Monday, July 07, 2014

Soccer - The Silly Game

And here we ago again.  It's been four years since I even thought a thing about soccer but the World Cup comes along and I foolishly give it another shot.  And based on ratings, apparently others did too.  Of course, they may have for the same reason as me.  The NBA Finals had just ended, football (real football) is a couple of months off, baseball is early in a long season and nothing else was on except a weekly NASCAR race.  If ESPN hadn't canceled the Great Outdoor Games, I would be watching that because yes, I do find dogs jumping in lakes and lumberjack sports more entertaining than soccer.  I'll wait to for a random Major League Soccer game to pull in good ratings before I'm impressed.  There is an old saying that soccer is the future of sports in the USA and always will be.  Oh but I do like how the Latin America female fans (especially Brazil) act like clothing at the game is optional.  I would say it must be a Catholic thing but my fiancée might get pissed.  She's probably pissed at the previous sentence.

Well, every other time I try to watch soccer, I end up not caring about it because it's low scoring, ties end with penalty kicks in the "knockout round", it's low scoring, there is too much flopping, it's low scoring and the calls are incomprehensibly inconsistent.  So what happens in the knockout round?  Out of sixteen teams, only like three managed to score two goals in regulation.  None scored three.  Three games were 0-0 at the end of regulation.  Oh, and two games went through regulation and the extra 30 minutes (plus stoppage time) and were still tied.  So we go to penalty kicks.  So what does the commentator say when a goalie actually blocks a shot?  "He guessed right."  WTF?????????  A game is decided because the goalie flipped a coin?  And they were proclaiming the Brazilian goalie the hero for stopping three shots.  He guesses right on one.  Another was kicked right at him.  The last hit the goalpost.  I'm really friggin' impressed.  And the only reason Brazil made it to penalty kicks is Chile had an own goal.  Which was credited to the closest Brazilian player who of course celebrates like he just cured cancer and solved world hunger.

Then Mexico lost because a player from the Netherlandsdid a ridiculous dive and was awarded a free kick near the end of the game giving them the victory.  But Mexico shouldn't complain too much.  They got away with two fouls on the same guy on the same play in the box (I think it's called the box).  And since I watched only the US games, the Mexico game (so I could laugh at my warehouse staff when they lost) and bits and pieces of the other games, no telling how many flops, fake injuries, bad calls and whiny players I missed. 

Seriously, this is the beautiful game?  We’ll ignore the sad reality that fixing games is so common place that you have to sign a contract with a country’ssoccer federation to do it.  But on the field, someone intentionally bit someone else in the middle of a game.  And flopping is so bad that the guy who did the biting pretended to be hurt.  Flopping and diving are way too generous a term for what these guys are doing.  Flopping is exaggerating contact to draw a foul like you see in the NBA.  Soccer players take it to a whole new level.  They get touched and act like they were shot by a sniper.  But they'd be stupid not to do it.  They get away with it.  And it's not like the NBA where suckering the ref may get you a couple of free throws.  These penalties have huge consequences.  The Netherlands got a win out of it.  When teams are struggling to score two goals in a game, a free kick is huge.  And some stupid rule says if you get a free kick, the person fouled doesn't have to take it.  The team kicking gets to pick their best person.  That's insane.  I'm sure Dwight Howard would love for James Harden to take his free throws for him. But it's even bigger than that.  These guys are begging for yellow (or even red) cards.  One red card or two yellow and the guy isn't just tossed.  His team is playing a man down the rest of the way. I'm sure Peyton Manning wouldn't have even more success if he was facing a defense of 10 men.

All these stupid soccer rules come together to make me not like the sport.  I want to see points scored.  World Cup means few goals.  Because their rules suck.  The red card/double yellow card is a joke.  I've said it before and I'll sayit again.  It's utterly retarded to have a team play a man down over penalties.  Especially when yellow/red cards get awarded (is that really the correct term) in such a haphazard way.  I saw a slide tackle that was all ball, no contact with the player.  The commentator said "I could understand if they called a yellow card there."  I can't.  It's stupid.   The guy who bit someone didn't even get called for a penalty. The dutch player got absolutely mugged in one half with no call and then he (actually his teammate who is a better kicker) gets a free kick for nothing in the second.  But what does playing a man down really do?  It means the team down doesn't do shit, and the team ahead doesn't really do shit either.  The team down is just protecting themselves.  The team at full strength knows they have the whole rest of the game with a man advantage.  Why?  Because you lose a man, you've lost him for the entire game.  Change the rule.  Make it like hockey where you're a man down for a period of time and then you get back to full strength.  Some of the most exciting hockey is during power plays as a team with a man advantage takes advantage of it.  In soccer, .........why work at it?  You've got the rest of the game to try, and it’s really hard for the other team to score against you. There was one team down a man in a tie game at the end of regulation.  Everyone in the studio during the break said they should spend the 30 minute overtime just trying to keep the other team from scoring and get to penalty kicks.  Yeah, that's competition.

But another stupid rule is the three substitution rule.  You can substitute three times total.  That means making a change for strategy reasons, injury reasons or because two teammates are fighting.  Which means if you have used your substitutes and another player breaks his leg, you’re at a man disadvantage unless you can convince the injured player to tape it and just lay out on the field.  So a coach is probably going to err on the side of caution and not substitute unless a player is dead.  The other problem is what it does to the players who have to go the whole way.  For one, I think a lot of players play half heartedly for long stretches during the game because they know they’re going to be out there a long time (but they have no idea how long).   Save your strength for later.  I’ve been told for years that they are in great shape and run all the time.  They may be in great shape, but I have never seen a soccer game where they are “running all the time”.  They’ll jog after the ball.  Kick the ball back and forth for awhile while the other team stands around.   Lay on the ground begging for a call. 

I think this is part of why players exaggerate their injuries to the point they’re laying on the ground for 2-3 minutes pretending to be at death’s door.  It’s a de facto rest break complete with water bottles.  And everyone is in on the scam.  The medical staff isn’t dashing onto the field to check them out unless there is blood.  They kind of saunter out there.  In fact, the most hustle I saw coming from the medics was on the sideline when a non-player broke his ankle celebrating a goal.  What’s real cool is that FIFA is criticized for letting a guy completely knocked out continue playing, but a toe gets stubbed and they’re bringing a stretcher (contrast with American football where any leg injury short of a compound fracture and the player limps off with the help of a couple of trainers).  Then the guy with the stubbed toe runs back onto the field straight from his stretcher.

 So how do you make soccer better?  More scoring would help.  But barring that, more attempts at scoring.  Hockey (closest sport to soccer) isn't much higher scoring, but a big difference is how many shots they get.  Tim Howard was record setting with 16 saves in his last game.  With two scores and 30 minutes extra, that is 18 shots on goal in 120 minutes of play.  NHL goalies average up to 30 saves a game.  Meaning they average fighting off much more attempts than soccer's highest in about half the time.  I think soccer should take some ideas from hockey and other sports.  Hit floppers with hefty fines like the NBA does.  But more importantly, substitute more like hockey.  Not exactly like hockey where they sub a lot and the ice is not so large and I can never tell where the puck is.  Look at the upside.  Coaches wouldn't be afraid of using up their substitutes so they could make strategic changes based on match-ups.  They would be more willing to take out a player who was dinged up or not playing well or on the take.  Wouldn't players be more apt to go full speed while they're on the field knowing they don't have to fake injuries or lollygag to get a rest break on the field?  Full speed should mean more attempts to score.  Besides, what is the downside?  Soccer groupies can't brag (lie) about how their players run the whole game?  If I was interested in watching endurance challenges, I'd watch a triathlon. 

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