Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The World Cup: Just Enjoy The Game As It Is

The World Cup is upon us again.

Having started last week, teams representing 32 nations are running, kicking, heading and sliding on fields throughout South Africa in pursuit of THE most popular trophy. The event is such a big deal that the beautiful game the world calls football has at least some attention here in the United States, where we still refer to it as soccer. (You see, we love OUR football. The one with the yard lines where more than just two players can put their hands on the ball.)

Every four years when the World Cup rolls around, we Americans invariably start caring about soccer. We familiarize ourselves with some of the game’s biggest stars, guys like England’s Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal, Didier Drogba from the Ivory Coast, Fernando Torres of Spain and Argentina’s Lionel Messi. We ask ourselves if we could play for 90 minutes, mostly non-stop except for a halftime break. Of course, many of us will also ask “how’s the American team looking? Can we win it?” Most experts will say “no,” but Team USA is very capable of making it out of the group stage, which is the round-robin portion of the tournament. All Team USA must do to reach the knockout phase of the World Cup is finish in one of the top two spots in Group C, also home to England, Slovenia and Algeria. The Stars and Stripes managed a 1-1 tie with England on June 12, a good result given that many football experts in Britain and throughout Europe expected England to trounce our boys. (Thanks again for those bad hands, Rob Green.)

This entry is not about Team USA and its slim Cup chances. Rather, it’s about our constant desire to change things we have little to no interest in – except when we’re exposed to it for such a long time. While the games go on and we’re swept up in World Cup fever, you or one of your friends has asked -or will ask - why don’t the good folks who oversee soccer (that would be FIFA) change the rules so the game is “more exciting” or “more interesting” for fans. So far this month, I’ve read or heard people suggest rule changes to boost scoring, from allowing players other than goalkeepers to touch the ball to shortening the fields to allow for more transition. All in the name of making the game more aesthetically pleasing – to us, the fair weather soccer fans.
This always drives me nuts. Changing a game’s rules just to suit our fickle sports tastes is ridiculous, especially when we haven’t heard any outcries from countries that care about the game more than us about it being “dull” or “boring.”
Then again, I’ve heard the lack of scoring complaints about hockey for years. Friends of mine who are don’t follow hockey like I do have suggested widening the nets, making goalie pads smaller and allowing more players on the ice. That, they say, will make the game more “exciting” and they’ll be more inclined to watch. Which is a damn lie. They know it and I know it. Sorry, but if I wanted to watch the National Hockey League All-Star Game, I’ll wait until mid-winter. Besides, the NHL already changed its rules after the 2004-05 lockout to increase scoring. Thankfully, the game still has a lot of what made it great before the lockout, even though scoring is up slightly.

Let’s be honest. Most Americans – die-hard sports fans or just casual observers – are not going to watch much soccer once a new world champion is crowned next month. You might check out an exhibition game by one of the big European clubs on tour in the USA. (England’s Manchester United will be among the big clubs visiting our country later this summer.) You may even pay a little more attention to your local Major League Soccer team (Go Red Bulls!) if you’re handling the remote and you run into a game on ABC or ESPN. Most of us, however, will go back to watching baseball or waiting for the return of college football and then the National Football League. That’s what we do.
Given that, we should quit asking soccer (err, football) to change just to get our attention, especially since we won’t be long-term viewers in the first place.
In the meantime, enjoy the games as they are. Go USA!

1 comment:

  1. I enjoy watching the world Cup in Argentina with friends because everybody loves this game, even women!
    The country is paralized when their team plays.
    The rent apartment Buenos Aires where I´m staying has a big TV and I watch the games with all my friends.