As an avid NFL, NBA, MLB and soccer fan, I totally understand the NFL or NBA fan that just doesn’t care to get into soccer. Totally cool with me. Who I feel sorry for is the NFL or NBA fan who feels so threatened by the rise of soccer fandom that he tries to ridicule and demean the sport, the players and the fans; the basic certitude of obvious NFL or NBA superiority. So, for these people I decided to make a plan to “fix” soccer for them so it resembles these other leagues. I will take the top few popular slams against soccer and directly apply the pseudo-wisdom that incubates each to soccer rules. DISCLAIMER: Keep in mind I love ALL of the leagues mentioned here and mean absolutely no disrespect to each sport, the players and especially the fans. I mean only to help or offend the those that feel enlightened by hating on a sport they know almost nothing about.
“The final scores are too low” or “There are not enough goals”
With extra point kicks being basically automatic, the NFL gives each score 7 points while FIFA grants just 1. The 2014 World Cup main round averaged 3 goals per game. Let us give each soccer score 7 points and we get soccer game final scores around 14-7. Some higher and some lower, but around a 14-7 score in the NFL is a good game and fairly common. So, yes, the same number goals, but making one point equal seven points, like the NFL, we get similar artificially inflated scores.
Again, I love the NFL, but the following is a view I echo with many other NFL fans: A field goal is akin to saying “you tried real hard and got close but failed…so, here is an almost free 3 points as a consolation prize” I am not sure where the sport is in that, but, if you like the field goal, rock on. Just don’t pretend it is anything but the cheap prize it is designed to be.
That said, The NFL field goal is much like a penalty kick in soccer. Both are almost automatic, but can add dramatic and amazing finishes to very close games. The difference between the two is soccer awards a penalty kick as punishment for the cheating team while the NFL just hands out almost half a touchdown every time a team simply gets close but fails. I am not sure how inflating the score in this way is really more exciting, but if you think so, you can apply the same thinking to soccer. Every missed shot on goal would now grant a free penalty kick for 3 points. The 2014 World Cup averaged 4.5 missed shots a game, so with a free penalty kick for each and incorporating a fail rate similar to the NFL, we add another 12 points or so to each soccer game.
Score conclusion: The difference is the points given, not the amount of scoring. Using an NFL point structure for the current soccer action we get soccer scores of 23-10, 27-6, 17-16, etc.
If you are thrilled by higher point totals for the same play, then enjoy the numbers. In fact, let’s make each score 100 points or, following the NBA philosophy, lets make scores so easy and numerous they don’t really matter. Personally, I am thrilled by the play on the field and the battle of exceptional athletes. I do admit that there are few things in sports as exciting as a TD or soccer goal (MLB HR being pretty close), but, it seems this is because these each are so hard to achieve, not because of number they equal.
“Games are too long”
This is easy, because soccer have no commercials, are shorter and with almost nonstop gameplay. To make a soccer game better match the NFL or NBA, we need to add an hour of commercials and remove 30-minutes of play time. The total time for a soccer game is 2 hours with a full 1 ½ hours of it being actual play. Compare that with NFL where a game takes 3 hours and you only get 1 hour of actual play. An NBA game takes about 2 ½ hours and you only get 48 minutes of play.
Game length conclusion: To make soccer games match the total time of the NFL and NBA, you will get less action, a ton of commercials and it will take longer to get through all of it. If that makes you happy, go for it.
“Soccer players are not as tough”
I’ll let this one be as subjective as you want. The American soccer star Clint Dempsey had his nose smashed in a vicious hit early in the US game vs Ghana and played the full 90 minutes with only the one break at halftime. NFL players are constantly getting bumped, grabbed and tackled and are part of high-speed collisions, but they have a lot of armor, so I am sure an MMA guy could call NFL players wimps. In the NBA, players are in constant and direct one-on-one contact without any armor, but they do not get tackled and there are very rarely any high-speed collisions. So, are NFL and NBA players tough? Definitely, I say. Both sports have their own difficult athletic tests. Soccer combines the same constant direct one-on-one contact as the NBA, similar high-speed collisions (about 15 MPH) as the NFL and adds a full 90-minutes-plus of game play, often in massive heat, with NO breaks, NO timeouts, NO hydration and ALMOST NO substitutions while running 7-8 miles per game outdoors (NBA averages 2 miles indoors and NFL wideouts run about 1 ¼ miles a game?—?both with many rests and as much hydration as they need). Soccer players play 45+ straight minutes (basically a full NBA game) get a 30-minute break, and then are back out for another 45 straight minutes. Substitutions are rare because a coach is given 3 per game and, if used if used, the player can not return at all for the entire game. These are used very sparingly and usually late in a game to swap a player with more needed skills for the last 15 minutes or so.
Conclusion: Are soccer players wimps compared to other athletes? Not a chance. They are at least as tough as any other and deserving of a tremendous amount of respect.
A few more thoughts: One may wonder why soccer is so different from other sports with 90-minute games without timeouts, clock stops or even hydration breaks. Couple that with non-stop movement that makes coach commands hard to relay and the fact that, if a player leaves the game, he can not return and it would seem there is a need for more order and slower pace that we NFL fans are used to. Being a very old game, soccer’s structure most closely matches a war or battlefield struggle. When the battle starts, it stops only when it is over and the warriors are able to either fight or they are not. They don’t get to pause the bloodshed if someone gets hurt or is tired. They fight on until they no longer are able. The battle commanders can only bark out commands in the heat of the battle knowing not all will hear and hoping the message travels down the line. Obviously, this all is humanized by using a ball instead of weapons, having a few referees and shaking hands when all is done.
Looked at it from the perspective of war, almost everything about soccer starts to make easy sense.
On another note, flopping is annoying, but is an unfortunate part of both the NBA and soccer. I would love to punish players harshly for it, but that is never going to happen – and is still a joke with the NBA’s new rule.
The playing field: A FIFA soccer field is massive. It is larger than an NFL field and that larger amount of ground is covered by the same number of players (11 per team).
FIFA field = 110 yards x 70 yards
NFL field: 100 yards x 53 yards
NBA court = 31 yards x 16 ½ yards
Overall, every sport is great for those that are already into it and boring to everyone else – this includes the NFL. I will never understand the ignorant elitist who thinks any sport is not automatically worthy of respect.
By: Michael Glass
Also published on Medium.