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Americans, Soccer, and Scoring con't:

Bobo makes some very interesting points in a comment on my earlier posting about soccer referees. He/she writes:

Problems I, as an American, have with soccer:

[SNIP]

3) Too much randomness. Scoring just seems too "lucky." . . . So much has to go right just to make a shot go in. . . . if I get 3 clear shots on goal and score 1, am I really better than the team that gets 4 shots but doesn't score any?

4) The infrequency of scoring. Not because "we Americans need action", and "action = scoring". But because, like someone above said, 1-0 is a blowout, and 2-0 is the beating of a lifetime. Basically if I'm losing by 2 with 10 minutes, I have such a small chance of winning that it's not even worth playing. There's no suspense. Game's over. . . .

More evidence, I think, that the things soccerphobes dislike about the game are the very things that fans love about it.

Re the infrequency of scoring: Nick Hornby, in his wonderful soccer memoir "Fever Pitch" (highly recommended), has a wonderful list of the ingredients that go into making a truly great soccer game, the kind of out-of-body ecstasy that soccer can induce and which all soccer fans understand. Some of the ones I recall (I don't have the book with me): home game for your team; home team wins, 3-2, after trailing 2-0; outrageously bad penalty call against your team [followed by a missed penalty kick by the other side].

So it is absolutely true: if you're losing a soccer game 2-0 with 10 minutes to go, you have a mighty slim chance of winning, and you are almost certainly going to be walking out of the stadium depressed and disappointed. But . . . it does happen. Teams do come back. And if this is the game in which it happens, you will never, ever, forget the experience of watching it. It will be roughly equivalent to having sex with all of the other fans, simultaneously.

In 1999 Man. U scored two goals in the last 4 minutes of a Champions League Final -- unlike the World Cup final, which will be watched by ten times more people than watch our "Super Bowl," the Champions League final is watched by only 4 or 5 times more people than watch our Super Bowl. It's kind of a big deal. I'm not a Man U. fan -- but I cannot even imagine what it must have been like to be a Man U fan in that stadium that night.

You might have to watch many, many games before it happens. You may go a lifetime and only experience it once or twice -- or, god forbid, never. That's why you go to a lot of games -- to be sure to catch it when it happens.

When I first discovered soccer, I, too, came up with lots of great ideas for how to get more scoring. Widen the penalty box -- make the net bigger -- etc. etc. But then it hit me. Soccer is the great team sport because it is a test of team will, and it is a test of team will precisely because it is so damned hard to score a f**king goal. You have to run down that field, time and time and time and time again, knowing full well that there's "practically no chance" anything will come of it. Again and again and again. You might have to do it for ninety minutes and get nothing, and then you have to do it again in the next game. It is exhausting, physically and, even more, mentally. But you have to keep doing it, because the moment you stop doing it -- the moment anyone on the team starts to think about not doing it -- you lose.

Character and belief and determination and will become very, very transparent in these circumstances, and soccer, more than any other sport I know of, is about these things. Scoring is incredibly difficult -- but if you let yourself believe that you can't score, you will not score. It's why you'll see soccer fans sometimes giving their team a standing ovation after a 0-0 draw -- because character and determination and belief are very transparent, and can be detected even when no goals have been scored (perhaps best, actually, when no goals have been scored).

And not only is scoring a goal incredibly difficult, just as a matter of technique and athletic skill -- did you see the goal that Argentina's Maxi Rodriguez scored against Mexico to win that game??? I know people always say that hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports, but come on ... try this at home: on the run, take a ball coming towards you from 40 yards away onto your chest, bring it down and before it hits the ground smack it into the upper corner of the net, 30 yards away, with your off-leg (i.e, righties have to do this with their left leg, and vice versa --- it even has an element of total randomness to it. That's life, as they say.

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