Soccer might be the world’s game, but Americans still consider it to be a minor sport. Although many youngsters are starting to take up the sport, these are mostly the kids whose parents don’t want them to get injured playing in the other major sports. Soccer’s popularity might be at an all-time high throughout the world, but there are still many reasons the sport is lagging behind most of the other professional sports in the United States.
Soccer is a very demanding sport where routine failure is an essential part of the game. In a country where players who are close to being seven feet tall get shoe contracts and behemoth muscular sluggers get rewarded by hitting balls over outfield walls, running around for 90 minutes without achieving success comes with very little reward. There is no place for athletes who can do 25 reps bench pressing 225 pounds, and even running a 4.35 second 40-yard dash so often gets rewarded with an offsides call. Players crash to the ground in the penalty box in an effort to get an easy shot at a game changing goal and even the most beautiful attacks end in an all too familiar change of possession. In general, the lack of offense puzzles most Americans who consider it nonsensical to run around so vigorously without realizing a single score.
There are many reasons that the sport has not been as popular in the United States, but these top 15 reasons represent a strong argument for its lack of popularity in the U.S. It might not be easy to overtake all the other major American sports, but concerns with injuries in football, baseball and hockey leaves the window open for elevating the sport. Many youngsters who are too small for football or lack the height to make in impact on the basketball court, have the opportunity to be stars on a soccer field. In time, many Americans might actually change their attitudes about the world’s most dominant sport, but for now there are some compelling reasons to dislike the sport.
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15 World Dominated Sport
Soccer is a sport that has been played throughout the world for many years, with roots that do not include the United States. The sport is celebrated throughout the world and has been left to the rest of the world to advance. In a country that thoroughly enjoys sporting events and athletic competition, soccer has forever been recognized as the rest of the world’s sport. It is hard for Americans to watch so many small countries dominate its national team and pay attention to a sport where the U.S. lags so far behind. The major stars are from other countries, the best professional teams are in Europe and foreigners even dominate the rosters of the MLS. Catching up to the world at this point is not exactly an easy task, when Americans already enjoy success in so many homegrown sports.
14 Size and Strength Are Not Rewarded
In the United States, the muscle car came into prominence and 300 pound offensive linemen who can run 40 yards in under five seconds are revered throughout the land. In soccer, there is no way to effectively utilize size and strength. The best players in the sport look like every other person on the street, (albeit quite fitter) while mammoth power forwards, sluggers and linemen stand out in a crowd in the U.S. In soccer, speed is negated by the rule for offside and it is impossible to run around for 90 minutes with excess weight. Americans are in awe with speed, size and strength, where bigger is better, faster is cooler, and stronger inspires awe. Soccer is a sport requiring incredible patience and endurance, two things that Americans care less about. In the U.S, we want our sports heroes to have incomparable physical traits.
The governing body of world soccer is an international joke. FIFA is more corrupt than half of the world’s governments and they operate with very little oversight. There is so much pressure on this governing body that it is ripe for corruption at every turn. From the World Cup draw, to the allocation of revenue from its many sponsored events, there is enough corruption in a single year to last a lifetime in other sports. Many people in the United States wonder how a governing body can have so much power with so little transparency and checks and balances in place. There is so much money passing through FIFA and yet there are some teams in the World Cup who can’t even afford their flights to the event. In the U.S, most major sports try hard to even the playing field, while in FIFA the rich get richer and the poor always seem to have a harder path to advance. With Sepp Blatter now having stepped down, some major changes in FIFA could turn things around in this aspect.
12 Too Many Turnovers
Soccer can be a beautiful sport until the beauty is inevitably interrupted by a change of possession. In American football, interceptions and fumbles are few and far between and teams incapable of mounting an offensive threat have to relinquish the ball with a punt. In soccer, possession seems to change on just about every other kick. It is much harder to maintain possession of the ball, and yet soccer purists will argue that it makes scoring a goal such a magnificent event. On the other hand, Americans would like to see more chances to score. The inability to possess the ball coupled with the offsides rule only makes this harder to achieve. Some teams are better than others at controlling the ball, but it gets inherently more difficult to do as teams get into the teeth of the defense closer to the goal. Americans would rather see more finishing like a resounding dunk.
11 The World Cup Draw
Soccer’s most glamorous event, the World Cup, is also one of the most puzzling to many Americans. In the United States, fans are used to playoff seedings that make sense, awarding teams that earn the right to have an easier path in the postseason. World Cup draws are so ridiculous with “groups of death” that many Americans feel they are rigged. How is it that one four team group can include three of the world’s best teams when another will not even have one. This type of arbitrary nonsense is just the type of thing that turns Americans off to the sport. It doesn’t help that the host country gets an automatic bid and often seems to enjoy an easy draw. The seeding is complex, random and sketchy to say the very least.
10 Penalty Kicks
In a sport that favors the defense, it is hard to figure out how penalty kicks even exist. Teams can maul each other in the open field and earn free kicks, but drawing a little contact inside the box will earn what amounts to a cheap goal. In a game that can routinely feature many scoreless ties, it seems absurd that a foul inside the box can earn a shot that is easier to make than a Dwight Howard free throw. It is hard to see these cheap goals decide hard fought games, when awarding a corner kick or some shots harder to make would be more appropriate. Due to the success rate on converting penalty kicks, offensive players will routinely flop inside the box in hopes of drawing fouls. It is not easy on officials, creates controversy in just about every game, and the reward of crying foul is simply too great to pass up. In such a grueling sport, this allows referees to routinely decide close games.
9 No Hands
The United States is a country that expanded from one coast to another by laying miles of railroad by hand, even rushing to mass produce the automobile in an effort to avoid using our feet. In every major US sport, hands are an integral part of the game. It is so ingrained in American culture to use hands that American football is less about the foot and more about throwing the football and catching it with the hands. Although it makes sense not to use hands in soccer, the mere fact that the sport doesn’t involve the upper extremities, unless you play goalie, does not make it easy for youngsters to gravitate towards when there are so many other sports available that allow the use of hands. In the United States today, many kids that are less coordinated with their hands end up playing soccer, which in the long run fails to elevate the sport.
8 Lack of Major US Stars
Although there is a youth movement in soccer, the best athletes still play other sports. Speed, quickness and strength are rewarded in other sports with more opportunities to score points and be a recognizable star. Despite making inroads into the United States, there are still very few homegrown U.S. stars. Even the most recognized star in the U.S, Landon Donovan, was just left off the World Cup roster of the American team. Until soccer starts to be played in the inner cities and every public park, it will be hard to draw the best American athletes to the very demanding sport. It is hard to convince youngsters with elite athletic talent that it is okay to play a sport where they will not have as many opportunities to score in each and every game. Until the next Lebron James or Russell Wilson plays soccer, it will remain a second-tier American sport.
7 Too Much Flopping
In the NBA, flopping started to become such an art form that the league now imposes fines on offending players. It is no coincidence that the epidemic in professional basketball happened to coincide with the influx of European players who have played and watched enough soccer to know how to sell the flop to referees. In soccer, it is ingrained in the players and sport, while being acceptable behavior throughout the world. Since it is so difficult to score in the sport, players have become accustomed to use flopping to draw fouls, securing free kicks or even penalty kicks in the hopes of deciding the game. These perceived infractions can be game changers, often happening at critical junctures of almost any particular game. It only puts pressure on referees and makes it hard to officiate any game.
Offsides happens in American football and is an integral part of hockey as well, but having defenders step up from a position of support in order to draw the call is almost unethical in many respects. If players get beat on deep passes in the NFL or fast breaks in the NBA, it is part of the learning process. In soccer, defenders routinely avoid having to actually defend by letting players get behind them to negate their speed. In a sport with so few chances to score, it is aggravating to have all the rules favor the defense and have speed eliminated by offsides calls. In hockey it is understandable that “cherry picking” is not allowed, but in soccer defenders routinely outnumber offensive players. In a country where speed is celebrated, it seems absurd that so many of the world’s fastest players get penalized for trying to utilize their speed.
5 Limited Number of Substitutions
What is so wrong about being able to substitute players? It might actually lead to more offense and more spirited play. How is it that substitutions for injured players have to count against a team when they have to compensate for losing a starting player in the first place. This seems a little too draconian in an era where athletes are getting quicker, faster and stronger. Critics might say that soccer is truly a “man’s sport” by noting how injured players are forced to suck it up and stay in the game, but this is hard to substantiate when so many soccer players flop to the ground on any given challenge for the ball. If the rule is there to discourage players from faking injuries, it certainly hasn’t been working. Soccer players are some of the most conditioned athletes in sports, but allowing more substitutions would only help enhance the play on the field.
4 Lack of Television Timeouts
Fans might appreciate the lack of television timeouts that occur during soccer games, but even U.S. couch potatoes are more than accustomed to these breaks in the action. Television timeouts create more revenue for the sport and keep players from looking like bumper stickers on the back of late model cars. In soccer, uniforms are adorned with gaudy advertising, fields are lined with more of the same, and it is surprising that the fields are still green. In the United States, we are used to more breaks in the action, and in a way these breaks can often help change the tide of a game. Instead, we are forced to watch players get carted off the soccer field on stretchers and stay tuned as players writhe in pain in the hopes of drawing a call. There is no reason these instances shouldn’t be television timeouts for the good of the game and fans.
3 Stoppage Time
Stoppage time is like an Alfred Hitchcock mystery that makes the 45 minute halves completely arbitrary and unclear. Why does it have to be such a mystery how long a half will actually last? In U.S. sports, the clock will stop when injuries, stoppages in play, or timeouts occur. Most Americans can’t understand why the clock keeps running in soccer during obvious stoppages in play. Furthermore, this time seems to be randomly added to the end of each half, coming as a mystery to most uneducated fans. When the clock reaches the 45 or 90 minute mark, most Americans consider that to be the end of a half or the game. It is clean and uniform from game to game and only requires the clock to be stopped during a game instead of adding extra time to the end of the game. Sorry soccer fans, but this only seems to make more sense, accounting for every second of stoppage time, while also eliminating the great mystery at the end of a game.
2 The Tie
Soccer is full of ties, and Americans are much more accustomed to winning and losing. Ties are unacceptable in U.S. culture and even hockey has done its best to eliminate them. Often called, “kissing your sister”, ties are taboo in this country where winning is so much a part of playing each and every sport. In the United States, it is hard to settle for a tie and there is constant pressure to be the best in any situation that involves competition. This is ingrained in the culture, all of which makes a tie so hard to accept. Ties are actually harder to accept than losses and their perceived value is less than suffering a loss. The U.S. is a country where “sore loser” is an all too accepted term, and gracious winner is something that is seldom seen. A tie, however, is an inconclusive outcome to a game.
1 Not Enough Offense
The biggest reason soccer is not such a prominent sport in the United States is simply the lack of scoring. Players run around the field of play struggling to score a single goal in a 45 minute period, let alone a 90 minute game. The United States is home to instant gratification, and scoring one time in 90 minutes of action does not cut it for the all work that has to be put in. In basketball, good players routinely score over 20 points per game. In American football, shutouts are few and far between. In baseball, it might be hard to get a hit, but teams still manage to score runs in every game. Even hockey, with such a small net, has many more opportunities to score. All of the rules in soccer favor the defense, and despite such a large net there isn’t enough scoring to placate the best U.S. athletes and fans that glamorize offense, looking to punctuate good play with meaningful points.
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