You’re going to be hearing a lot about soccer in the coming weeks, as the Major League Soccer (MLS) season puts its first full month in the rear-view mirror, and European leagues wind down and prepare for their version of the post-season. And if you’re one of those Americans who hates soccer, I’m going to try to talk you out of that hate. I may not succeed, by hey: I, too, once hated soccer. Then I actually started watching it, and learning about it, and now I’m a huge fan.
Here are a few facts to help you understand soccer a little bit better, and to help you maybe, just maybe, appreciate the game. You may not become a fan, but hey, at least I tried.
Americans Don’t Actually Hate Soccer — At Least, Not Any More
A generation ago, Americans hated soccer; or, at the very least, completely ignored it. Quora user Richard Wright explained the following.
“To Americans at that time, if the team sport was not of American origin (American football, baseball, basketball) or Canadian origin (ice hockey) it was a worthless waste of time and energy.”
Similarly, Quora user Bothof notes that soccer apologists tried too hard to convince Americans to take up the game.
“What we hate is constantly being told that we should love it because the rest of the world does.”
Good point. If we’re going to enjoy soccer, we need to appreciate the game on its own merits. Which is what this article hopes to accomplish. So, American sports fans: get out of your negative head space about soccer being shoved down your throat, and try to appreciate it for what it is.
At any rate, those attitudes are outdated, at least these days. Soccer may never compete with baseball or NASCAR for the top spot in America’s heart when it comes to sports. But the days of it being an afterthought are long gone. Thanks to immigration, younger fans taking up the sport, expanding TV coverage, and perhaps because we’ve sent competitive teams to the last few World Cups, and soccer is finally getting big(ish) here.
If You Think It’s Boring, It’s Because You’re Watching It The Wrong Way
Yes, soccer doesn’t have a lot of scoring. But, to use a technology term, think of that as a feature, not a bug.
Haters like to claim that the lack of scoring amounts to just so much kicking the ball around, while nothing happens. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
Each time a player takes possession of the ball, he has one objective: getting it into the opponent’s goal. However, for that to happen, he needs to either take it there himself, or, through a series of passes, get it to someone who will. And on each possession, the outcome will be different. The ball may go in; the ball may go tantalizingly close to the goal without going in; or the other team will get possession and the whole process starts all over again.
In other words, each possession is like a game unto itself, not unlike a batter in baseball or a series of downs in football. As fans of baseball or football will tell you, there’s a lot going on when there’s nothing going on. And on the rare occasions when the ball hits the back of the net, it’s amazing.
There’s A Lot To Watch
While Major League Soccer is our own league here in the states, broadcasters (specifically, Fox and ESPN) have noticed that American soccer fans enjoy watching European soccer as well. And as it turns out, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, so to speak, when it comes to European soccer.
The regular season in the European leagues generally runs from August to May (compared to MLS, which runs from March through October), which means that things are winding down over there. European soccer doesn’t have a postseason, exactly; instead, two additional tournaments are played during the regular season alongside regular league games. Both are going to be concluded in the coming weeks.
Each nation has its own “cup” tournament in which the top professional teams compete against minor-league teams, minor-minor-league teams, and even semi-pro and amateur leagues, in a single-elimination tournament. It would be the equivalent of watching the Ypsilanti American Legion team compete against the Chicago Cubs. In England, by way of example, the FA Cup will take place on May 27, between two teams (Arsenal & Chelsea) that are top-level professional teams (you didn’t really think a minor-league team would make it to the top, did you?).
Similarly, all of the top teams in Europe compete against each other throughout the year, with a view toward competing in (and winning) the UEFA Champions Cup and being crowned the best team in Europe. As of this writing, two Madrid teams (Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid) are in the mix, along with an Italian team (Juventus) and Monaco’s team (which plays in the French league). The final is scheduled for June 3; this writer will be rooting for Real Madrid, because I’ve been to Madrid and “Real” (ray-AL) is easier to pronounce.
So there you have it: once you get out of your negative head space about soccer being a “foreign” sport, realize that it’s not boring, and start to appreciate the European game in addition to the American game, you’re on your way to becoming a true-blue soccer fan!
[Featured Image by Elsa/Getty Images]