Yes “soccer,” not “football.” I’m not usually a cranky American, but football = pigskin, just so we’re all clear. It’s funny how so much animosity can be harbored towards a singular sport, but soccer has come a long way. Compared to the US soccer scene ten, even five years ago, tremendous progress has been made in harnessing support and fandom for our men’s and women’s national teams. (I actually have a meager collection of jerseys now.) But compared to something like the NFL, MLB, or NBA, MLS does not stand a chance of sustaining widespread viewership, and perhaps never will. If soccer were to ever reach the ratings levels of these athletic organizational giants, the sport itself would need to change drastically. Are these suggestions realistic? Nah, but it would still make for some interesting spectating.
1. Refs need to be WAY more lenient.
Probably the top reason why many Americans scoff at soccer is the fact that players go down constantly, sometimes when not even touched. Seriously, some of these players (I’m looking at you Arjen Robben) make LeBron James look like a murder victim. (Yeah, I’m going to try and get as much out of the cramping incident as I can.) Players should still be penalized for bringing someone down, but don’t stop the play. People don’t want to watch players wallowing around on the ground for five minutes, especially when they are not seriously injured. It would certainly make the game more compelling to watch, having to split your attention with the ball and the man down in agony (or theatrics) on the field.
Imagine what the game would be like if it was played by rugby players and referees. Even if someone were to take a cleat to the face, they would probably just laugh it off and keep playing. Nothing is more American than someone fighting through the pain, blood streaming down, battling until the very end.
2. Get rid of draws.
Or as we call them stateside, “ties.” Next to players flopping like fish on the pitch, most people in the United States are completely beside themselves when a game ends in a tie. The first MLS game I went to in Los Angeles ended with a final score of 0-0. Really? Two teams were duking it out for an hour and half and nothing? Nothing at all? Not cool. Most Americans would say they don’t want to pay good money only to walk away with a shoulder shrug. If you really want to see America’s true sports colors, hang out in an NFL parking lot after a tie football game and just casually interview the biggest, baldest fans you can find.
If the game ends in a tie, go to a shootout. They’re more exciting and heart-stopping than most events in sports. No one has ever played a competitive game of FIFA on Xbox with a friend to have the game end in a tie. That should tell you something about the gratifying weight a draw carries. (Answer: none)
3. Countdowns, not “countups.”
At UC Santa Barbara, soccer is THE sport, and what surprised me about college soccer was the fact that the clock operated as it does in any normal sport. The clock is set at 45 minutes per half and counts down to zero. None of this “stoppage time” business. That may be easy for me to say as I watched Portugal pull a goal back in stoppage time against the United States last week. I would also probably champion stoppage time if the shoe was on the other foot. But why doesn’t the clock simply start and stop when there is a goal, foul, substitution, or injury? That would also help to clear up any uncertainties as far as how much time was wasted watching the fragile striker crying over a cut on his finger (while holding his ankle for some unknown reason). This ties back to my initial argument about the role of the referee. Not only are they jeered at for trigger-happy with the foul whistle, but also are given too much authority and discretion with the timing.
Think about how awesome it would be to have a buzzer-beater goal, which would be easy to manage now with the goal line technology in place.
4. Add Cheerleaders.
The last football game I went to, my buddy stole my binoculars and took pictures of the cheerleaders by putting his phone up to the lens. Never mind that he was being creepy beyond creepy, but the fact remains that intoxicated men truly enjoy the view of majestic and bountiful boobage. In soccer, there is no such attraction for the male fans to ogle at. (Not trying to exclude females here, just working with stereotypes.) “But Hunter, with no stoppage in time, the cheerleaders would only serve as a distraction.” First, see step 3. Second, halftime is halftime. Third, let me finish. For many professional football teams, the cheerleaders have become iconic. Even some baseball clubs utilize some form of cheer team to get the crowd amped up.
What if instead of the players walking out to the pitch hand in hand with a child (a little pedophilic if you ask me), have them walk out hand in hand with a cheerleader. The soccer wives would be unhappy, but the fans sure wouldn’t.
5. We need to be the best.
The ladies are on pace. They are the current three-time Olympic champions and have also placed (twice champions) in every World Cup they have participated in. Unfortunately, women’s sports simply do not get the attention that the men do, and the men have not looked as hot in recent years. Most American soccer fans consider it some divine intervention to simply make it to the elimination round of the World Cup. There is no expectation of a championship. This is what is holding the sport back. The only reason MLB and NFL games are played abroad these days is because we are the best and all we want to do is show off to the rest of the world (and rake in more dinero, right Goodell?).
Until the American people are given a taste of a championship, or something close to it, soccer will never rise out of the doldrums of American viewership. They have no reason to get excited.