Friday, June 3, 2016

Soccer is not Boring (But Ignorant Fans Are)

Today marks the opening of the Copa America Centenario, a 16-team tournament featuring all ten CONMEBOL teams plus the USA (the host nation) and five other countries from North and Central America. Normally scheduled every four years (Chile won last year at home), this is a special edition of the tournament commemorating its 100th anniversary, which is why it is being held in the United States. Canada did not qualify by virtue of their terrible performance at the 2015 Gold Cup. Games are scheduled at ten venues around the country, including MetLife Stadium, which is hosting the final on June 26.

Next week, Euro 2016 gets underway in France, with 24 UEFA countries participating. Many believe this tournament to be superior to the World Cup as there are no weak sides, with almost any team having a chance to win. In 2004, Greece pulled off a stunning upset to take the title, and this year, even smaller nations like Iceland and Northern Ireland cannot be taken lightly.

Whatever the case, between the two tournaments, you will see some quality soccer over the next month. Unless you ignore them because you think soccer is boring, or not a sport, or some other idiotic preconception that you might hold. Over the past few months, I have noticed a number of sports fans ridiculing soccer for a variety of specious reasons. Many believe the game to be dull as relatively few goals are scored, while others lament the general lack of action on the field. Whatever the case, these opinions are based not on an understanding of the game, but complete ignorance.

I don't like it when fans of one sport rail against another. But the most annoying of these are baseball fans who say that soccer is boring. Baseball fans have their own kind of arrogance, propagated by movies such as Field of Dreams that tells them that baseball (and by extension their fandom) is special, which leads them to be more critical of other sports. As a fan of both baseball and soccer, I can say with certainty that neither is necessarily boring; instead it is the games that are either exciting or dull, or somewhere in between.

As a case in point, let's look at the first two days of June in New York City. On Wednesday afternoon, the Mets hosted the White Sox in an interleague game that ended up going 13 innings and taking 4:41. The final score was 2-1 Chicago, quite amazing as their pitching staff issued 13 walks. The Mets doled out 5 free passes of their own, so on the afternoon fans were treated to 18 of those most exciting of baseball plays, the base on balls. This was only the second time in history that a team had scored only one run after receiving 13 walks, so the Mets were historically inept, always a thrill to watch. Anyway, the point of this is that the game was horribly, horribly boring. Thankfully it was an afternoon game on a beautiful day, the only saving grace.

The following night, NYCFC welcomed Real Salt Lake to Yankee Stadium for an MLS match. After an entertaining first half ended scoreless thanks to poor finishing from the hosts, the second half saw the teams combine for 5 goals with RSL winning 3-2. There were chances for both teams, plenty of good passing, and a fast pace from start to finish. The game started at 7:10 and was over by 9:00, taking less than half the time as the ballgame and producing more goals than runs were scored. Sure, a few players rolled around in fake agony, something that drives me nuts in soccer, but other than that, it was a quick, engaging contest. Absolutely nobody who attended both could reasonably claim that the baseball game was more interesting than the soccer game.

Is this a small sample size? Of course. I'm not saying soccer is more interesting than baseball, just that some soccer games are more interesting than some baseball games and vice versa. If you argue otherwise, you simply do not know what you are talking about.

To be fair, I've heard soccer fans criticize baseball as being ten minutes of action that takes three hours, demonstrating a poor understanding of the game themselves. Look, no sport is perfect. Soccer still decides championships on penalty kicks despite other options being available. Meanwhile, MLB games these days are drawn out by excessive pitching changes, replays, and player posturing.

I could go on, but I'm not here to list all the problems with sports. My point is quite simple: no sport is "better" than another, and if you are a true sports fan, you should realize that. Instead of taking the easy road of mindless criticism, you should try to understand each sport, so at least you know what you are talking about. You don't have to like every sport that is out there, but by making an effort to watch a few games you might find that you end up enjoying it more than you expected. My time in Japan, surrounded by friends from the UK and Australia, led me to become a fan of soccer, rugby, and cricket and I've had some great travel experiences because I learned about those sports. So if you take the time to appreciate the game instead of attacking it, you might find yourself visiting far away lands on a sports road trip that you would never have considered with a closed mind.




  1. You make some very good points and I agree with what you have written. The same could also be said in comparing basketball and (American) football with the both baseball and football (soccer). People on this side of the Atlantic are equally disparaging about other sports that they either dislike or think are inferior. Baseball is seen as a glorified version of rounders - a kids game, American Football is too stop start. Also you get supporters of the different codes of rugby knocking each other - League fans class Union as "kick and clap", while Union fans think League is not tactical enough.

    People just need to appreciate each sport on its own merit - go and watch a game live and learn some of the rules and terminology. I did that with baseball and basketball and now will happily watch both.

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