Soccer's flaws make it hard to get into.

This year I watched more of the World Cup than I ever had. I was in Europe for the Euro two years ago, and I saw how exciting soccer could be (namely, when you’re in a bar with a ton of excited drunken people).

Watching quietly at home, it’s somewhat exciting only because the stadium is full of screaming fans. Beyond that, I found a number of aspects of the sport annoying. Namely:

  1. After overtime, penalty kicks. No one seems to like this rule – the fans, the announcers, no one. Penalty kicks aren’t soccer. They might as well say “after the game ends, the two teams will play miniature golf to determine the winner” because the activity they’re participating in is not the same sport they’d just been playing for two hours. If no one likes this method of ending a game, they should just change the rule.
  2. Mid-game penalty kicks. It seems a fact of the sport is that the games are going to be low-scoring (compared to basketball, football, or even baseball). If two teams play well on offense and defense, that’s how it’s going to be. You only get a handful of shots on goal, and of those shots, only a small percentage of them go in. However, if a foul happens in the penalty box, that’s a penalty kick. The odds of scoring on a penalty kick must be several orders of magnitude higher than scoring in the middle of the game. The goalie is at a huge disadvantage, and basically has to guess at which way to jump, and often look foolish jumping away from the ball. Unlike a free throw in basketball, which doesn’t count for much relative to the rest of the scoring, one penalty kick can count for 100% of the scoring in a soccer game (as just happened in the France-Portugal game).
  3. There always seems to be someone crying on the ground. I think this has a lot to do with point #2. Because the penalties can be so severe, it encourages people to pretend they were injured during a play. It’s far worse than a typical basketball “flop” to try and earn an offensive foul. It eats up more time, and generally looks wimpier. Flopping in basketball these days is an obvious thing. People don’t pretend to be hurt, they just make it obvious that they were knocked down. They then get right back up.
  4. The clock doesn’t make any sense. Why do they let the clock run, and then add on time at the end? If they’re keeping track of the delta between active gameplay and real time, why don’t they just save themselves the math and stop the clock when the gameplay stops? That way teams can accurately manage the clock throughout the half, and strategize appropriately. As it is, it seems like the clock runs out, and then you find out how much extra time you get. You can’t manage that time until you know how much it is. Maybe it’s just my love for [American] football that causes me to place a lot of value in clock management.

I won’t knock Soccer for being low-scoring, because that’s kind of a cop-out complaint. If you really love and appreciate the sport, a low-scoring game is probably very exciting. However, the fact that it’s low scoring does make it harder to get into for new people, because scoring is an easy to appreciate aspect of any sport.

3 thoughts on “Soccer's flaws make it hard to get into.

  1. Why not make the goal wider and/or higher to increase the probability of the ball getting past the goalie?

  2. I remember hearing that 90% of penalty kicks go in — which makes sense considering that even if the keeper guesses the right side, it can still be tough to get the ball (as happened today with Portugal). However, this world cup had a lot of missed / saved PKs for some reason.

    I’m too lazy to do the research now, but the penalties at the end is a relatively (20-30 years?) new addition to the game. Apparently they used to keep on playing until a goal would score, which I could imagine becoming like those dance marathons, with players passing out on the field.

  3. That’s interesting, evidently penalty kicks (during the game) have been around since 1891, but like F said, the shootout-tiebreaker has only been around since the 1970’s.

    Wikipedia lists some interesting alternatives for releiving a tiebreak, although none of them seem clearly superior.

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