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A Meaningful Discussion About The Entertainment Value Of Soccer

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Let me preface this with a few facts:

1. I never played organized soccer, though I have played quite a bit with friends.
2. I did not grow up watching soccer.
3. I do not root for any specific team.
4. I did my best to enjoy soccer during the World Cup.

Ok, got it?

I don't know if yesterday's World Cup match was a particularly boring game of soccer, but try as I might to get into it, it was among the least entertaining major sports matches I have seen in years. I am not intolerant and I do not assume that because I do not like something it is stupid or bad, but I think have some good reasons for not enjoying soccer.

1. It's ultra-low scoring.

I do not equate scoring with excitement, but my complaint about the low-scoring nature of soccer is not that action between the goals is not that exciting. My problem with the low scoring nature of soccer is that it makes me feel as if the best team is not favored enough. In baseball, we think of one-run games as a coin flip, and know that a good performance in one-run games one season does not indicate that skill in the future. The same is true for football games decided by a field goal or basketball games decided by the final possession.

In soccer, it seems like a single goal advantage is a typical victory. That makes me wonder if the best team is truly that much more likely to win. I can think of England-USA from this past World Cup, where England badly outplayed the United States but suffered a tie because of a fluky bad play by the goalie. Yesterday is another good example. Everyone seems to agree that Spain was the better team and playing better, but the Netherlands very nearly stole the match. One mistake, or lasting until penalty kicks could have doomed Spain.

Fair competition and the better team winning are basic principles of sport, and part of me thinks soccer does not do a very good job of representing those principles. Especially considering...

2. Penalty kicks are a horrible way to decide a match.

Deep into overtime, Spain and the Netherlands tied 0-0, I began to dread that the game would go to penalty kicks. Statistically, penalty kicks are decided by nothing more than luck. The goalie guesses correctly, the kick is probably blocked. The goalie guesses wrong, the kick probably scores. In that way, penalty kicks are not the equivalent of deciding a football game through a field goal kick-off or a basketball game through free throws, but actually worse. Field goals and free throws at least represent some kind of skill.

Those examples do help crystallize what I hate about deciding a match through penalty kicks. Even if we could assume some kind of skill within the process, it filters out every other part of the game that a team can excel at and leaves only shots on goal. Why not simply extend another overtime? Is soccer so low scoring that the threat of continual overtimes forces such a backwards method of determining a game? A World Championship?

If yesterday's game went to penalty kicks, I probably would have never watched soccer again. I am that frustrated by the process of penalty kicks.

Anyway, I am not inviting a rank off, or pitting the footie faithful against the naysayers, but I am curious, are there meaningful answers to my criticisms? And am I missing other complaints? Are my criticisms unfounded? And maybe most importantly, what would it take for soccer to establish a true foothold in America?