Sunday, June 13, 2010

U-S-A ! U-S . . . Eh, Who Really Gives A Crap?

Last Saturday, USA beat England in their opening game of the World Cup! Well . . . . they didn't really beat them. They tied. But it's kind of the same thing. Right?

(To Be Read In a Deep, Latino Accented Voice.) "TIIIIIIIIIIIE!!!!! TIIIIIIIIIIIIIE!!!!!" I guess that should be said in the nomenclature of the sport in question. Excuse me.


Question. What's up Team USA's seat belt Uniforms? I'm sure that they have some kind of throw back significance or something. But I don't really care enough to find out what it could be. I instead like to think of different mascots they have adopted to justify these sassy looking sashes. Could they be the USA Brownie Scouts? The USA Chewbaccas? Or the USA Miss New Jersey's? Perhaps the USA Safety Salamanders? Possibly the USA Diamond Joe Quimby's. Vote Quimby! Now, if excuse me I'm going to amuse myself with some pornographic playing cards.*

And with that clip, I have officially tapped out my Simpsons reference budget for a single post not about The Simpsons.

Let me make a quick disclaimer before I launch into my usual nonsense. If you love the game of soccer, continue to love it. I have no interest in changing your mind. Just don't try to change my mind. Deal? Deal. So you might as well skip the rest of this crap and go back to purchasing more scarves and or telling people all about the significance of the many scarves you own. The only thing you'll be missing out on is enlightenment.

(Man that last line sounded dickish. My intent is to be a harmless smart ass, not a smug dick. And yet I leave the dickish line in.)

I want to make it clear that I watched the entire England, USA match on Saturday and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I really did. There is no implied sarcasm in that statement. I was entertained. Not because I find soccer to be compelling. Because I don't. But because it is always interesting to watch elite athletes play their sport on the largest possible stage for the largest possible stakes. You don't have to care about golf to enjoy the back nine of the Masters. Certainly no one gives a crap about Swimming, Gymnastics, Skiing or the Biathlon until the Olympics come around. But when it does, we muster up all the interest we can for sports that are usually irrelevant. For a couple of weeks. Then we forget they exist.

So it is with World Cup Soccer.

Over the next month, I will casually follow the World Cup. I will appreciate the passion of the fans and the desire and heart of the players. And I will enjoy it. I will cheer for Team USA because damn it, I'm a patriot. And don't let Sean Hannity tell you any different. But in a few weeks, I will have had my fill and any interest that I and the rest of America had for this little sport will recede faster than Landon Donovan's hairline. By mid July, I will go on ignoring Real Salt Lake score updates on the local sports radio and silently mocking people like this.

Alright. Enough of the diplomatic crap. Time for some griping. Perhaps a little grousing. And maybe throw in some yammering.

I think it's a little odd that three of the first four matches of this World Cup ended in ties**. And I think it's more odd that most soccer fans I know were relentless in their defense of those outcomes. Somehow 90 minutes of play ending with no result is just fine with them. Now I realize the way the tournament works and a tie gets you a point, so really there was a result. Of sorts. But am I expecting too much out of an athletic competition by asking for a winner and a loser? Isn't that the whole point of the game? To find out who is better? And that's the problem with the sport. You can only score a single point at a time and it's just way too damn hard to score. In order to take the lead from the opposition, you have to score two consecutive goals. And the game can last 90 hours, that's just never gonna happen. So ties are both inevitable and (to any self respecting sports fan) unacceptable.

Look, I've ripped on soccer before. It's a pretty common subject of conversation among American sports fans. I'll let my previous words speak for themselves and try not repeat myself. Instead of rehashing old arguments against the sport (the flopping, the douchey fans that insist you call it futbol, its inexplicable popularity when compared to rugby), today I'm going to focus on solutions.

That's right! It high time that we Americans got off our complainy butts, stopped bitching about how unwatchable the game of soccer is and fix it. Never mind that the game has remained unchanged for tens of thousands of years and the vast majority of the planet seems to like it just the way it is. Never mind that these solutions will come from someone who happily has no real understanding or appreciation for the game. I will now disregard my own defiant and proud ignorance of the intricacies of this alleged sport and present five practical solutions to repair the hopeless state in which soccer currently dwells.

"But the rest of the planet loves soccer. Where do you get the arrogance to suggest you can improve something that is universally cherished?"

I will grant you that the whole world (the crappy parts of it anyway) loves soccer unconditionally. Of course they also love music that sounds like this. So I'm not sure why their opinions on anything should be considered valid. (I just set a new personal record for xenophobia! I'm very proud. The sarcasm is thick enough to recognize, right?) Feel free to be skeptical, soccer fan. But if you give one of the following upgrades a shot, you will come around.

More than one of these options wouldn't work. So you're gonna have to choose.

1. Forget the Off Sides Rule.

Soccer's off sides rule is idiotic! It is the Football equivalent of not allowing a receiver run past the last defender unless they have possession of the ball or a pass is in the air. So if the line of scrimmage is the 50 yard line and the defense's free safety in on the 40, a receiver would not be to run more than ten yards to get open until the quarterback releases the ball. Think how that would stifle the game of Football. It would kill the deep threat. Larry Fitzgerald's speed and talent would be useless. As it stands, the fastest most athletic guy wins that individual competition. If a receiver beats his man, his reward is a 30 yard gain. In soccer, your reward is a penalty.

The real problem with soccer isn't the low scoring. It's the low amount of chances to score. Drop this pretense of equaling the odds between offense and defense and let the guys play. If you want to prevent cherry picking, then institute a soccer version of icing. Problem solved. You just doubled your shots on goal per game. Yeah, the goalie is gonna be crapping his pants but he's a goalie. They should be terrified. More to come on these Mickey Mouse glove*** wearing fellas, later.

2. Allow Screens

Imagine a soccer version of a pick and roll. Just think about it for a second. That actually sounds interesting to watch. And it's still soccer. Weird. Soccer needs legitimate, legal contact between the two teams. Not full contact blocking (although that is also an intriguing option). The same contact you see in the NBA. This would defuse a lot of the theatrical flopping nonsense that non fans (and most soccer fans when they're honest with themselves) find so unpalatable. This kind of crap. With regular, legal contact between the offense and defense, the instinct to fall to the ground clutching your hammy every time the other guy brushes against your arm will be greatly reduced. (Though admittedly, not eliminated. Change all the rules you want but soccer players are still gonna be pussies.)

3. Require All Fans To Distract Themselves From The Monotony On the Field With Binge Drinking, Singing "Ole" Songs, Throwing Road Flares and or Bags of Urine Onto The Field While Blowing Cheap, Plastic Horns Resulting In The Angriest Most Horrid Sounding Beehive Noise Your Worst Nightmares Have Ever Produced.

Done? Well then here's another. And I'm serious. Play with two balls at the same time. It'll be like in pinball when you get that bonus ball and you madly flip the flippers. I tell you. In those moments, you gotta stand like a statue. Become part of the machine. Feel all the bumpers and always play it clean. You gotta play by intuition and then the digit counters fall . . . . . I forget how the rest of that goes.

But soccer is so hopeless that even if you had a second ball, assuming there are no other changes, you could still end up with the same gridlock. You would just have it simultaneously on both sides of the field. But the fans would then have their choice in which paint they want to watch dry. iOle!

4. Get Rid Of The Goalie.

You heard me. Open nets, all game long. Now this would only really work, if you insisted on keeping that stupid off sides rule.

I got this idea a few weeks ago while watching my five year old nephew's soccer game. Five year olds don't play with a goalie. As a result, the scores are like 22- 17. This means that the pace of the game no longer resembles an armless man swimming in rapidly drying cement. You might be tempted into thinking that this is overkill. "Yeah, we want to make scoring easier (read possible), but not automatic. No one wants a Basketball score in a soccer game and if there's no goalie, they'll score way too much. Right?"

Not as much as you might think. I watched most of the Uruguay, France game last week and I saw more fake injuries than shots on goal. An NHL goalie will come away from a sixty minute game with twenty-five to thirty saves (give or take). And that's after allowing the typical two or three goals. How many saves did France's goalie have in last Friday's ninety minute game? Three. Three?! He blocked a shot at the goal three freaking times. And that was in a shut out. That means you could take the goalie out of the game, leaving a wide open net and still not score three goals in an hour and a half of game time. No wonder soccer fans rabidly celebrate missed shots by their team. There's nothing else to do.

5. Allow Players To Just Pick Up The Damn Ball And Run It Into the Goal.

While we're at it, let's say the defense can prevent this from happening by tackling the ball carrier. To combat this, the offense could pass the ball to each other, with their actual hands. Of course, it would make sense to alter the shape of the ball slightly to allow for better passes. Now they can still kick the ball. Just not all the time. Man, that would be an improvement.

Ah! You thought I was just pulling some cheap shot and suggesting we should all just play Football, didn't you? Well, I may be an ignorant American. But I have broadened my horizons a little bit in my time. No, I was referencing the great sport of Rugby. Poor, neglected, fascinating, compelling, relentlessly paced Rugby. Such a better sport that soccer. Although, so is Ski Ball.

Don't believe me? That's fine. After pissing off any soccer fan that was still reading this slop, I just alienated every non soccer fan I still had on board. But check out these clips from last week's USA Collegiate 7's Tournament before you roll your eyes too hard.

(Big props to Utah for beating Cal in the final, by the way.)

See how open the game is? Anything can happen at any time. There are no 0-0 ties in this sport. So let's decide, as a proud nation, to just stop following soccer all together and adopt this pleasant alternative as our weird, euro sport that we occasionally care about. What do you say?

Look. Here's the unavoidable conclusion to all of this. Beloved as it may be, soccer is inferior to just about every other team sport on the planet. And the only reason I say " just about", is because I can't speak for Cricket or Aussie Rules Football. I don't know anything about them. But Baseball, Basketball, Football, Rugby, Hockey, Field Hockey, Water Polo, regular Polo, Lacrosse, Roller Derby, Curling, Ultimate Frisbee, Doubles Tennis, Whackbat and Double Dutch Jump Rope are all more intriguing team sports than the world's most popular game.

And it's not even close.

With that said, I'm gonna hop off my soap box and rejoin reality. Even though its suckiness has been well established, I will continue to enjoy watching the World Cup just the way it is. You know. Like, in the background. While I read. Or fold my laundry. Or sleep. Or amuse myself with pornographic playing cards. (Woops. Just exceeded my Simspon reference budget. I'm now in the red.) At least for another couple of weeks. Then I'll forget soccer exists.

God bless America.

*To be clear, that is a Quimby quote. That's fun to say. Quimby quote.

**As of Tuesday morning, the grand total is now 6 ties. Out of a total of 13 games. And two of those were 0-0. Sorry. Nil to nil.

*** Now he just needs giant buttons on the front of his short and
for some reason no shirt.