher is from Europe, with that “futebol” stuff, or is he trying to throw us off the scent?
Sam: “Hey, Mr. T, good article on soccer’s problems. Here’s a thought on overtime: Start the first extra period one man short on both teams and the second, two men short. Maybe sudden death? If still nil, decide the winner by “best flop.”
That goes back to my problem with shootouts. You’re messing with the game. Seven-on-seven is no more legit than one-on-one.
Thomas: “In the same way international basketball tweaks their game from American origin, how about we tweak international rules to fit the American style?”
Beautiful analogy. That’s all I’m saying, too. Just fit the sport to our particular taste. We don’t rail against the Euro-style basketball. In fact, we sort of think it’s cool. Even adopted some of it over here.
Gary: “I became a soccer fan eight years ago simply because it was August, and nothing but baseball was happening. I had The Soccer Channel on my satellite system, so I watched it. As a red-blooded American, I went with the flow and hated soccer. But after I learned the rules and strategy, and picked a favorite team, I became hooked. (As a Cubs fan, baseball held little interest.) The World Cup is OK, but like NCAA football, the usual suspects prevail: Germany, Holland, Italy, Brazil and Argentina. The USA has made good strides in developing players, and having several tiers of pro soccer, which is the secret to having a solid national team. The money from TV contracts in Europe is almost obscene. Now, several networks in the U.S. have fought for the rights, with NBCSN winning the bid. Will it replace my Sooner football, NFL or Thunder? Heck no, but it something at 6 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.”
Man, Gary, you get up early.
Paul: “Couldn’t agree more on changes to soccer to increase its popularity in the USA. I would go one step further and change the offside rule to be more like the NBA clear path rule. I mean, if a defender gets beat on a break, the offside rule just bails him out. Modify that and scores go up. The replay for flopping, I really like. One good actor can change a game. The fans not knowing extra time deal completely wears me out as well.”
Lots of people wrote about offsides…
John: “Agreed with your soccer article, but you left out the most significant change needed — perhaps on purpose because it’s so controversial! Every major league sport in America over the last several decades has manipulated their sport to increase offense to increase viewership — reign in offsides in soccer! Not saying completely eliminate (or maybe they should with a few other adjustments), but it’s ridiculous to penalize a player for ‘excessive speed.’ Doing so would dramatically increase scoring, would lead to many striker vs. goalie matchups that are so darn exciting in penalty kick phase and would do away with the overtime issue you mentioned if you would combine with sudden death in overtime. Until they do, plus incorporate your suggestions, it will never come close to the popularity of the three majors.”
Actually, I didn’t address offsides because I didn’t want to tinker with the fundamental playing of the game. That’s what the soccer crazies don’t realize. I wasn’t calling for revolution. I was calling for a change in administration. Officiating, timekeeping, overtime, etc. I never have fully understood why soccer and hockey have offsides; seems like it would add to the strategy if you didn’t have it. But I know there are good reasons for having it, too, and I’m not trying to change the structure of the sport. Just how that structure is administered.
Greg: “I enjoyed your soccer article and couldn’t agree with you more. Four year ago I wrote many of those same thoughts in a note I posted to my Facebook. The one thing you failed to mention is the offsides rule. Nobody can give me one good reason to keep it, but everyone just assumes it serves some purpose. Yes, holding down the score and the excitement.”
Actually, the only reason I’ve ever heard was that it prevents cherry-pickers. What I haven’t been told is what’s wrong with cherry-pickers.
Larry: “I am really glad you wrote ‘A Few Tweaks’. Seemed like you were just transcribing what I’ve been thinking. I watched start to finish all the U.S. games and the World Championship game. Maddening – that’s exactly the word I’ve been trying to find. Your fixes are all on the mark for American sports fans. As I watched I saw guys grabbing other guys jerseys, tripping guys, throwing body blocks (actually liked that) all over the field and the refs calling maybe one out of every 5-10 fouls. They need at least four refs who can call fouls. Replay – got to add that especially for blatant flops. Worse than the NBA. Time Clock – ridiculous to have to guess how much time is left. The NBA gets that right by allowing players to see the clock, down to the second right over the basket. Exciting stuff. Substitutions — they have a bunch of guys sitting on the bench they can’t get into the game because they’re worried about red cards and injuries. Crazy. Europeanness – exactly. This is America. Oklahoma City Slickers is American. Energy FC is not American. Overtime – maybe 15-minute sudden death overtime? That might inspire teams to send the entire team, including the goal keeper, on last minute ‘student body straight ahead’ power plays. One more thing. I know they like showing how tough they are by using their heads as bats and playing with broken noses, but they really need to come up with a soccer helmet – not a modern football helmet, but maybe something like a Bronko Nagurski, Red Grange era old time leather football helmet. Anyway, I feel better that you’ve written what would make soccer popular more than once every four years with American sports fans.”
Interesting point. Only the stuck-in-the-mud attitude of soccer is keeping the players from wearing helmets. Soccer concussions are actually quite common.
Keith: “If you Americanized the sport you would have to give each team 10 timeouts in addition to five-minute change of possession timeouts which would result in the fans who actually go to the games sitting with their thumbs up their you know what like we do currently at football games. Please, please don’t ruin soccer by turning into the pathetic money machines of college football or basketball.”
Keith was having a bad day, but he brings up an interesting point. Soccer should not feel picked upon. I do this all the time with American sports. Tell them how to improve. I would cut NBA timeouts down to two per team. I would make all kinds of clock adjustments on football. And don’t even get me started on college football overtime. The point is, I often critique football and basketball. But critique soccer, and I’m the Ugly American.
Jim: “Loved your article on soccer! One additional thing not mentioned: Higher scoring would make the game more appealing to Americans, no? Referees could be encouraged to call more fouls inside the penalty area, which would result in more scoring. I saw some fouls in World Cup games that I would have called in a typical high school game. By tradition, and because no one wants to reward a flopper (like you mentioned), if they did not see the play from the right angle, many referees are hesitant to call fouls inside the penalty box which would result in a penalty kick. (Soccer referees, like most all referees, want the game to be settled on the merits and not on the referee’s calls.) One way to accomplish this objective would be to allow a fourth/fifth official looking at the replays to advise the center referee by headset as to whether he thinks a foul or a flop has occurred.”
The more eyeballs the better, as far as I’m concerned. The Big 12 and other leagues are going to eight officials working football games. They used to have six. But the game has demanded more policing. Soccer is no different.
Andy: “Interesting article, and I think you’re on the right track for the most part. Officiating: Spot on. They have three guys watching a bigger area than what the NFL does with seven. I’d like to have two extra officials on each goal line, one on either side of goal. Most controversy occurs in the penalty area, and with three pairs of eyeballs keeping track of things, most of that could be eliminated. Replay: I’m not sure of this one due to the flowing nature of soccer. In NFL football, I greatly approve of replay and would even expand it a bit, but I’m not convinced that it could be implemented effectively in soccer. To FIFA’s credit, they finally did allow goal line technology, which worked pretty well. Timeclock. Spot on again. Make the game 90 minutes and actually stop the clock when there are stoppages. Let it run during throw-ins, corner kicks, and goal kicks, and if the team with the ball wastes time, rather than showing a yellow card to the time wasting player, give the ball to the other team. Substitutions. I’m on the fence about this one. One advantage of limited substitutions is that a small club or country can often compete with a bigger club because the match depends on 11 players rather than the depth of the bench. I suspect though that something will have to change, just to deal with the concussion issue. Europeanness. Curiously, I’ve thought lately that more Europeanness could help the game. They all converted to the Metric system years ago, but everything is still measured in Imperial units. Yes, FIFA lists Metric units first in its official Laws, but declaring a goal to be 7.32 m x 2.44 m, does change the fact that it is 8 yards x 8 foot. Make the goal 8 m x 2.5 m, and a lot of caroms off the posts, will now go in. Overtime. Here’s an easy solution. Forget extra time. Forget penalties. Use set pieces instead. Once you hit the regulation 90 minutes, go to alternating set plays, corner kicks and free kicks from 25 yards out or so. Once the defending team gains possession, then it’s their turn. It’s still a bit artificial, but it would be a lot more similar to full blown soccer than penalty kicks. In some ways it’s a similar idea to what they did with college games. I think a score could be guaranteed to occur in a reasonable length of time, and by cutting out all the midfield running, the players would be fresher. Offsides. This could be modified just a bit to really open up the game. Change the rule so that the attacking player is not offside, until he is completely behind the last defender with no overlap. Not only would it be easier to call, but by essentially giving the attacker an extra step, it would not only improve attacks, but it would probably make the offside trap largely ineffective, and thus really open up the game. Of course, I don’t think that FIFA will ever listen to people like you and me, but it’s fun to dream.”
Hey, I think Andy just advocated making the goal a little bigger. That’s a heck of an idea.