Exploding Egg

Musings: An American’s Thoughts On World Cup Soccer

So as a typical American (United States of American, that is) I have to say I grew up never really knowing a heck of a lot about soccer. For us, the game is a sport for children. They play it in elementary school as an after-school activity — used sometimes as preparation until, if they’re boys, they are big enough to strap on the football pads or tall enough to start playing basketball.

Soccer is generally only seen as a breeding ground for our version of football’s kickers.

That said, though, personally I’ve never really had anything against the sport. I think part of the reason folks for the United States don’t know much about it is that we really haven’t been exposed to it at the professional level.

My cat, Tao, is enjoying her first exposure to the World Cup

TV stations don’t like to air it, because the game has two 45-minute chunks that can’t be interrupted with commercials. Football, baseball and basketball, on the other hand, all have TV time outs and plenty of breaks so that stations can make more money off of them.

The soccer that we do see tends to be at the lower end of professional. The best players in the world play mostly in overseas leagues. If we wanted to follow the English Premier League on TV, watching live games would be tricky because of the time difference. That’s true of any of the European leagues. And as most sports fans will tell you, it’s not nearly as fun to watch a taped game as it is a live one.

The time difference is a bit of a problem for us when watching this year’s World Cup in Africa, but one small hope of the game catching on is that the last game of the night there occurs, for us, at the same morning time on the weekends that our early U.S. football games generally air in the fall. So there’s at least a little more of a comfort factor in watching it.

I’m impressed that ESPN has dedicated itself to covering the World Cup this year, as well. In the past, they’ve only aired a few games. This year, they’re airing all of them live. That helps, as well, because we get a much more full picture of the competition and all the intricate stories inside each game.

It’s also nice to see the United States competing well in the opening round — despite mystifying referee calls.

In sports in the United States, referees have to explain their calls — or at least describe what they were calling. We like instant replay and reviews because we feel it makes the games more fair. The cloak and dagger of soccer referees, who apparently don’t have to explain themselves, is a very odd concept for us.

Our games also usually end with a distinct winner and loser. The notion of all that running around to end in a tie doesn’t go over so well — and I’m not sure most people here understand how the whole point for games system works.

I do love how the English Premier League is set up with promotion and relegation. At the end of the season the top league’s three lowest teams are demoted to the second tier league (think minor league baseball) and the second tier league’s top three teams are promoted to the Premier League. And the same happens in their second and third tier leagues.

Tim Howard, an goalkeeper for the U.S. team who plays for Everton in the English Premier League

That gives teams in all parts of the country hope to play at the top level. I’d love to see something like that set up here — for U.S. soccer or even baseball.

One, maybe the only, advantage of being unemployed due to the bad economy right now, is that I’ve been able to watch the World Cup and learn more about soccer — mostly from my European friends.

It’s the world’s game, and I think we should as a country be more interested in it. We often think the rest of the world hates us as a country, which I think can make us a little insulated — and soccer in its own way could be an entry point of discussion for people from the United States to talk to people in other countries and perhaps not feel so set apart from the rest of the world.

Of course, there are other angles of the differences between our sports that have popped into my mind as I watch the World Cup. The size of players is one of them.

Players in sports in the U.S. tend to be huge. Not always fat huge, but steroid-pumped giants, certainly. Our football players are pretty much short and small if they’re 6’2″ and muscular. Many of them are stocky and 6’6″ or so. And basketball players also fit that mold — taller and taller. Even baseball players are big guys here, in a sport where they don’t necessarily need to be huge.

Soccer players, on the other hand, or rugby players or cricket players or what have you — the sports of other countries — they tend to be normal-looking guys. They’re fit, muscular, but they look like regular guys you might see walking down the street.

Aerobically, they have to be more fit than those in many other sports. That’s a lot of running around without breaks.

I’m not really sure why in the U.S. we prefer our sports stars to be giants. But I think it’s sort of nice to see international superstar soccer players that look like normal human beings.

The sports leagues that operate in the U.S. — for football, basketball, baseball and hockey — tend to have the best players in the world. And in soccer, I don’t think we’ll be able to get that here, although Major League Soccer is trying its best at it. It’s nice to watch the U.S. team in the World Cup, because it does have some of the world’s best players on it. Many of them players we’ve never heard of here.

Landon Donovan, a midfielder on the U.S. team who plays Major League Soccer for the Los Angeles Galaxy

Will the World Cup finally crack the barrier that the U.S. has had against soccer? I’m not sure it will. But I think very slowly there are signs that its popularity is growing.

Folks are talking about it in the U.S. — I’ve noticed people who in prior years didn’t even know what the World Cup was now know what’s going on in the games thus far. And that’s hopeful.

And seeing college-aged kids jumping around in the streets of Portland cheering for Germany is also a positive sign.

A Germany fan displays his World Cup enthusiasm on the streets of Portland

Will the wall come down completely? Maybe not this year, but I think eventually it will. Perhaps in the next cup when it’s in our general time zone.

But at the very least, this World Cup seems to be exaggerating the cracks between us and other countries. It’s the start of a discussion, and I hope we start to take advantage of that.


Update: By the way, my cat really wants to play soccer for one of these teams:


June 21, 2010 - Posted by | Musings | , , , , ,


  1. Cute kitty picture! 🙂

    Comment by tellthejourney | June 21, 2010 | Reply

  2. lol thanks 🙂

    Comment by SueVo | June 21, 2010 | Reply

  3. Hey SueVo,

    You have very interesting thoughts on soccer I must say, and it’s nice to know that you reflect on the issue concerning the integration of the USA within the world of soccer.

    However, I am not able to deliver an appropriate explanation to this phenomenon. As a child of two “soccer-nut” continents I grew up practically worshiping this sport. I could never understand why in North America they call it soccer. Not even the British (the very inventors of this sport) call it that way even though they also insist on not using the metric system! 😉
    And I could never understand why the league in the USA lost its prestige. Back in the ‘70s and ’80 some of the greatest players who ever lived, for example Franz Beckenbauer and Pelé played in New York Cosmos. Even the world cup back in 1994 which took place in the USA apparently had no major impact on the perception of this sport. Maybe it’s because other sports such as American football and basketball are very vivid compared to soccer. In football and basketball you have constant scoring and excitement, while in soccer, as you’ve seen especially throughout this tournament, sometimes scoring doesn’t take place at all. Because of this reason I do find it o be boring at times, nevertheless it makes it even more attractive to watch because you never really know how a game is going to end. Sometimes one must wait almost a whole match to witness a single decisive goal, but because goals are scarce, it makes the tension and the anxiety almost unbearable to witness.

    Comment by Jens | June 21, 2010 | Reply

  4. Thanks Jens.
    It is sort of baffling that it hasn’t seemed to take off here.
    I have to say, soccer has a more logical claim to the name football than does American football, lol, since in soccer you actually predominantly use your feet to play the game.
    Not sure what we’d rename American football, however.

    Comment by SueVo | June 21, 2010 | Reply

  5. “And seeing college-aged kids jumping around in the streets of Portland cheering for Germany is also a positive sign.”

    Do they? That’s lovely. My German fiancee is jumping around cheering for Spain. If my Spanish soccer boys go on playing unluckily as they do, I’m afraid I might suffer a nervous breakdown. :-))

    Comment by Glaros | June 21, 2010 | Reply

  6. I think this is the year America finally embraces soccer. I think a big part of it is the live streaming of games. It makes it really far more interesting to be able to watch all of the games. I’ve found myself going from actively wanting to avoid watching soccer to be a bit obsessed and watching three matches a day. Oh dear. Oh and all those lovely legs don’t hurt.

    Comment by Jennythenipper | June 21, 2010 | Reply

  7. Looks like the Spanish soccer boys are doing better Glaros 🙂
    It is pretty cool seeing folks here excited about the sport.

    I hear ya Jenny. It’s much better now that we can watch all the games — gives it more continuity I guess. Lol I’ve been obsessed with watching the late game anyway. 4:30 a.m. is a bit early for me to get up.

    Comment by SueVo | June 21, 2010 | Reply

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