Monday, July 7, 2014

Sport, Not a Sport: Soccer

The excitement of the World Cup is building to a crescendo, now that the Americans aren't around to make the rest of the world cringe with use of the term "soccer." There's no better time than now to break down bizzaro football, the world's most popular sport. A sport with a history involving kicking human heads and pig bladders, and is now played by underwear models.

So, what makes soccer a sport? The answer is straightforward. It's two teams trying to score points, and each can affect the actions of the other. To have a sport, you must have defense. What kind of sport involves sitting around and watching your opponent do their thing? (Besides when you're the DH in an AL baseball game. Pick up a glove, Papi!) No kind, that's what. If you can't impede your opponents progress, you may as well be playing darts.

The other integral feature of any true sport is objective scoring, not that soccer isn't rife with subjectivity elsewhere. A point should always be a point, no matter how many mobbed-up Russians are in attendance. Can we definitively tell, in a best-case scenario, if the ball went into the thing where the points are scored? If so, then you're on your way to a sport. Did the ball get there because an undersized drug addict illegally put there with his hand? You're pressing your luck.

Before moving on to what makes soccer not a sport, I would like to share some interesting history of the sport I learned from the venerable repository of human knowledge that is The parts of the world that use the term football when referring to soccer tend to be critical of America for calling American football "football." Somehow, Canada, Australia, South Africa, and parts of Ireland escape criticism for their use of the word soccer. The main argument against American football as a thing that should be called football is that the ball rarely touched a foot. Newsflash! Early iterations of Unamerican Football involved players picking up the ball and running with it. Sometimes they would use sticks to hit the ball. Players would also tackle each other gridiron style. Different teams played with different rules. Halftime was created to accommodate teams with differing views going head-to-head. My point is that Everywhere Else style Football used to look like polo without horses, so give us some slack about not using our feet to play American Football. Besides, if it weren't for weird British slang the word soccer wouldn't exist, so that's not even our fault.

So what makes soccer not a sport? The clock. The rest of the world may be okay with siestas and five months of compulsory vacation, but in the US of A, we're all about schedules. How long does a soccer match last? If you said 90 minutes, you're kind of correct. A more accurate answer is 90-ish minutes. It's 90 minutes, plus however much time is spent with players writhing on the ground in faux agony. That's the extra time. I don't know who determines the extra time, but apparently that person doesn't have a clock, because they add how much they feel needs to be added. But sometimes they get it wrong, usually when they add too little or too much time. I saw a match that had one minute of added time. Anyone who's seen a soccer game knows that no one gets up from a shin kick in less than a minute. If I were a soccer time keeper, I would just add three minutes, no matter what. No scarf wearing hooligan ever got upset by three minutes of added time. But even with the extra time, when the game stops is up in the air. The officials let the game go if a team is on the attack. The game goes until the people involved feel like it's time to stop. That's how I played Ninja Turtles in my back yard, it's no timing method for a professional sporting event. Unless you're playing to a certain number of points, there ought to be a buzzer.

Soccer in general is a casual affair. When a foul is given, the player kicking off can spot the ball where they want (as long as it's in the general area of the foul) and resume play when they want. Often you'll see the team with possession try to catch the defense off guard by doing a quick start. This strikes me as very slap dash and strange, since the officials have a can of spray paint holstered to keep players in right spot on free kicks. On some plays, the players can do what they want and on others precision requires temporarily defacing the pitch.

No analysis of soccer would be complete without a few words spent on the theatricality of competitors who find themselves in a prone position after brushes, near or otherwise, with opponents. Flopping isn't specific to the Beautiful Game. It's been in basketball for years in the form of the charge. No one actually thinks that when a charge happens, the defensive player was incapable of remaining upright. Falling down isn't a crime. Except in basketball, no one has to catch the vapors to draw a whistle. It's even started creeping into American Football in the form of players feigning injury to slow the game down. Much like in soccer, these players usually drop for no reason and were not touched by anyone else. When a player of American Football is suspected of this, he is chastised. Rules are being implemented into basketball to keep players from pretending to have been fouled. In soccer everyone stands around waiting for the injured party to finish their pantomime. Sometimes the official will cast a disapproving glance, if the player is really hamming it up. This is when the player knows that he only has 30 more seconds to get up.

Despite it's peculiarities, soccer has a solid foundation of points being scored by launching a projectile into a designated scoring area. And that's something no amount of phantom injuries sprayed with compressed air can take away.

SOCCER: Sport.