June 13, 2010

Soccer's advantage

The U.S. tied England 1-1 in the World Cup despite England by all accounts being obviously better. (The English goalie muffed an easy save.) 

Why?

The low-scoring in soccer means the outcomes of individual games have a high degree of randomness, which makes soccer great for betting on.

I've always wanted soccer to have more 3-2 games, like England over Cameroon in the 1990 Word Cup quarterfinals. Everybody always talks about how fun that game was, so why not reform soccer so there are more 3-2 games?

I think part of the answer to my question is that if scoring were made easier (e.g., by enlarging the goal), while there would be more 3-2 games, there would also be more 4-1 and 5-0 games, and those would get boring about halfway through.

Worse, the better team would win more of the time than now, so betting would become more of a science and less of a crap shoot. And what's the fun in that?

Moreover, while the World Cup always starts out seemingly random, it always ends up with one of soccer's Great Powers winning the whole thing. New Zealand or Slovenia or America or North Korea isn't going to win the World Cup and embarrass the whole sport. The most obscure country to win the World Cup since Uruguay in 1950 is Argentina, which is pretty famous. The other winners over that time have been Brazil, Germany, Italy, England, and France.

So, you've got to give the FIFA boys some credit for balancing randomness and respectability nicely.

145 comments:

Anonymous said...

Steve,
Spot on! I've been a huge soccer fan for most of my life but I've always said that soccer needs more 3-2 games. 3-2 is a great score for a soccer game because it provides enough entertainment without the game turning into a farce. It's funny because if you ever read lists of the greatest games of all time put out by SI, ESPN, etc., they all have scores of 3-2, 4-2, etc.

Solutions? Widen the goals by a foot on each side and six inches on top. These goals were designed when the goalies were all 5'5'' and were much less athletic than they are now. Also, I would like to see an offsides line implemented about 30 yards from goal. This will open up the game and encourage a more attacking style.

Anyone else have any other ideas....

Anonymous said...

Don't know. Up until the 1950s 3-2 was a pretty average score. Later things changed as coaches introduced more defensive strategies that seemed to work - but this is not something FIFA intentionally intended.

I think most soccer fans would be quite happy if there were more 4-1 or 5-0 scores.

New Zealand or Slovenia or America or North Korea isn't going to win the World Cup and embarrass the whole sport.

Actually Greece won Euro 2004 (which in Europe is just as big as the World Cup) and this was quite embarrassing and dispiriting for non-Greeks, since they won 3 consecutive 1-0 defensive & boring matches.

headache said...

According to chatter the England-USA game was targeted by AQ. A South African anti-crime outfit, which is currently guarding US visitors to the games, did a recon of the stadiums and found the security basically non-existent, like you would expect from the New South African police. I was surprised that AQ did nothing. It means they are saving their firepower for later, or that they have a deal with the ANC. In exchange for not destabilizing the WC, they can use South Africa as a base for their operations.

Howard Hughes said...

Nice post, but, seriously, Argentina is a great power - surely a greater football nation than England. Two WC-gold versus one. Two silver medals versus zero.

Anyhow... as you say, only the great teams win gold. However, quite a lot of just decent teams have reached the semis and/or gotten bronze: Turkey, Sweden, Croatia, Bulgaria.

Peter A said...

"Real" soccer, also known as club soccer, i.e. the English Premier League, the Spanish Liga, The Bundesliga, etc. has plenty of 3-2 games, even 5-4 and 7-0. The problem with World Cup soccer is that the quality of the game simply isn't that good - these aren't the "best players" in the world. There are probably a dozen Germans who could start in goal for England. There are probably a dozen Italians who could play defensive back for the US, etc. And of course these teams haven't played together much. The teams don't have the time to create the chemistry to create great scoring chances - hence grind it out defensive teams will often do very well in the Cup (Germany, Italy). Drawing conclusions about soccer from the World Cup is dangerous.

Henry Canaday said...

Also, drunk fans might have difficulty following games that went beyond binary 1s and 0s.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you that the problem with soccer is it low scoring, and if there was more scoring it would be a better spectator sport.

The thing is, I don't know if making the goal bigger would be the right answer. The goal is already much larger than hockey's, and hockey has much higher scores. If the goal was bigger it would only encourage more teams to keep defenders hanging around the goal and play defensively.

Similarly already a large percentage of goals come from corner kicks and free kicks, which are far less aesthetically pleasing that goals from normal play. If the goal was bigger it would make scoring from free kicks and corner kicks easier and make teams try and gain them more.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but Argentina is one of the big powers in this sport...They won two world cup in 1978 and 1986 and they played the final in 1990.
Probably France is the more "obscure" winner of the world cup: France won only one time in 1998 home's world cup. They didn't get qualification in 1990 and 1994...
And yes this sport is less predictable and meritocratic than others, is more in the hands of God, this in beautiful but a bit un-american, I guess.

SGOTI said...

The only thing that could make soccer more interesting in its current incarnation is to have at least two balls in play at once.

I tried, really tried, to get into the World Cup again this year. Twenty minutes of viewing. . . too painful.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it sounds sensible that randomness is increased by pushing the scores to the low side; but for me it's not the randomness that makes a "sport" interesting, it's my team's chance of winning. Also, and again at least for me, some good violence never seems to hurt; and all that flopping also seems to increase the randomness, but I'd rather have them score than watch the acting.

Anonymous said...

Using the expertise I acquired by watching the 10-seconds of highlights, I would say that the English goal was the result of a lapse in defense and even so still could have been stopped by the goalie (though not the obvious goalie flub of the American goal).

So, really, this game should have ended at 0-0. It then would have done its job in reconfirming to Americans why we don't watch this sport.

Anonymous said...

Teams in World Cup football (and to some extent in the Champions League) tend to play not to lose rather than to win. The format of the cup playoffs favors more caution.

By contrast there are many more high scoring games in league play. This past season Chelsea (an English soccer club) won games by more than seven goals four times in the process of winning the league title.

Thursday said...

Soccer needs to allow more substitutions. No wonder there are so few goals when the players have to run for almost 90 minutes straight.

Anonymous said...

The flopping is worse than the low scores. Vlade Divac brought that garbage into the NBA.

jack strocchi said...

Steve S. said:

So, you've got to give the FIFA boys some credit for balancing randomness and respectability nicely.

Spot on Steve S. This is the "institutional" reason that soccer is by far the world's most popular sport. Of course it was designed by Anglo-Franco gentlemen, who do seem to excel at constitution building.

The individual reason is that soccer is very simple to learn and cheap to play for any person. So that all the worlds peoples can join in.

Soccer is a brilliant expression of global political culture in that it recognizes and and encourages healthy forms of nationalism whilst bringing all nations together into one global administration.

"One game, one world, one hope, one dream, lets all play some football."

C'mon Aussie!

Anonymous said...

There has just been another keeper beat by a shot from a long way out in the same way. It's the ball which is designed to beat keepers.

RandyB said...

Yeah, I've never liked soccer for exactly that reason... 90 minutes of World Championship caliber play comes down to THAT?

The problem with soccer, hockey and basketball is that they have a "periodicity" of about 30-60 seconds, meaning that the game situation 45 seconds from now (in playing time) is pretty much a random function of the situation now. By contrast, baseball has 9 and football averages 11 possessions per game. That's what makes them the best spectator sports, easily.

tanabear said...

Steve: "...while there would be more 3-2 games, there would also be more 4-1 and 5-0 games, and those would get boring about halfway through."

As opposed to being boring from the start.

Matra said...

Is the final result in soccer any more random than in baseball or hockey? In baseball the top team in a division will often have only a 57% winning record while the bottom team will win more than 40% of their games. In soccer it is not unusual for a team to go an entire season and only lose 1 or 2 matches. Other teams will not win an away from home match all season. That doesn't strike me as being very random.

Camlost said...

When MLS started back in the early 90's it's organizers were very worried that low scoring would not be marketable in the US. So, they contacted FIFA and asked if they could widen the goals by 6-8 inches on each side, but still remain FIFA-sanctioned.

FIFA said NO.

Anonymous said...

The first anonymous commenter suggested that the soccer goal be adjusted for today's bigger, more athletic players. That is exactly what we did in America in basketball with the arrival of Wilt Chamberlain. There was a lot of talk about raising the basket to keep "the dipper" from just camping out under the goal and dunking. Instead they widen the lanes and established a a shot clock.

Notice your guy Bill Russel had no comparable impact on the rules.

Baseball scores are even more sensitive to minor rule changes. Yastrzemski in 1968 was the only man to hit .300 after they lowered the pitcher's mound just six inches.

It would seem to me that adjusting the size of the goal, the ball and the field should all be considered so as to achieve more 3-2 games. I still won't watch of course. Last night there was a terrific 5-4 game on TV between the Giants and the Athletics. Who needs soccer?

Finally why the expression "more of a science and less of a crap shoot."? I'm reading a book on history of risk called Against the Gods. Crap shooting became scientific in the third chapter. Giralmo Cardano calculated the odds for craps in the sixteenth century - fully a century before the more famous mathematicians Fermat and Pascal got involved in such matters.

Albertosuarus

Anonymous said...

I love it when people who don't watch soccer suggest reforms for a sport that is the most loved in the history of the human race.

OhioStater said...

Vegas set the over/under at 2 or 2.5 for all of the initial games, and all of the games have gone UNDER except for South Korea vs Greece. How random is that?!

If you wanted a more exciting game, you'd let players leave the game and come back like basketball or football.

sn said...

In the English premier league, the average number of goals scored per game is between 3 and 3.5 (across teams) http://itv.stats.football365.com/dom/ENG/PR/glsagstavg.html

VG said...

There are a lot of problems with the world cup first of all, and football in general. First of all, they should never have raised the number of teams to 32, that's how you end up with a lot of boring and substandard teams nobody wants to watch. Also, there's a lot of 'affirmative action' in the world cup, in the sense that each region in the world gets a certain number of teams to take part. In this world cup for instance, surely, there are a plenty of European or South American sides that are better than, say, New Zealand, or North Korea. European Champions League, the English Premier League, or the Italian league is better, any day.
The other problem is that football has become too soft these days, compared to the 60s and 70s. A slight touch, and it's a foul. A slightly harder touch, and it's a yellow card, no sliding tackles, only three substitutes, etc. Rather than making the game more competitive, this only makes it more boring.
And talking about North Korea, it would be interesting to see how many of their secret service poeple have come with them to make sure they don't defect, or even mingle with their southern counterparts.

Tim Johnston said...

Back in the day big scores were not uncommon,and I do miss them. 3-2 was normal, and even the Spanish league during the 90s had regular 8 and 9-goal matches.
It died out not because of a change in the rules, but because the stakes got higher, I think, and players became overcautious.

Anonymous said...

Here are the goals per game for the Big 6 European leagues, as well as the Champions League for the 2009-2010 seasons:

English Premier League: 2.77
Spanish Premiera Divsion: 2.71
German Bundesliga: 2.64
Italian Serie A: 2.61
French Ligue 1: 2.41
European Champions League: 2.54

Although club soccer is certainly faster and higher scoring than international soccer, as I mentioned in my first post, soccer must implement some reforms including wider and higher goals (one foot on each side and 6 inches on top) and an offsides line (30 yards out?).

As mentioned before, 3-2 is an ideal soccer score, although I wouldn't mind seeing some 4-2 games as well. Of course, there is absolutely too much of a good thing and we wouldn't want the games to turn into a farce. However, these World Cup games have been absolutely hideous thus far (except for about some of the Argentina game).

VG said...

Not always, but most of the time, the last eight are six European teams and Brazil and Argentina. It'll probably be the same this time as well. Although Uruguay has shown quite a bit of promise and I wouldn't rule out an African side.
What's really interesting is that the mediocre European teams rely so much on strategy. That makes for very boring and predictive football, but at least they know how to make things work even with very mediocre players. Which is why we have teams like Switzerland and Slovenia in this world cup, and Slovenia's already won it's first match against a highly energetic Algeria. Serbia should have won, they were a much better team than Ghana, and they probably play the roughest, old style football in the world. Greece, though, has been a complete embarrassment for European football.

RWF said...

"Greece won Euro 2004 (which in Europe is just as big as the World Cup) "

Yeah but you have one less stage at the Euros, as there are 16 teams rather than 32, which more than doubles the chances of a minnow winning.

Small countries get to the semis of the World Cup quite frequently which is roughly the equivalent in terms of luck of winning the Euros.

Anonymous said...

"The most obscure country to win the World Cup since Uruguay in 1950 is Argentina"

Steve, please stop. This is embarrassing for you. Argentina, "obscure"??? What planet do you live on?

Either try to actually learn something about soccer, or just stop talking about it. You aren't providing any special insights about soccer: just commonplace observations that I have heard others make about soccer for the past forty years.

Watching the World Cup every four years is not the best way to learn about soccer, Steve. Some of the best players aren't in SA because their countries did not qualify. The players have only had a few weeks to train together as national teams. Everyone is playing super conservative in the group stages. If you want to watch the best level of play by the best teams, watch the Premier League, La Liga, the Champions League, etc.

As for the rest of you: the problem with ignorant people is that they don't know they are ignorant: yet they presume to offer their "insights" anyway.

Bigger goals? Unlimited substitution? No offside? Gee, I've never heard of those idiotic suggestions before!

Let's turn soccer into something else: make it a sport that American soccer haters would enjoy. Right.

Oh wait! That's already been done: indoor soccer. And it was a massive failure: it repelled the actual soccer fans, and failed to attract all the so-called expert typical American sports fans who claim they want to see "more scoring" because they haven't grasped any of the fundamentals of soccer watching, apart from the scoreline.

Anyone who hasn't been riveted for 90 minutes by an exciting and close 0-0 or 1-0 soccer match just does not get it, and probably never will. The low scoring is PRECISELY what makes soccer so entertaining and exciting. There's more to the game than just goals.

Yes, there are boring games in soccer but there are boring games in ALL sports and f_cking with the rules to change the sport into something it is not, does NOT reduce the number of boring games. You're just fooled by scoring systems that rewards failure (field goal opportunities for getting "close") and multiple point systems that artificially inflate the score.

If you compared how long you have to wait for a goal in soccer compared to how long you have to wait for a touchdown (in real time, not game clock time), the stats are about the same: 35-40 minutes in real time for either a goal or a touchdown; actually IIRC it's slightly less time in soccer.

Remember, gridiron football games take three hours to play, compared to less than two hours for soccer, and during those three hours, the gridiron football is only in actual play for about 11 minutes. Three hours to watch 11 minutes of actual play, along with at least an hour of commercials? And you guys think soccer is 'boring'?

It's all cultural conditioning and personal taste, guys. Get over it.

Dan J said...

As others have pointed out there are many more goals scored in European club games. To punch holes in the modern defense you need an extreme level of team cooperation, and this is often not possible to achieve within the short timeframe of the World Cup.

The ball itself has also seen lots of R&D, to give strikers added control while making the ball more "slippery" and harder to catch. Goalies hate this, of course.

And on the subject of goalies, England has only herself to blame. British clubs seems always to buy experienced goalies from abroad, rather than bring up homegrown talent. I have no idea why this is. Other Euro leagues produce lots of fine keepers.

And no, there is very little to change for the better in soccer. Just sit back and enjoy the game.

TD said...

The flopping is worse than the low scores.

Yeah? Which flopping? I'm serious: Which player, on which play, in which game? By the time today wraps up, there will have been eight World Cup matches so far. Tell us where the "flopping" was.

fasdfasdfasdf said...

French victory was a surprise though.

Of course, the best 'French' players were blacks, so a Brazilianized France won.
If the French team had been all-French like German team is all-German, it would not have won.

dfasdfasdfasdf said...

Soccer has too much action and not enough points. Imagine if a basketball game ended with a score of 3-2. I suppose that would happen if the basket was propped up 50 ft in the air.

Anonymous said...

The flopping is worse than the low scores. Vlade Divac brought that garbage into the NBA.

Yeah, the fall backwards on your butt, clutch your knee, and roll back and forth pretending to be in writhing agony only to get up 10 seconds later looking perfectly fine is definitely one of the most annoying things in sports.

Outland said...

Steve,

Don't forget: Americans are the exception to the rule of football being the national sport. For the rest of us, football as it is, is fine.

I read Americans who find the sport boring. Fair enough. I don't get why Americans are even remotely interested in a sport like baseball. It bores the hell out of me. I can see the excitement in basketball though.

Peter A said...

Just to add to my comments - the average English Premier League game is 3.7 goals. Not quite the 3-2 Steve is looking for but much better than the typical World Cup match.

That said, as I write this Germany has scored 2 goals against Australia in less than 30 minutes, and just nearly scored again. If all teams could control and pass the way the Germans can maybe Americans would like soccer a little better.

Geoff Matthews said...

They wouldn't need to enlarge the goals to make the games higher-scoring. They just need to loosen up (or get rid of) the off-side rules.

Sure, make cherry-picking illegal, but allow breakaways.

Anonymous said...

Peter A - surely these are the best players or mostly anyway*. But they are not the best teams.

*Of course there are some great players who wont be there, coming from nations who dont usually qualify.

eg Britain has four teams, England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Good players from Wales and N.I. rarely get the chance to play in the WC. A British team would almost certainly have a better record in the WC and EC.

Anonymous said...

They changed he offside rule where now only 1 defender has to between the last offensive player, where as before you had to have 3. So it should be easier to score. I don't know what year they changed it.

It is a great spectator sport for people who like it. Euros consider American football boring, as well as baseball. There is constant action in soccer where in baseball it's just a bunch of guys standing around. Football is the same.

Anonymous said...

"Soccer needs to allow more substitutions. No wonder there are so few goals when the players have to run for almost 90 minutes straight

They used to allow no substitutes and the coach couldn't even talk to the players on the field.

Don't change it. If you don't like, the whole world doesn't have to change for you.

The need more refs and instant replay though.

Steve Sailer said...

If World Cup soccer is a crummier product than English Premier League soccer, then they should do something about it, if they want to convert Americans into soccer fans.

Look at the Olympics. Track and field isn't a terribly exciting sport, but it is arranged so that it puts its best foot forward at the Olympics -- more records get broken at the Olympics than anywhere else.

For example, if these all-star teams don't get enough time to practice together because their league schedule runs too late into the spring, then, every four years, end league play four weeks earlier so the World Cup teams have four more weeks to practice together. For instance, the NHL knocks off play for a few weeks in mid-season so it can send its best players to the Winter Olympics. That shows they care enough to try to impress outsiders.

But if the soccer world doesn't care enough to make the World Cup a display of soccer at its best, then Americans are going to go on being unimpressed.

Anonymous said...

'Sure, make cherry-picking illegal, but allow breakaways.


There are breakaways.

Steve Sailer said...

Baseball is boring, at least during the regular season. It's a snoozy hot summer day game. And America is a lot hotter in summer than Europe.

However, baseball statistics are very interesting, if you are interested in that sort of thing. The sheer number of regular season games played means the statistics are pretty valid and can be endlessly analyzed.

Anonymous said...

"Real" soccer, also known as club soccer, i.e. the English Premier League, the Spanish Liga, The Bundesliga, etc. has plenty of 3-2 games, even 5-4 and 7-0. The problem with World Cup soccer is that the quality of the game simply isn't that good - these aren't the "best players" in the world. There are probably a dozen Germans who could start in goal for England. There are probably a dozen Italians who could play defensive back for the US, etc. And of course these teams haven't played together much. The teams don't have the time to create the chemistry to create great scoring chances - hence grind it out defensive teams will often do very well in the Cup (Germany, Italy). Drawing conclusions about soccer from the World Cup is dangerous.


With all the foreign players in England,Spain and Italy and Germany, the top of those leagues are at a higher level than many of the WC teams . The top maybe 8-10 national teams are equal to the top Club teams, but the rest of the national teams are inferior to the top club teams. And the club teams play with each other regularly.

Steve Sailer said...

Yeah, sure, the flopping is annoying. But the vicious, self-destructive headbutting an opponent in the closing minutes of a tied World Cup Final, well, that's awesome.

Anonymous said...

Steve - off topic but historians just revealed that Hitler was in love with an observant jewish young lady when Hitler was young ( I think from age 16 to 20 )

The origin of his anti semetism lies in his angry feelings at being rejected by her.

If Hitler had been successful in marrying her, and the third reich had a jewish first lady, you have to imagine the third reich not spending its energy and time on silly stuff like anti semetism.

If you assume a third reich led by a philo semetic Furher with a prominent jewish first lady, you have to further assume that many of the best jewish scientiests in Austria and Germany would continue to work hard for the benefit of the reich.

Likely the reich would have been able to launch its attack on Russia a few months earlier, and have been able to capture moscow before the winter freeze

Indeed, speculation about a philo semetic hitler are not likely to be popular among the usual crowd of anti semites, and also not likely to be popular in the mainstream media. So Isteve is really the only place for them.

Anonymous said...

France in 1998 , when they won the Cup, was almost white, only after it became "new brazil" .

Anonymous said...

"If World Cup soccer is a crummier product than English Premier League soccer, then they should do something about it, if they want to convert Americans into soccer fans. "

I don't think they care about converting Americans. Players make millions of dollars and so do coaches, so why care about America.

I think Capello makes 9 million dollars a year.

Anonymous said...

But they don't want to convert Americans. Most Europeans and Latin Americans simply don't care that Americans don't care, so what's the problem? Also, the WC is about nationalism as much as soccer; it can best be explained as a celebration of nationalism through the medium of soccer. Those who demand it changes to accomodate us are as insufferable as those who whine about our disinterest.
p.s. F**k France, GO USA!!!

Anonymous said...

"eg Britain has four teams, England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Good players from Wales and N.I. rarely get the chance to play in the WC. A British team would almost certainly have a better record in the WC and EC."

George Best of NI never played in the WC and Ryan Giggs of Wales never did either. BEst is one of the all time greats and Giggs is a great player also.

Add all the great Scottish players to the England team in the 70's and what a team they would have had.

Anonymous said...

With all the immigration into Europe, plus all the Europeans moving around because of the EU, especially Eastern Euros, the WC is 20 years won't have much to do with being Italian or German or Irish. The Irish will have a bunch of Nigerians and Poles on their team.

Eugene said...

Soccer is an art house movie without a plot. You know it's over because it says "Fin" on the screen. (Hockey is an action movie without a plot.)

Soccer is what basketball would look like if basketball allowed goaltending and had an offside rule (and basketball is boring enough already).

The solution (for hockey too) is to eliminate the goalie. "Offsides" would only mean being inside the goal box ahead of the ball (defense and offense).

Steve Sailer said...

Yes, I know Argentina is a famous soccer power -- I saw the new stadium built for the 1978 World Cup in B.A. a few weeks before the tournament and followed the tournament with interest -- it's just less famous on the overall world stage than the other five countries due to having the lowest population of the six.

agnostic said...

There doesn't seem to be enough fast-twitch movement in soccer to make it as action-packed as Americans like their spectator sports, like football.

Someone said the ball is in play for a much shorter time in football than in soccer -- but the runners' feet hit the ground for a shorter time in sprinting than in distance running. Yet which is more exciting to watch, the 100m dash or a marathon?

Basketball has gigantic leaps off of the ground, often after an explosive sprint.

Even baseball, as boring as it is for most of the time, has explosive throws, swings, and sprints.

In soccer, the explosive to endurance ratio is too low, so it's not as action-packed as combat simulation should ideally be. Obviously the rest of the world likes it that way; Americans want something more warlike on the battlefield.

Anonymous said...

If the French team had been all-French like German team is all-German, it would not have won.

The German team is no longer all-German. 3 of the 4 goals Germany scored today were scored by immigrants: Klose & Podolski (Poland) and Cacau (Brazil). Also on the pitch for Germany were the excellent Ozil (of Turkish origin) and Khedira (half-Tunisian).

Is the final result in soccer any more random than in baseball or hockey? In baseball the top team in a division will often have only a 57% winning record while the bottom team will win more than 40% of their games. In soccer it is not unusual for a team to go an entire season and only lose 1 or 2 matches

North American sports are more "socialist" closed clubs that attempt to institute some degree of parity between the members (for example, the draft or salary cap). This is nothing like soccer which is far more "free market" - minor teams are promoted and relegated but the top teams stay pretty much the same. The disparities in squads that you see in European soccer don't exist in American sports.

FWIW, I do think that scores are too low and that because it's currently easier for teams to defend than to attack. I don't want to see the game change too much, so I would favor loosening the offside rule - say, by limiting it to the penalty box. This idea should at least be tested.

I also agree that 32 teams is too much, and the competition would have been better off with 24. The balance between the continents is fine - as Ghana and South Korea showed by beating European teams.

Antioco Dascalon said...

"If the French team had been all-French like German team is all-German, it would not have won"

The four goal-scorers for Germany today:
Podolski (8)
and Klose (26) both born in Poland.
Muller (68) born in southern Bavaria
and Cacau (70) born in Brazil.
Yep, all pure-blooded, Teutonic Germans there.

guest007 said...

I love how people keep pointing to the English Premier league as the best way to organize soccer when the same four teams win every year and the other teams support themselves by selling players to the four good teams.

At least in the U.S., Boise St, the New Orleans Saints, the Tampa Bay rays, or the San Antonio spurs can strive to be at the top.

If the U.S. organized its sports like the premiere league, the Yankees and the Red Sox will always win the world series, the BCS game would always be Flordia versus USC, and the NBA Finals would always be Boston/LA.

Anonymous said...

"If the French team had been all-French like German team is all-German, it would not have won"

Considering Germany's 4 strikers are named Klose, Podolski, (both born in Poland) Gomez, and Cacau (born in brazil) and their best player (ozil) is of turkish background this criticism is weak.

Soccer is a working class game in Europe, and in modern western Europe the working class is generally of immigrant backgrounds. In France immigrants are largely African, Caribbean, and north african, while in Germany immigrants are largely eastern European and Turkish. The French team is not less French the German team is German, both teams are diverse, reflecting modern western Europe

Sam said...

A solution for soccer would be to allow more substitutions. I think they allow only three now, so the players have to pace themselves for 90 minutes. Unlimited subs would quicken the pace.

Anonymous said...

"With all the immigration into Europe, plus all the Europeans moving around because of the EU, especially Eastern Euros, the WC is 20 years won't have much to do with being Italian or German or Irish. The Irish will have a bunch of Nigerians and Poles on their team."

Yes, but I guess, if I know about european nations and "soccer", that if happens the WC will close the theatre for ever. It doesn't make sense a WC with africans in french team or turkish in Germany just now, imagine if the situation became worst...
Because the WC is not about spectacle, is the only way how the european folks is permitted to mimic a war.

Anonymous said...

"Soccer is a working class game in Europe, and in modern western Europe the working class is generally of immigrant backgrounds. In France immigrants are largely African, Caribbean, and north african, while in Germany immigrants are largely eastern European and Turkish. The French team is not less French the German team is German, both teams are diverse, reflecting modern western Europe"

And that's good that they are diverse? It's too bad Europe is being destroyed. Anyway, is France 80% black? Is England 40-50% black, of course not.Why support this nonsense.

Anonymous said...

"The other problem is that football has become too soft these days, compared to the 60s and 70s. A slight touch, and it's a foul. A slightly harder touch, and it's a yellow card, no sliding tackles, only three substitutes, etc. Rather than making the game more competitive, this only makes it more boring.'

I read that in Brazil they don't allow hard tackling at all and this goes way back. There is much harder tackling in England than say Spain and Tevez , who came from Argentina, said the English league is very rough.

There was a French player named Petit, I think, who went to Arsenal about 10 years ago and he watched the first game from the bench and said this isn't soccer this is murder.

You say only 3 subs like there were more in the past. In the past there were none.

It's true that it's free market, but Real Madrid and Barcelona dominate Spain. England is a bit more competitive. Liverpool didn't make the top 4 this year.

In theory I could start a team in the conference in England and get promoted about 6 times to the EPL and get in the top 4 and then win the European Cup and there are no owners to keep me out like in the NFL or MLb.

Everything they do in pro sports is illegal for other businesses in America, but the league are successful.

Anonymous said...

I like how the Americans here try to explain why soccer is so boring and the sports they watch are so much more exciting. As if they are so internally different than the rest of the world that only they can somehow see the subtle differences between what makes one sport more exciting then another.

This type of arrogance is difficult to find around the world - it really is - Germany may be the one country that compares. But Americans seem to have so much of this sort of superiority complex, as if they are some sort of a unique snowflake that the rest of the world doesn't measure up to.

Anthony said...

World Cup Soccer seems to bring out national characteristics, even in immigrants. Watching Germany vs Australia today, the Germans were disciplined and organized, and rolled over the Aussies, who only excelled at one-on-one brawling, er, fouling their opponents.

agnostic said...

Thinking more about it, it seems that most of the explosive movements in baseball, basketball, and football are related to use of the hands and upper body either directly (hurling a ball held in your hand) or indirectly (leaping off the ground to catch or shoot or block the ball).

The only time the non-goalie soccer players leap off the ground is to use their upper body as well (their head).

So it seems like the rule against using your hands is what keeps soccer from being too exciting. Humans are designed to use their hands more than their feet, so it's contrary to nature and thus not a display of natural skill that we find fascinating.

Rather than simulating combat or hunting animals or escaping predators, soccer looks more like a game of herding livestock around.

Anonymous said...

Regarding soccer and upsets I think that is the nature of the sport, and somewhat different from American sports.

In baseball, basketball, and football the teams alternate offensive phases. one team gets a half inning to score, than the other team does, one team gets possession and has the chance to score a touchdown, than the other team does. In soccer the inferior team will hardly ever have the ball, as the goal of any team is to dominate possession.

As others have pointed out the games are of better quality in the EPL, although you missed the reason why. In the EPL teams play for a win, even inferior teams, as one win in 2 games is worth 3 points whereas two draws in two games are worth one point. By contrast world cups and any knockout tournaments the goal is to not lose so inferior teams tend to play defensively and hope for a draw (which will send the game into penalty kicks, a crapshoot). There's really nothing to be done about this. If you like soccer or want to get into it than watch professional teams. If you want to watch inferior quality soccer, but like the spectacle of nationalism than watch the world cup.

Complaining that the world cup won't get Americans interested in soccer is like claiming the world baseball classic won't get Europeans interested in baseball.

Anonymous said...

How pretentious of you. There is no problem with soccer. Over one billion people are watching.

Anonymous said...

Eugene, great comment!

Dan J, keepers are the only thing the US has to export, mostly to England. The first US guys to make a name internationally were keepers, led by Tony Meola.

Hand-eye coordination being paramount to a keeper, as demonstrated yesterday by poor Mr. Green, I've heard some say American athletes grow up using their hands in our sports, giving them a leg (or hand) up on the true, one-sport soccer keepers. Maybe the soccer geeks commenting here can discuss why US keepers seem to make it internationally more than the rest of the positions.

Brutus

Anonymous said...

OT:

Steve, looks like someone else is also a fan of Kipling.

I have to say this ad looks pretty damn awesome -- surprisingly edgy, a hint of what a "right wing" media might look like.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBoeHgy7svg&feature=player_embedded

Anonymous said...

"If World Cup soccer is a crummier product than English Premier League soccer, then they should do something about it, if they want to convert Americans into soccer fans. "

We don't want to convert American fans. They can embrace the game as it is or not, as they wish.

OhioStater said...

Well Steve, the reason the World Cup is vastly more popular than EPL is entho-nationalism. If you doubt me, even the England vs US match was subject to entho-nationlistic considerations, as if this was 1776!

The assumption is each team is the best that each country can do, which is true except for the US since our best athletes (Kobe, Jeter, Phelps) don't play soccer. If South Korea loses, all East Asians feel the sting, and conversely feel pride if they win. That rooting interest is lacking in club soccer and boosts World Cup revenue.

Some of the comments are correct, that the German, English and French teams are probably 25% immigrant, but that is the nature of the world today. Tim Howard, our world class goalie, is half black.

I had always assumed the US national team would rise to the top once more blacks (like LeBron) played soccer, but it seems all of the elite national teams are in an arms race to deploy as many blacks as possible without pissing off FIFA or their countrymen. When the Netherlands and Denmark play tomorrow, the whitest game of the tournament, you will see several black faces. This is no different than SEC football.

I'm sure the REAL question you want to ask is not what do they need to do to make soccer more exciting for Americans, but what do they need to do to help out northern European men? In the NBA, they re-started the zone defense to help out the white guys, and I'm sure they could do something similar for soccer.

Matra said...

Steve Sailer:if these all-star teams don't get enough time to practice together because their league schedule runs too late into the spring, then, every four years, end league play four weeks earlier so the World Cup teams have four more weeks to practice together.

In World Cup or European Championship years (that is, every other year) the domestic leagues usually start and end a week or two earlier.

For instance, the NHL knocks off play for a few weeks in mid-season so it can send its best players to the Winter Olympics. That shows they care enough to try to impress outsiders.

Not really. This year there were NHL games a day or two into the Winter Olympics. The national Olympic hockey teams played their first games together during the Olympics as they had no warm-up games. The round robin games only determined who would play whom in the knock-out stage so in a way those games were warm-ups to get used to playing together as a team.

In soccer the occasional week is set aside throughout the season as well as during the off-season for international matches. So after playing for Manchester United on a weekend Wayne Rooney would occasionally join the England national team training camp for three or four days and then play a match for England the following Saturday, and then again on the following Wednesday before returning to Manchester United. NHL players at the Olympics do not play for their country during the regular season.

From an American standpoint it seems odd that athletes would have obligations to two teams at the same time: the team that pays them and the team representing their country. But outside of the US this the norm, not just for soccer, but for most sports.

Gc said...

"In soccer, the explosive to endurance ratio is too low, so it's not as action-packed as combat simulation should ideally be. Obviously the rest of the world likes it that way; Americans want something more warlike on the battlefield."

In whatkind of war? A barfight maybe? ;D Many NFL players are too fat to get in to the modern armies and the basketball players are maybe too big targets in the batllefield In the modern battlefield endurance is way more
important than muscle mass. Muscle guys maybe did well in Polynesia a thousand years ago.

Truth said...

"Steve, please stop. This is embarrassing for you. Argentina, "obscure"??? What planet do you live on?"


Funny thing Steven, I've noticed that moreso than even the hot button topics, your Soccer threads cause the Bruvas to pull out they pitchforks and torches and get Mid-EEEEEE-vul on you ass!

"France in 1998 , when they won the Cup, was almost white, only after it became "new brazil" .

Lie.

Now I'll admit, I don't know shit about soccer, and I only watch every four years; I've never watched a game that was not a world cup game. However, I watched three games this weekend; USA-England, Germany-Australia and Ghana-Serbia, and I must say, from a totaly neophytic point of view, the German team is so much better than either the Ghanaian or American teams, it's almost as if they are playing a different sport.

When Ghana/America, got a shot on goal it was a clumsy affair with somebody snaking by 2-3 defenders and just kicking in in the direction of the goal hoping for the best. Germany constantly had 4-5 guys working together to get the best shot, and were playing angles and making up plays as they went along. The black guy who came off the bench from Germany, and could not make the Brazilian team, would probably be the best player on the USA, by a mile.

Bill said...

Anyone who hasn't been riveted for 90 minutes by an exciting and close 0-0 or 1-0 soccer match just does not get it, and probably never will. The low scoring is PRECISELY what makes soccer so entertaining and exciting. There's more to the game than just goals.

Preach it!

Soccer is not boring. The tagline "the beautiful game" is not just marketing---it describes what (many) soccer fans love about soccer. A succession of one-touch passes gradually bending the defense until someone is out of position enough, or over-commits enough to allow a chance to score is, well, beautiful. It is a sustained, tension-building, demonstration of awesome skill. In basketball, one "move" = a score. In soccer, usually, a long succession of very difficult, intricate manuevers = one low probability of scoring.

This means lots of impressive technical skill, building tension, and then enormous catharsis when a goal is scored or a great save is made.

Since the NFL destroyed football in the late 70s with its asinine rule changes, we don't have a game like this. All we have is basketball on wood, basketball on grass, basketball on ice, and baseball. If only we could fix baseball by making it higher scoring and faster . . .

Peter A said...

If World Cup soccer is a crummier product than English Premier League soccer, then they should do something about it, if they want to convert Americans into soccer fans.

No, the way to convert Americans is do exactly what the soccer powers are doing - heavily promote the English Premier League, La Liga, and Champions/UEFA games in the US. The explosive growth in soccer fandom I keep seeing in Boston, Chicago and New York is driven by the new access to those games in the US on television and the web, not by the World Cup. I see lots of 9 year olds now walking around with FC Barcelona, Man U and Arsenal shirts. I rarely see kids wearing some national team jersey (except Italy). The World Cup can really only be appreciated if you already follow club soccer at some level.

Kurika said...

France in 1998 don´t look Brasil. In the last game there was 3 blacks and one melanesian (New Caledonia. All the others were whites. With diverse etnic origins, like Armenians, Basques, Polish, etc... but whites. Even the captain, Zidane, a north-africain, can´t be more white. The "black" time never won nothing.

MQ said...

Remember, gridiron football games take three hours to play, compared to less than two hours for soccer, and during those three hours, the gridiron football is only in actual play for about 11 minutes. Three hours to watch 11 minutes of actual play, along with at least an hour of commercials? And you guys think soccer is 'boring'?

yeah, but American football has ultraviolence.

Anonymous said...

Eliminate the offsides rule. I grew up in Ohio, where soccer was outlawed, and learned about it by watching my kids play in St. Louis. The first game I watched, some kid cherry picked a goal, and it got called back for "offsides". I was astounded this was against the rules. You have to let defenders get ahead of you before you get the ball? No wonder nobody ever scores!

Anonymous said...

Ohiostater:

You got soccer 100% wrong. The problem with American soccer is not that it has to few great athletes its that it has to many.

If you ask any European soccer writer, or coach about American outfield players they will all say that American players are great athletes who are quick and strong, but bad soccer players who can't use their feet.

Soccer is somewhat like baseball in that it helps to be athletic, but more important is being good at a specific sport related skill, in the case of baseball hitting a baseball, in the case of soccer using your feet to make a ball go where you want.

If you compare the athleticism of the various teams its meaningless, Jozy altidore is certainly a better athlete than Wayne Rooney, he can run faster, jump higher and is physically stronger. But Rooney grew up playing soccer in the streets received professional training from an early age. He has the ability to make put the ball into tiny space when few others can, as well as a positional awareness that most players lack. Hence why Rooney is global superstar and Altidore is struggling mediocrity.

The soccer teams of global nations are not the best athletes, they are the best soccer players, which is not the same thing. To be a soccer player you don't need to be a great athlete (most of the all-time greats: Paul Scholes Gerd Muller, Garrincha were not) you need to have the ability to use your feet to control a ball in a way that isn't natural for humans. If Kobe Jeter and Phelps were to play soccer they wouldn't be any good, as they haven't been using their feet to kick a ball for most of their lives, they way young soccer players do.

Anonymous said...

Brutus:

Tony Meola was kind of a joke so I don't know if you want to cite him, but the reason the US produces goalkeepers but not outfield players is Goalkeeping is more about physical gifts/abilities (ie. size, reach, explosive leaping ability, fast reaction time) and mental acuity (knowing when to come out for a cross, focus/concentration) rather than physical skill.

I would say in general, soccer players in the US, on the whole, spend less time honing their soccer specific physical skills. As a result, they are not as good, relative to their population, at the field positions, which, in addition to physical requirements, also require a high degree of specialized skill.

It'd be like if we took a soccer nation and tried to develop a bunch of baseball players. I bet we could get a lot of good defensive outfielders, for example -- there are plenty of fast guys with good reaction time who could figure out how to track a ball. But we'd probably get poor hitters, since hitting a curveball is such a sport-specific skill.

Anonymous said...

Anyway, is France 80% black? Is England 40-50% black, of course not.Why support this nonsense.

The demographics of soccer teams do not reflect the demographics of the countries in question, they reflect the demographics of those on the low end socioeconomically of the European countries in question. England is not 100% made up of Liverpudlians whose father's were unemployed construction workers, but both of its best players (Rooney and Gerrard) are. Similarly the French team is made up of the kids of the banielus not the rich. And those banielus are primarily black and north African.

Steve Sailer said...

Here's a good example of the tradeoffs: Brazil v. USA, July 4, 1994, first round playoff game in 1994 at Stanford U. stadium. Brazil was overwhelmingly better than USA. It looked like grown men playing clutzy children. Yet, Brazil only won 1-0, so it was sort of exciting until the end, because there was always some hope for a miracle fluke to send it into penalty kicks, and then some more flukes could give America a totally unearned victory.

If the goal had been larger and the outcome less random, the score would been, say, 9 to 1 by halftime, and everybody in America would have stopped watching because the scoreboard would have more reflected how much better Brazil was.

So, these low scoring World Cup games add to the interest of fans with rooting interests.

But they can be pretty dreary spectacles to outsiders.

Really, if you want to know why the World Cup hasn't caught on in America, look at two games in 1994 WC in America which got big TV ratings in the U.S.: Brazil-USA 1-0 and the final, Brazil nil - Italy nil. The World Cup in the U.S. as a television sport hasn't yet recovered from those two games.

jody said...

haha. 3 whole days of watching soccer, and the american wants to change the rules of a sport which he doesn't care about or ever watch.

the rest of the world is extremely happy with the rules of soccer. it's almost impossible to get the ENTIRE WORLD to agree on something, but they all agree on FIFA rules.

but some americans aren't happy with the rules after watching 20 full minutes! hold everything! americans are bored!

maybe next, germany and brazil get to change the NFL so it is less boring for them. they can start by taking all the fat black linemen out of the game, who are so tired after 10 plays that they have to suck oxygen and can barely move.

and what's up with that 45 seconds between plays crap? BORING. why would anybody watch the NFL? it's boring crap. 1 play, then beer commercial. 1 play, then truck commercial. 1 more play, fat black guys gasping for air. americans must be stupid to watch this garbage. let's have england and spain vote on how to change the rules in the NFL so it's less boring for them.

after fixing the NFL, they can start on baseball, by far the most boring sport on earth.

back to reality: so far, the only thing wrong with the world cup are those HORNS. somebody tell the south africans to SHUT THE HELL UP already. it's ruining the atmosphere of the games.

Anonymous said...

Antony said:
'World Cup Soccer seems to bring out national characteristics, even in immigrants. Watching Germany vs Australia today, the Germans were disciplined and organized, and rolled over the Aussies, who only excelled at one-on-one brawling, er, fouling their opponents.'

Given that Australia's first settlers were largely British, and to a lesser extent Germans, we prefer our brawling to be disciplined and organised and fouling opponents is just not cricket. We are not bloody Argentina! It's a shame our German goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer wasn't more disciplined and organised.

Anonymous said...

Euros consider American football boring, as well as baseball. There is constant action in soccer where in baseball it's just a bunch of guys standing around. Football is the same.

The commenter who noted periodicity in soccer/basketball/hockey vs. football/baseball is spot on - that's a really good insight I plan to borrow when talking to non-Americans about the sports. This at least allows for the potential of a buildup of drama over the length of the possession or inning which can extend to subsequent possessions.

Europeans who say these sports are boring haven't taken the time to understand the nuances, etc. For example, pitching changes and decisions in baseball are really interesting, particularly in the playoffs (and I don't even really like baseball that much).

For the record, I think soccer is much better than the NBA, but well-played hockey seen live might just be my favorite sports experience.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, pickup hockey on a cold winter's night.

Anonymous said...

"back to reality: so far, the only thing wrong with the world cup are those HORNS. somebody tell the south africans to SHUT THE HELL UP already. it's ruining the atmosphere of the games.
"

Agreed, they sell those plastic things for 10-12 bucks they said. I heard horns at the last WC also. Drums should also be banned.

Anonymous said...

"The soccer teams of global nations are not the best athletes, they are the best soccer players, which is not the same thing. To be a soccer player you don't need to be a great athlete (most of the all-time greats: Paul Scholes Gerd Muller, Garrincha were not) you need to have the ability to use your feet to control a ball in a way that isn't natural for humans. If Kobe Jeter and Phelps were to play soccer they wouldn't be any good, as they haven't been using their feet to kick a ball for most of their lives, they way young soccer players do."

Yes soccer is a skill sport and even many who play from a young age will not be very good. Even if some of these great athletes played from the time they were 4, it doesn't mean they would be great soccer players.

Would Lebron or Bush make great quarterbacks? What about shortstops? No,some might be great in another sport, but many won't. Most NFL running runningbacks or recievers would not be great soccer players even if they played from a young age. You need natural ability, coordination in a certain way.White players are the best soccer players. There are some good blacks, but very few midfielders.

Anonymous said...

"had always assumed the US national team would rise to the top once more blacks (like LeBron) played soccer, but it seems all of the elite national teams are in an arms race to deploy as many blacks as possible without pissing off FIFA or their countrymen. When the Netherlands and Denmark play tomorrow, the whitest game of the tournament, you will see several black faces. This is no different than SEC football"

That's not true. Spain and Italy are all white. Australia has one mixed race guy it looks like.Portugal might have 1 or 2 blacks.Serbia is all white.Argentina is all white and maybe 1 mixed with Indian or something. South Korea no blacks.Paraguay no blacks to my knowledge. Mexico no blacks, 1 mixed Brazilian.Also no blacks: Greece,Uruguay,Slovenia,Slovakia,Algeria, New Zealand probably no blacks, Japan

Spain is the best team and have no blacks.The black African teams aren't great.

ben tillman said...

Baseball scores are even more sensitive to minor rule changes. Yastrzemski in 1968 was the only man to hit .300 after they lowered the pitcher's mound just six inches.

Pete Rose led the NL with a .335 average that year. Yaz was the only American Leaguer to hit .300, though (.301 to be exact), and the runner-up hit just .290.

Anonymous said...

What's really surprising about all this banter (which, by the way, Jody wins hands down) is that race in the American context hasn't been metioned. Watch and see as America becomes less white, soccer will become more popular, and not because of the growing influence of hispanics, but rather precisely because this is a game where White kids can remain competitive. Also, the mentality that you can play against another team, and at the same time ask your opponent about the Power Rangers, well that doesn't change too much in soccer, even in the big leagues. Hence the beautiful game.

Steve, this post, and the posts within it, rank up there with your column equating golf with hunting as being the most objectively stupid things you have ever written. That's OK man, because no one's perfect. But really, to bitch about the rules of the game? You sound like a neo-con and it's upsetting, that's all. "Lets make the goal wider" WTF? Seriously? Let's squat when we pee too, cause, ya know, it'll be more interesting and stuff.

Truth said...

"Would Lebron or Bush make great quarterbacks? What about shortstops?"

LeBron was the #2 rated wide receiver in America his junior year. He didn't play football his senior year.

Truth said...

I take it you've never been to Sao Paulo

The 2006 team that won silver was straight Rio!

Harmonious Jim said...

Ironies abound, and so perhaps tweaking the soccer rules to get more goals might, as Steve says, turn out to make for more boring (because lopsided) games too. The problem is, how to test this?

In soccer, experiments are hard because the game is so uniform across the world. Other sports allow more flowers to bloom. For instance, India is testing a new, swifter, format for cricket which seems to be a success. (And cricket is even more boring than baseball!) Maybe one day an Indian or Chinese tycoon will set up a soccer league there which tests the waters of soccer innovation.

Steve Sailer said...

Yes, it's hard to have the courage to try out a new version of a world game when first taking it up. For example, the Chinese government should have mandated a golf ball that only flies half as far back in the 1980s. Then golf courses would take up only a quarter as much space. But, that wouldn't be what the cool kids were doing. So, China now has all these insanely sprawling golf courses.

Reg Cæsar said...

If you wanted a more exciting game, you'd let players leave the game and come back like basketball or football. --Ohio Stater

You mean, if you want a blacker game.

...but what do they need to do to help out northern European men? --OS

How about getting rid of half-time, and play ninety minutes straight? The Africans would drop like flies.

In the NBA, they re-started the zone defense to help out the white guys, and I'm sure they could do something similar for soccer. --OS

In other areas this is called "disparate impact". Any change in any rule in any sport will help one race more than the others. One of whites' (and women's) few advantages is stamina. Why kill it with your first suggestion?

Football, the pigskin variety, was a lot whiter back in the days of sixty-minute players.

Reg Cæsar said...

To soccerize basketball:

Play on a 300' X 150' court
Play for 90 minutes, with only a brief halftime break
Limit substitutes and ban re-entry

There'd be a lot more Germans in the NBA!

To basketballize soccer:

Oh, wait... they already did. That was the indoor game.

REg Cæsar said...

At least in the U.S., Boise St, the New Orleans Saints, the Tampa Bay rays, or the San Antonio spurs can strive to be at the top. --Guest007

Or the Brooklyn Dodgers or the Baltimore Colts or the Syracuse Nationals or the Hartford Whalers, right? You're leaving out that ugly side of American sports, which is unknown across the pond.

If the U.S. organized its sports like the premiere league, the Yankees and the Red Sox will always win the world series... --g007

...in privately financed stadiums. Oh, wait, the Sox still have one of those. Vintage 1912! And the Cubs. And... uh... lemme see... oh, yeah, the Dodgers-- on stolen land.

Silver said...

When MLS started back in the early 90's it's organizers were very worried that low scoring would not be marketable in the US. So, they contacted FIFA and asked if they could widen the goals by 6-8 inches on each side, but still remain FIFA-sanctioned.
FIFA said NO.


The big difference between American and non-American sport is that Americans have always been more willing to innovate. Take the 24 second clock and three point arc in basketball. Excellent innovations that dramatically improved the game. Take instant replay in pro football: They brought it in, took it out, and reintroduced it; always willing to improve and discard what doesn't work and retain what does. You can probably think of others.

In contrast, soccer's dominated by purists whose knee-jerk reaction to any suggestion of change is "you can't do that!" I wonder sometimes if a big part of the reason for this attitude is the feeling that if it's a good idea now, why didn't we do it back then when it was first suggested? To do so is supposedly to look foolish; I guess it's not only Asian countries that suffer from the "losing face" problem.

asssddaaaf,

Of course, the best 'French' players were blacks, so a Brazilianized France won.
If the French team had been all-French like German team is all-German, it would not have won.


Er, no. That was more true of their Euro 2000 victory and their final appearance in '06. In '98 the best players were white (and whitish): Petit, Deschamps, Blanc, Djorkaeff, Zidane, Lizarazu.

Steve,


For example, if these all-star teams don't get enough time to practice together because their league schedule runs too late into the spring, then, every four years, end league play four weeks earlier so the World Cup teams have four more weeks to practice together.


Don't listen to that crap. That's every country's excuse for when their teams flop: oh we didn't get enough opportunity to play together.

They spend two years qualifying for the damn tournament, which is an addition to all the other international action they take part in. That's plenty of time for players to grow accustomed to each other. And of course, there's always a core of four to six players (smaller teams have even more) who routinely make the squad until their retirement, which also helps with acclimatize new additions to "the way things are done."

However, baseball statistics are very interesting, if you are interested in that sort of thing. The sheer number of regular season games played means the statistics are pretty valid and can be endlessly analyzed.

That's another thing that makes non-American sport boring to Americans, the lack of stats. American sport is rife with stats and all serious fans know loads of them by heart, which makes spirited discussions about who's-the-best-at-x more than just a contest of personalities.

Matra,

You seem to know quite a bit about soccer -- for a caker.

Anonymous said...

Idea to increase #goals

The defending team is only allow to have 7 outfield players in its own penalty box at the same time.

This would create more space for scoring goals, such as from free-kicks and corners, which would become power-plays. It would also allow goal opportunities on a quick break-away as teams would not need their three non-defenders to be good at defensive skills like heading or shot-blocking.

BTW If this sounds like a suspiciously good idea, that would be because I'm English and the English have always been good at inventing rules for games. :)


Steve said Yes, I know Argentina is a famous soccer power -- I saw the new stadium built for the 1978 World Cup in B.A. a few weeks before the tournament and followed the tournament with interest -- it's just less famous on the overall world stage than the other five countries due to having the lowest population of the six.

That was true - Argentina out-performed - but since 1980 the number of Argentine 20-34 year olds have largely closed the number gap with their Italian and English counterparts.

Approx number males 20-34:

Argentina
1980: 3.15m
2010: 4.88m

Italy
1980: 5.85m
2010: 5.25m

England
1980: 5.2m
2010: 5.3m

A difference of ~2.5m in 1980 down to ~0.5m in 2010.

The Argentine national team is now trawling a talent pool larger than one of the tournament favourites, Spain.

- Edward

Anonymous said...

Baseball scores are even more sensitive to minor rule changes. Yastrzemski in 1968 was the only man to hit .300 after they lowered the pitcher's mound just six inches.

You reversed cause and effect. It was The Year of The Pitcher (1968, actually the culmination of a period of a half-dozen or so years where the advantage swung decisively to pitching) that caused MLB to lower the mound (by five inches, not six) in the winter of 1968-69. The intent was to give hitters a better chance, and it worked--league batting and slugging averages went right back to their "natural" levels and have pretty much stayed there.

In the home-run happy late 90s, before the general public realized the players were juiced, there was actually some talk of restoring the older, higher mound to give some balance back to pitching. Thank God they didn't--if they had, the advances in rotation and relief strategy, combined with the crackdown on steroids and the umpires' subjective strike zones, would have meant that circa 2010 something like .275 would get you the league batting title.

Anonymous said...

I've been telling snooty Eurotrash soccer fans the same thing for years! All I get are snide remarks. They could also lower the number of players per side to 9, which would open up more room on the field to attack.

"Argentina is a great power - surely a greater football nation than England. Two WC-gold versus one. Two silver medals versus zero." But Argentina won one of those World Cup's with Maradonna's handball against England.

Matra said...

The big difference between American and non-American sport is that Americans have always been more willing to innovate. Take the 24 second clock and three point arc in basketball. Excellent innovations that dramatically improved the game.

In a way the decision to publicly display how much time is added at the end of each half due to stoppages is a legacy of the USA 1994 World Cup. I recall US sports commentators constantly going on about the lack of an official clock to keep track of exactly how much time was left to play. Before this there had been a number of suspicious incidents in matches in Europe that had garnered some media attention but the daily questioning of the secrecy of the official time-keeping during the USA World Cup eventually led to just about all European commentators discussing it. Within a year Serie A in Italy and a few other leagues experimented with the now universal display of the number of minutes of 'time added'. Almost everyone agrees it has been a success.

Some other American innovations such as clocks that count down to zero, video replays, refs with microphones, sin bins, and a playoff structure are now used in some other sports. Indeed all the above are used in rugby league, probably because Australians* play a big role in that sport, and they are more willing to borrow from the US than the more traditionalist Europeans.

* I believe Rupert Murdoch's media empire had a lot to do with it.

Idea to increase #goals

The defending team is only allow to have 7 outfield players in its own penalty box at the same time.


No, the refs make enough mistakes as is without getting them to have to count players in the box.

Here's a good example of the tradeoffs: Brazil v. USA, July 4, 1994, first round playoff game in 1994 at Stanford U. stadium. Brazil was overwhelmingly better than USA. It looked like grown men playing clutzy children. Yet, Brazil only won 1-0

Brazil played much of that match with only ten men as Leonardo was sent off for (accidentally, I think) elbowing an American in the face.

Anonymous said...

"World Cup Soccer seems to bring out national characteristics, even in immigrants. Watching Germany vs Australia today, the Germans were disciplined and organized, and rolled over the Aussies, who only excelled at one-on-one brawling, er, fouling their opponents."

The national stereotype is that Aussies are great at sports so it's more that the 'Socceroos' are a really crap team.

"Yet which is more exciting to watch, the 100m dash or a marathon?"

Well the 100m dash doesn't go on for more than three hours like a marathon or a game of American Football.

Anonymous said...

Make the goal smaller and do away with "offsides" entirely.

ben tillman said...

Steve, looks like someone else is also a fan of Kipling.

Another fan:

Senator Tillman's Speech Against the US Invasion of the Phillippines

Silver said...

Steve,

If the goal had been larger and the outcome less random, the score would been, say, 9 to 1 by halftime

You were exaggerating for effect, but really, so many soccer shots miss so wildly it's doubtful scoring would increase even increase noticeably. It's really incredible by how much even the best free kick takers so often miss. Sometimes it seems like of three shots, one will go into the wall, the other five meters over the bar and the keeper will at least half of those that are on target. The equivalent in professional golf would be hitting one tee shot fat, slicing another into the next fairway, with every second of those that fly reasonably true landing in the rough.

Another stupid and easily corrected problem with soccer: Only one ref to cover a pitch that size? The basketball playing surface is maybe a sixth as large but has three times as many referees. They've allowed linesmen to call fouls in recent years but for the longest time their only duty was to call offsides (which they used to do incredibly poorly).

1994 WC in America which got big TV ratings in the U.S.: Brazil-USA 1-0 and the final, Brazil nil - Italy nil. The World Cup in the U.S. as a television sport hasn't yet recovered from those two games.

Soccer is a poor match for advertising-heavy American TV, and you have to figure that aspect has dampened entrepreneurial enthusiasm. American sports in contrast are so TV friendly you could be forgiven for thinking they were invented with TV in mind. Nevertheless, the commentator here during the 94 world cup informed us that American soccer broadcasts routinely have ad breaks in the middle of the action, wondering out loud what they'd do if a goal was scored in the meantime. Well, what's a mere goal compared to the vital necessity of flashing personal injury lawyer ads?

jody,

1 more play, fat black guys gasping for air. americans must be stupid to watch this garbage. let's have england and spain vote on how to change the rules in the NFL so it's less boring for them.

People complain about Americans, but I'm pretty sure more Americans appreciate non-American sports than non-Americans appreciate American sports. I'd bet anything vastly more non-Americans trash "gridiron" than Americans trash soccer. I've been an NFL fan for some twenty years (the film "Wildcats," Goldie Hawn, originally put the idea in my head; "football is the sport of kings, better than diamond rings..") and in that time I've only known one other guy here (Aus) who appreciates it as much as I do, a semi-friend of mine from high school (Germanic as it gets but a total wigger -- of the educated, cultured variety.) Pretty much everyone else I've discussed it with considers American football absolutely ridiculous.

Someone said something about Indians being no good at sport. Apart from being competent enough in cricket, India used to dominate field hockey. Field hockey's something of an upper-middle sport here. We were working class but I was fortunate enough to grow up in part of a school zone that included a really rich area in the hills bordering my street so I'm quite familiar with this game. I find it a lot more fun to play than it is watch.

David said...

No, Steve.

The closer the outcome is to random, the less interesting for betting - might as well flip a coin.

What gets gamblers' juices flowing (aside from a large payout) is the opportunity to crunch numbers, figure, hypothesize, bullshit, and generally cogitate excitedly, trying to predict the outcome from a big tricky data set. If the data set is low-yield or nonexistent, then any bet is as good as any other, and where's the glory in that?

The highest bet the lotto can get is about a buck.

Anonymous said...

Truth said...
"France in 1998 , when they won the Cup, was almost white, only after it became "new brazil" .

Lie.

___________________________________

Lie, about what???

France in 1998 Final of the WC:

P 16 Fabien Barthez W
D 15 Lilian Thuram B
D 8 Marcel Desailly B
D 18 Frank Lebœuf W
D 3 Bixente Lizarazu W
C 7 Didier Deschamps W
C 17 Emmanuel Petit W
C 19 Christian Karembeu A
C 10 Zinédine Zidane (Berber)
A 6 Youri Djorkaeff W
A 9 Stéphane Guivarc'h W

Anonymous said...

Obviously the best way to get America interested in soccer is to import a few hundred million people from soccer-loving nations.

Peter A said...

I have to say, it's pretty ironic to see all the people here defending low scoring soccer and saying Americans don't get it, and then listen to the Guardian Football podcast and hear the English sports journalists complain about the low scoring and discuss whether this is the most boring World Cup since 1990. I think really this shows, once again, that the World Cup is generally not very good soccer, and a poor introduction to the game.

OhioStater said...

Ok. What needs to happen is the MLS break away from FIFA and adopt its own rules:

1. quarters instead of halves.
2. timeouts
3. unlimited substitutions
4. smaller penalty zone
5. three yellow cards for a red
6. no injury, stoppage time
7. larger goal

These goals will make the sport more attractive to Americans and everyone wins.

jody said...

well, the US television ratings are in, and they are way up. 2010 ratings are double 2006 ratings.

the wall street journal:
http://tinyurl.com/26dr7fu

so much for changing the rules of soccer so that americans are not bored.

Kevin said...

The four great powers of football are Brazil, Germany, Italy, and Argentina. The next level down would be France, Spain, England, Netherlands, and Portugal.

James Kabala said...

In addition to the fact that baseball and football have alternating opportunities to score, they also have intermediate goals (not in the soccer sense) besides just scoring runs or points.

Baseball is usually low-scoring, but there are measurable stops along the way to a run - first the ball-strike count and then advancing from one base to another. (These also generate the beloved baseball statistics referred to by Steve.) Football is also fairly low scoring (even a high score like 42-35 is basically just 6-5 in disguise), but it has yardage and downs. Every play in both these sports has a concrete and measurable outcome, even if it does not ultimately result in a score. Soccer (and hockey, for that matter) can seem to the unitiated like a lot of running around with few measurable outcomes other than the rare scores.

Tim Johnston said...

And don't forget - the USA has won the women's World Cup twice - and came third three times. Not bad for a country that's not interested in soccer.

Soccer Mom said...

"well, the US television ratings are in, and they are way up. 2010 ratings are double 2006 ratings."

Don't you think the reason more Americans are becoming interested in soccer is because their kids are playing it? Before I had children who played, I thought soccer was boring. Now that I have a son whose been playing for six years and making the move to competitive soccer, I have a greater appreciation for how hard it is and what makes great plays. It also doesn't hurt the players are normal sized, often quite handsome, and perfect physical specimens.

Anonymous said...

"It also doesn't hurt that the players are normal sized, often quite handsome, and perfect physical specimens."

As someone who rather enjoys looking at men I greatly appreciate these characteristics of soccer players. In comparison, I often find baseball and American football players way too bulky for my taste.

Anonymous said...

//And don't forget - the USA has won the women's World Cup twice - and came third three times. Not bad for a country that's not interested in soccer.//

But where is the prestige in that? Unlike America, the Rest of the World doesn't care about soccer when it is played by women.

And agnostic brings up again the idea that the use of hands make for a superior sport. chimps can throw shit and whack rocks with sticks. soccer involves kicking a ball with the foot, nodding it with the head, controlling it with any part of the body except the hands (unless you are the goalkeeper). in other words, soccer is a celebration of humanity's descent from the trees.

sj071 said...

'So, you've got to give the FIFA boys some credit for balancing randomness and respectability nicely.'

Steve, you really need to start your essay from the begining i.e. with Saileresque observation of nefarious FIFA seeding system for WC which is an excellent example of artificial, corrupt, and broken system that favours so-called 'big teams'.
In that particular case, your friend Randomness was repeatedly gang raped in process to make space for teams that can shaft more beer, disposable razor blades, and fast food.

Alternatively, just stick to the 'Firemen Equality Conundrum'...:)

Truth said...

"How about getting rid of half-time, and play ninety minutes straight? The Africans would drop like flies."

Uh...no Pete Rozelle, the sponsors would drop like flies because THERE WOULDN'T BE ANY TIME FOR FUCKING ADVERTISING!!!

dsfasdfasdfasdfs said...

"I read Americans who find the sport boring. Fair enough. I don't get why Americans are even remotely interested in a sport like baseball. It bores the hell out of me. I can see the excitement in basketball though."

That's why it's called the national pastime than necessarily a sport. Games like basketball, boxing, and football are intense and you gotta pay attention.

Intensity of baseball game is entirely up to the viewer. If one focuses on the mental duel of bluff between pitcher and batter, it can be intense. It's like a stare down at the OK corral.

But if you wanna just sit back, relax, and take it easy, that's fine too. You can talk with friends, drink beer, eat hotdogs, munch on peanuts, and ignore the game as a kind of backdrop to what you and your buddies are doing.

And baseball is also the best game to talk about and talk at(often angrily at the TV screen). It makes little sense to talk about basketball or soccer during the game where things are always fluid and ever-changing.

But the physical form of baseball is very rigid and geometric. Batters can't just run anywhere. There is a set pattern, a set design. So, things come much more clearly into focus. You can focus on the pitcher and the batter in a way you can't with a soccer player and the goalie(which happens via randomness and luck). There is a clear set of actions to watch and discuss in baseball unlike in most other sports.

Football is kinda like baseball as it progresses with a series of set-ups and game plans. But it too is far more fluid than baseball. Pitcher ALWAYS pitches at the batter whereas the quarterback may choose to pass to any of the recievers, hand the ball to quarterback or halfback, or choose to run himself.

That said, I don't give a crap about baseball. I find it boring.

Sam said...

Soccer can be beautiful, but that is only rarely. The top teams can make wonderful plays, but watching the bottom feeders play- say Saudi Arabia vs. Costa Rica- is like watching two people playing catch at the local park.

Futhermore , the top teams never seem to produce these beautiful plays in important games- they usually just kick the ball back and forth waiting for penalty kicks. In the 2006 final , Italy had a man advantage in overtime and they still played for penalty kicks.

Anonymous said...

Ok. What needs to happen is the MLS break away from FIFA and adopt its own rules:

1. quarters instead of halves.
2. timeouts
3. unlimited substitutions
4. smaller penalty zone
5. three yellow cards for a red
6. no injury, stoppage time
7. larger goal


I'm not sure that goes far enough. To really get Americans to go wild about soccer I have a few more suggestions:

8. eliminate the position of goalie
9. reduce the length of the field to 91.44 meters
10. institute a "two minute warning" at the end of the second and fourth quarters
11. replace the traditional "association football" ball with a leather-covered prolate spheroid
12. eliminate the rules that prevent defensive players from wrapping their arms around the man with the ball and wrestling him to the ground
13. raise the goal posts off the ground, paint them yellow, and move the crossbar from the top of the goal to the bottom
14. allow players to use their hands to throw, catch and carry the ball
15. institute a tiered scoring system whereby a ball kicked into the goal results in three points, but a ball carried across a "goal line" results in six points

Torque said...

I saw someone comment today: "Soccer is the World War I of sports." Defense rules.

Anonymous said...

This may be my favorite web thread ever: HBD/Anthropology and Soccer. My 2 favorite subjects.

Sam said...

Another way to improve soccer would be to clarify the magic spray issue.

You always see a player rolling around in agony, then the trainer comes out with magic spray, the player geys perfumed , gets up and plays- while also drawing a penaty.

A rule should be instituted that if a player gets magic sprayed, he's out for the game.

That might cut down on the diving.

Anonymous said...

Well this was a fun thread, and Steve's original post made a very good point, too. More of these, please.

SGOTI said...

Soccer makes an announcement:

http://www.theonion.com/video/soccer-officially-announces-it-is-gay,17603/

Anonymous said...

Steve,

If you have some free time, check out the book, "Soccernomics"...

Really good primer for non-soccer fans.

-
SBPDL

SGOTI said...

You always see a player rolling around in agony, then the trainer comes out with magic spray, the player geys perfumed , gets up and plays- while also drawing a penaty.

A rule should be instituted that if a player gets magic sprayed, he's out for the game.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvUIbqKyppYhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvUIbqKyppY

I'll stop hijacking iSteve with video postings now.

Sideways said...

I like how the Americans here try to explain why soccer is so boring and the sports they watch are so much more exciting. As if they are so internally different than the rest of the world that only they can somehow see the subtle differences between what makes one sport more exciting then another.

This type of arrogance is difficult to find around the world - it really is


Well, we could start with every single fan of "the beautiful game" outside of the United States for examples of that sort of arrogance. I hear that's a pretty high percentage of the population. You think Americans don't know that few non-Americans like watching our football? Hell, just in this comment thread we've seen numerous soccer fans writing how the sport is perfect and shouldn't be changed.

Yep, it's incredibly rare to see that sort of arrogance.

Soccer is a brilliant expression of global political culture in that it recognizes and and encourages healthy forms of nationalism

Like causing wars, for example.

Is the final result in soccer any more random than in baseball or hockey? In baseball the top team in a division will often have only a 57% winning record while the bottom team will win more than 40% of their games.

Break out the starting pitchers by quality and it's much less random. They'll win, say, 2/3 of the games their best starters start

Sideways said...

Soccer is not boring. The tagline "the beautiful game" is not just marketing---it describes what (many) soccer fans love about soccer. A succession of one-touch passes gradually bending the defense until someone is out of position enough, or over-commits enough to allow a chance to score is, well, beautiful. It is a sustained, tension-building, demonstration of awesome skill. In basketball, one "move" = a score. In soccer, usually, a long succession of very difficult, intricate manuevers = one low probability of scoring.

In other words, soccer is hockey without scoring, without significant legal physical contact, and with players mostly jogging to conserve their energy because they can't be switched out? Sounds fun.

Sideways said...

And agnostic brings up again the idea that the use of hands make for a superior sport. chimps can throw shit and whack rocks with sticks. soccer involves kicking a ball with the foot, nodding it with the head, controlling it with any part of the body except the hands (unless you are the goalkeeper). in other words, soccer is a celebration of humanity's descent from the trees.

Yeah, monkeys and apes are notoriously bad at manipulating objects with their feet.

There's been so much stupid in this thread and whiskey hasn't even made an appearance. Soccer fans really do get irrationally defensive of their sport.

liamascorcaigh said...

Argentina an obscure country!!! My, my Steve. Argentine is one of the Big 4 - together with Brazil, Italy and Germany. Politically and economically they don't figure but if geopolitics were soccer they'd have a Permanent Seat on the Security Council. The greatest team in any sport I saw was Brazil in 1970.

The greatest player was Diego Maradona of Argentine. It was an honour and a joy to witness his genius. I also saw two others of equal if not greater talent, Pele (Soccer, Brazil) and Christy Ring (Hurling, Cork) but by then they were both past their breathtaking prime.

As for 3-2 games, none better than the 1970 (again!) quarter final between England as defending champs and Germany, the beaten finalists in '66. England 2-0 up. Germany score two. Extra time. Germany score and win. A truly great match.

The depth of talent in the World game then was much deeper and the heights regularly scaled by the best players much greater. Soccer, like the great Arts, music, literature, painting, is now practised by those who may be blessed with talent but are most definitely not consecrated by genius.

rob said...

Soccer's a better game to play than to watch. That's actually a plus. Lots of guys like watching football, but adults can actually play soccer without dedicating their lives to it and dying by 50. I would prefer that pro soccer doesn't get big in the US. I played soccer as a kid, and I like soccer the way it is here. The sport fills a niche. People can play without being 300 pounds or 7 feet tall. A soccer game is way more exercise than a baseball game, and because pro soccer is basically nonexistent in the US, it gives unathletic, uncompetitve kids something to do besides play video games.

Sam said...

"Soccer's a better game to play than to watch. That's actually a plus."

But also its weakness.

There some televised sports- golf and bowling- that you would never possibly watch unless you actually play/played them. Soccer is the same.

Most kids in Eurpope play soccer at some point. It has a lot going for it

- Any body type can play it

- its cheap; you just need a ball

- you can play it anywhere- a field, street, beach, etc.

So most people are familiar playing the sport growing up and can tolerate it on television. They never realize how boring it is to an outsider.

sn said...

Swiss coach Ottmar Hitzfeld's pregame suggestion : "We'll need to be compact at the back, defend with nine men and hit them on the break when we can"

This strategy worked! Its not easy to score with 9 defenders in the box. The Spain-Switzerland match was good despite the lopsided nature of the exchanges.. its amusing to see offside calls when almost the entire team is in the penalty box..

David said...

Two big collectives run around on a field for a couple hours, awkwardly kicking a ball in short spurts in changing and random directions. No strategies (just kick as best you can, let the ball hit you in the head now and then, and run about in an undifferentiated mob), no individuals, and frequently no score. The perfect opposite of effective thought, meaningful competition, individualism, and achievement generally. This is not a sport, it's exercize.

Just giving you the outsider perspective.

Coach Woody Hayes said...

Its a former-British colony thing.

Some former UK colonies, with large #'s of British descended people, prefer rougher & tougher games with more physical contact than soccer.

Canada has ice hockey, with hard checks & fights. New Zealand & S Africa have rugby. The US & Australia have their own versions of rugby they named football.

My sense is that many British emmigrants had more taste for physical risk, & were a little rougher & tougher, than the Brits who stayed in the UK. The emmigrants needed to be tough, to deal with separation from friends & family, as well as harsher weather & often hostile native in their new homes.

Anonymous said...

"Ok. What needs to happen is the MLS break away from FIFA and adopt its own rules:

1. quarters instead of halves.
2. timeouts
3. unlimited substitutions
4. smaller penalty zone
5. three yellow cards for a red
6. no injury, stoppage time
7. larger goal

These goals will make the sport more attractive to Americans and everyone wins."

Of course they would then have to change their name since 'soccer' comes from 'association' which refers to the game of Association Football the rules of which were first established in England by the Football Association and have been changed as little as possible since.

AmericanGoy said...

"Yes, I know Argentina is a famous soccer power -- I saw the new stadium built for the 1978 World Cup in B.A. a few weeks before the tournament and followed the tournament with interest -- it's just less famous on the overall world stage than the other five countries due to having the lowest population of the six."


Steve, this statement is INCREDIBLY embarrassing and ignorant to make.

Re: football.
In my experience Americans are very adept at double think and herd instinct.

An outrageously obese 350 pound man will proudly say that he is not fat, just big boned, and then launch into how soccer is boring and nothing happens, while telling me that baseball is incredibly exciting (this is the game where each team spends 49% of the match standing up, 49% sitting down, 0.5% walking to and from the field to switch positions, and 0.5% playing).

AmericanGoy said...

"Europeans who say these sports are boring haven't taken the time to understand the nuances"

Yes, because watching sports is all about number crunching and statistics.

What is WRONG with you!?