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Every now and then, something happens in soccer that makes soccer fans think Americans will suddenly start to care about their game.
In the 1970s, Brazilian soccer supergenius Pele joined the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League. In 1994, America hosted the World Cup. In the year 2000, Disney released Air Bud: World Pup—the third in their series of sports-playing dog movies. Before each of these things happened, soccer fans wondered, “Will this be it?” Will this be the straw that finally breaks the non-soccer-watching American public’s back?
Sadly, in each case, the answer was no.
The Cosmos drew large crowds, but the NASL folded. Americans watched the World Cup, but most don’t remember it happening. World Pup, meanwhile, was released directly to video.
In each of these cases, the message was clear: Americans don’t care if the rest of the world thinks the world of soccer. You can stop asking what it will take to the make the game popular. The answer is: nothing. It will never be popular here.
Or will it?
With the recent signing of international soccer star David Beckham by the Los Angeles Galaxy—who, by virtue of being in L.A., basically play in America—people are once again asking if soccer has finally found someone, or something, that will make the game as big in the States as it is in the rest of the world. As always, the answer is no. David Beckham is not the magic bullet, just as Pele and Air Bud were not magic bullets before him.
But there is something soccer can do to gain traction in America. In fact, there are several things it can do—several things it must do—to end this argument once and for all.
First, ditch the format. Soccer consists of two halves, each lasting 45 minutes. This is far too long to go without a bathroom break—especially for a game where a score of 1-0 is considered high scoring. Reduce soccer contests from 90 minutes to 60, and split that time into four quarters of 15 minutes each. Americans will like this. For some reason, we’ve always been fond of quarters.
Next, on the subject of scoring: Soccer needs to score more. Scoreless ties are completely unacceptable. If you can’t score more goals, at least make them worth six or seven points each. This way, the final scores will look higher than they are.
This brings us to attire. Soccer players dress like children. You think it’s just a coincidence kids are the only ones who care about this game? From now on, soccer players should wear helmets and shoulder pads. Games without helmets and shoulder pads are games without severe spinal injuries.
Then there’s the issue of scheduling. The only time I ever see soccer is two in the morning on ESPN 2. From now on, soccer games should take place on Sunday afternoons. Start these games at 1 PM or 4 PM, and occasionally schedule a game for Sunday, Monday, or Thursday evenings. Also, get John Madden to talk about these games.
Finally, change soccer’s name to “football,” and give David Beckham a more American-sounding name, such as LaDainian Tomlinson. While you’re at it, call the pitch a “field,” and divide the field into ten 10-yard sections, replacing the goals with big colorful paintings of logos. Let the players carry the ball instead of kicking it aimlessly into the air all day long. And just for the heck of it: Cheerleaders.
I realize soccer’s a game of tradition. But trust me: Make changes. It will not be long before soccer gets the respect it so richly deserves.