Team USA backed into the World Cup knockout round with its 1–0 loss to Germany and Portugal’s 2–1 win over Ghana Thursday.
So Team USA, with a 1–1–1 record and as many goals scored as given up, is one of the 16 best soccer teams on the planet, as defined by the World Cup. The countries that cannot make that claim include 2010 World Cup champion Spain, England and Italy. Oddly, the U.S. lost its match yet advanced to the knockout round, whereas Portugal (which tied the U.S. Sunday) won but was eliminated.
I didn’t expect the U.S. to get out of what some soccer observers called “the Group of Death” (though that proved inaccurate). Apparently others may not have expected a good result today either, given that some writers chose yesterday to pan soccer, or at least Americans’ every-four-years interest in it.
Ann Coulter wrote a piece that is basically nothing more than clickbait (it might as well have been headlined “You Won’t Believe What Ann Coulter Said About Soccer!”), though she did have a few amusing points:
Any growing interest in soccer can only be a sign of the nation’s moral decay. …
(3) No other “sport” ends in as many scoreless ties as soccer. This was an actual marquee sign by the freeway in Long Beach, California, about a World Cup game last week: “2nd period, 11 minutes left, score: 0:0.” Two hours later, another World Cup game was on the same screen: “1st period, 8 minutes left, score: 0:0.” If Michael Jackson had treated his chronic insomnia with a tape of Argentina vs. Brazil instead of Propofol, he’d still be alive, although bored.
Even in football, by which I mean football, there are very few scoreless ties — and it’s a lot harder to score when a half-dozen 300-pound bruisers are trying to crush you.
(4) The prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury is required to count as a sport. Most sports are sublimated warfare. As Lady Thatcher reportedly said after Germany had beaten England in some major soccer game: Don’t worry. After all, twice in this century we beat them at their national game. …
(5) You can’t use your hands in soccer. (Thus eliminating the danger of having to catch a fly ball.) What sets man apart from the lesser beasts, besides a soul, is that we have opposable thumbs. Our hands can hold things. Here’s a great idea: Let’s create a game where you’re not allowed to use them!
(6) I resent the force-fed aspect of soccer. The same people trying to push soccer on Americans are the ones demanding that we love HBO’s “Girls,” light-rail, Beyonce and Hillary Clinton. The number of New York Times articles claiming soccer is “catching on” is exceeded only by the ones pretending women’s basketball is fascinating.
I note that we don’t have to be endlessly told how exciting football is.
(7) It’s foreign. In fact, that’s the precise reason the Times is constantly hectoring Americans to love soccer. One group of sports fans with whom soccer is not “catching on” at all, is African-Americans. They remain distinctly unimpressed by the fact that the French like it.
(8) Soccer is like the metric system, which liberals also adore because it’s European. Naturally, the metric system emerged from the French Revolution, during the brief intervals when they weren’t committing mass murder by guillotine.
Despite being subjected to Chinese-style brainwashing in the public schools to use centimeters and Celsius, ask any American for the temperature, and he’ll say something like “70 degrees.” Ask how far Boston is from New York City, he’ll say it’s about 200 miles.
Liberals get angry and tell us that the metric system is more “rational” than the measurements everyone understands. This is ridiculous. An inch is the width of a man’s thumb, a foot the length of his foot, a yard the length of his belt. That’s easy to visualize. How do you visualize 147.2 centimeters? …
The USA-Portugal game was the blockbuster match, garnering 18.2 million viewers on ESPN. This beat the second-most watched soccer game ever: The 1999 Women’s World Cup final (USA vs. China) on ABC. (In soccer, the women’s games are as thrilling as the men’s.)
Run-of-the-mill, regular-season Sunday Night Football games average more than 20 million viewers; NFL playoff games get 30 to 40 million viewers; and this year’s Super Bowl had 111.5 million viewers.
Better arguments come from Ted Bromund:
In 1994, the United States hosted what remains, by measure of attendance, the most successful World Cup of them all, so clearly there is an American audience for soccer. But it’s a limited one. Why? Sports historians have concluded that it’s because, around the world, soccer began as the game of the working man.
But in the United States in the mid-19th century, baseball, the game of the Northeast’s cities, claimed soccer’s audience before it could establish itself. In the early 20th century, college football and then basketball grabbed the rest of the crowds, leaving the United States, as in so much else, an exceptional nation.
While we don’t play (much) soccer, it’s immensely popular around the world, partly because you need only a ball. Although it began as the game of the common man, at the top level, it’s now the property of the rich, and there’s no better evidence than the World Cup.
Figuring the cost of hosting a major sporting event is difficult, in part because it’s become so high that nations have an incentive to lie about it. While Brazil claims to have spent $3.5 billion, Forbes estimates the true cost at $11 billion, a price accompanied by the usual corruption, forced slum clearances, and serious concerns about whether the facilities would be ready and safe.
As always, the justification for this splurge is that it will make everyone better off by creating jobs and funding modern infrastructure. A majority of Brazilians — 61 percent, in a recent survey — don’t agree. And they’re right. With Brazilians themselves buying more than 60 percent of the tickets, the World Cup is not so much bringing new money into the country as it is shuffling old money around.
Building an airport terminal can sometimes make sense, but new stadiums, which sit empty most of the time, are a waste of money. And rushing to build infrastructure quickly guarantees even more money is wasted. The World Cup is like stimulus spending on steroids, and it’s no more effective.
The opening of this World Cup was marked by riots, though so far nothing compared to the protests by the 1 million Brazilians who took to the streets in June 2013, in part to protest World Cup spending. And they’re not the only ones who are tired of these expensive circuses: The Olympics are feeling the fatigue, too.
Of the eight nations that seriously considered bidding for the 2022 Winter Games, four have dropped out. Sweden is shaky, and Ukraine has no hope. That leaves China and Kazakhstan, autocracies that want to advertise themselves and don’t care about costs — or the will of the people.
But now the spotlight is on soccer. The next World Cup will be held in Vladimir Putin’s Russia in 2018. In 2022, the circus moves to Qatar, an Arab nation with no tradition of top-flight soccer, where hundreds of near-slaves have already died building stadiums, and where the average summer temperature exceeds 100 degrees.
Qatar has no business hosting anything. It got the job the old-fashioned way: by buying it. The fact that FIFA, soccer’s governing body, calls criticism of Qatar “racist” tells you all you need to know about its Mafia-like culture, where what matters is the payoff a bidder can deliver.
Similar to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, what made the 1994 World Cup great was two words: “private sector.” No near-slaves died building stadiums because not a single stadium was built for the World Cup. Every game was played at an existing stadium (including the final at the Rose Bowl), which had to be modified only by replacing artificial turf in some cases with grass, and in some stadiums expanding the field surface for soccer.
The everyone-else-is-watching-it-so-you-should-too argument makes as much sense as the everyone-else-is-doing-it-so-you-should-too argument. (I heard earlier this week that the U.S. is one of only three countries that doesn’t give paid parental leave by law. So the U.S. should do things like Russia, Iran, North Korea and Nigeria, a country in which 40 women and children were killed earlier this week, but that’s OK because they have paid parental leave!) This World Cup apparently set a record for most goals scored in group play, but that may say more about the quality of the losers than about improved offense.
The excess of ties (and one tie is too many) prompted FIFA, the international soccer organization (which appears to have as much integrity as the National Collegiate Athletic Association), to award three points, instead of two, for wins. The simpler solution for eliminating ties is to award points only for wins. Ties would thus become not draws, but double losses. The necessary corollary is to play sudden-death overtime for all ties after regulation — win or die trying.
The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Ezkenazi is a fan of soccer, but admits it’s never going to get very big in the U.S.:
Regardless of how the U.S. team does, a month from now this outbreak of soccermania will join the excitement over the victorious U.S. women’s World Cup team in 1999 as another never-happened turning point. The truth is, soccer isn’t an American game and never will be. It’s not adventurous enough. Not enough happens in games. You can hardly make out individual stars. What statistics are there to talk about?
In our Big Three sports there’s a lot going on. At any given moment during the action, the score can change instantly, with a baseball home run, a football touchdown pass or a basketball three-pointer. In the World Cup on Tuesday, England limped out of the competition by tying Costa Rica with the scintillating score of 0-0. At any given moment in a soccer game, someone is almost certainly not going to score. Because the player will be too busy falling down at the slightest touch, writhing in agony and hoping for a penalty call. If none comes, he almost invariably pops up, miraculously recovered and ready to play. …
The founding of the North American Soccer League in 1968 may have been the first “soccer is finally breaking through in America” moment. What prompted a few otherwise smart businessmen to invest in the sport? The healthy ratings for NBC’s broadcast of the 1966 World Cup final in London when England beat West Germany 4-2. There were only three networks then, so a significant number of Americans would be watching one of the channels, no matter what was on. And the fact that the game aired just before the major-league baseball game of the week no doubt helped.
The NASL was formed from two rival professional leagues—boy, was soccer really catching on!—but despite efforts to jazz up the game for an American audience by tinkering with the rules to avoid ties and to encourage scoring, the soccer breakthrough never happened. It was fun to see aging stars like Pelé and Italy’s Giorgio Chinaglia and West Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer add some vigor and juice to the arriviste sport. Still: no sale. Attendance faded. The league folded in 1984.
These days, we have Major League Soccer, which has elevated the game to something more than a niche sport. Attendance averages more than 18,000 per game. And that’s about where the numbers will remain, I dare say. The soccer birth-death-revival routine is getting stale. With millions of other Americans, I’ll be rooting for our World Cup boys on Thursday, admiring how the players can dribble a ball on their toes and maybe even once in a while take a meaningful shot. But I’ll miss the individual beau geste that marks truly American games.
Eskenazi makes the strange statement that soccer is a democratic sport because you don’t have to be huge to play it. The same could be said about baseball, except that baseball requires mastery of the most difficult skill in sport — to hit a baseball. (It’s so difficult, in fact, that major leaguers who hit the ball successfully one time in every three at-bats are at the top of the game.) Soccer’s two most important skills are scoring, and stopping scoring. Scoring happens very infrequently, which is a good thing for goalkeepers because percentage-wise goalies don’t stop shots that often, because they don’t see shots that happen. Moving the ball around — supposedly “the beautiful game” — without scoring gets tedious to watch.
Ten years ago, Chuck Klosterman had a few related things to say about soccer, including a point I can certainly relate to:
Soccer unconsciously rewards the outcast, which is why so many adults are fooled into thinking their kids love it. The truth is that most children don’t love soccer; they simply hate the alternatives more. For 60 percent of the adolescents in any fourth-grade classroom, sports are a humiliation waiting to happen. These are the kids who play baseball and strike out four times a game. These are the kids afraid to get fouled in basketball, because it only means they’re now required to shoot two free throws, which equates to two air balls. Basketball games actually stop to annihilate them.
That is why soccer seems like such a respite from all that mortification; it’s the one aerobic activity where nothingness is expected. Even at the highest levels, every soccer match seems to end 1-0 or 2-1. A normal eleven-year-old can play an entire season without placing toe to sphere and nobody would even notice, assuming he or she does a proper job of running about and avoiding major collisions.
Soccer fanatics love to tell you that soccer is the most popular game on earth and that it’s played by 500 million people every day, as if that somehow proves its value. Actually, the opposite is true. Why should I care that every single citizen of Chile and Iran and Gibraltar thoughtlessly adores “football”? Do the people making this argument also assume Coca-Cola is ambrosia? Real sports aren’t for everyone. And don’t accuse me of being the Ugly American for degrading soccer. That has nothing to do with it. It’s not xenophobic to hate soccer; it’s socially reprehensible to support it. To say you love soccer is to say you believe in enforced equality more than you believe in the value of competition and the capacity of the human spirit. It should surprise no one that Benito Mussolini loved being photographed with Italian soccer stars during the 1930s; they were undoubtedly kindred spirits.
Soccer has elements that Americans will never approve of — or, more accurately, lacks what Americans want — claims Stephen Moore:
Every soccer match is like watching a North Carolina basketball game before the shot clock when Dean Smith invented the four corner offense.
I’ve often said that after having to watch my three sons play junior soccer, now I know why Europeans riot at soccer matches. For the same reason that inmates riot in prisons: there’s nothing else to do. It’s good exercise for sure, but to what end? If golf is a good walk spoiled, then soccer is a good run spoiled.
And what is with the ugly polyester soccer uniforms?
I’m an American. I want scoring. I want action. Maybe it’s part of the instant gratification culture but 90 minutes of kicking with zero or one or two goals doesn’t exactly move heaven and earth.
And because scoring is such a lightning striking rarity, once a team gets up by two or three goals, turn the lights out, it’s like being down 49-0 in football. In other words, soccer lacks one of the best parts of watching a sport: the comeback. It almost never happens. If a team gets up by three goals they might as well invoke the slaughter rule.
Because scoring is so nearly impossible, many of the matches come down to faking a penalty (flopping) in order to get a penalty kick. The referees are the most important people on the field.So the key to being a good soccer player is to be a really good actor.
I’ve also argued that soccer is a manifestation of the labor theory of value applied to sports—which may explain why socialist European nations do so well.
Soccer is a huge expenditure of human effort and exertion with almost no return. Under capitalism the idea is to produce the most output with the least amount of work. Because there is so little scoring and so little of the action bears on the outcome of the game, every crazed soccer mom can convince their child that they are above average.
Here we are in America, the world’s economic and military superpower, and the richest place on the planet. Yet the odds of America winning the Cup this year are 100-1. We’re like Fairleigh Dickinson going up against Kentucky in the NCAA basketball tournament.
Now basketball, that’s real action. And we are indisputably the world superpower in that sport.
Or let’s have a World Cup tournament in “football” on the gridiron. Given the lousy state of the economy, the ISIS offensives in Iraq, and a White House that seems to be fighting a new scandal every 24 hours, America needs a lift.
The U.S. plays Belgium Tuesday. A U.S. win would equal the best U.S. performance ever, in 2002, when Team USA won its first knockout game before losing in the quarterfinals to Germany. Tuesday is, however, probably when the U.S. visit to the World Cup will end. The U.S. has neither the best coach in the world (in contrast, say, to the 1980 Winter Olympics, when hockey coach Herb Brooks proved smarter than every other coach in the tournament) nor any single player in the conversation of the best players in the world at his position.
Getting to the knockout round in consecutive World Cups is an accomplishment, but the Americans are not a world-class World Cup team. They may never be.