Fans' View

Fans’ View: America and the beautiful game

Watching the World Cup this year, I am reminded of that pointless argument about the popularity of footy here in the States that is such a favorite among the broadcasting sports illiterati: “Will Soccer ever become a major sport here in the US?”

Let’s suspend for a moment arguments of simple fact: Soccer has always been a very popular sport among the immigrant classes.  The U.S. Open Cup is one of the longest running tournament competitions in all of U.S. sports, professional and amateur. The beautiful game has surpassed little league baseball in youth sports popularity. And MLS appears to have passed the survival phase, threatening to become a success thanks largely to millennials and Gen X’s & Y’s who have played the game and who appreciate the execution of proficient skill and attractive tactics when the game is “Just Played Well.”

The bane of broadcast sports jocks

Such facts are irrelevant to hidebound microphone-wielding sports jocks who likely never played the game outside of recess and who lack better things to rant about. They would rather wax rapturous about Abner D’s pastoral pastime – a game whose overlong duration bores by comparison. They grieve that “armored rugby” is being threatened by the realization that it may have become too gladiatorial, with health risks almost as bad as that ancient blood sport. (I sometimes almost feel bad about bleeding Iggles midnight green watching them eviscerate their opponents – almost).

If there is one aspect of the beautiful game that is likely to hold the sport back here among the amber waves, it’s cheating. And cheating is in full display just about every tenth minute or so in this World Cup.

Mention cheating and everyone immediately thinks of diving. Google “Italian soccer flopping practice” for an infamously funny take on the Azzurri prepping for Euro 2004 if you don’t think diving has become a notorious part of the game.

Many ways to cheat

But there is a lot more to cheating than just diving. Take restarts, for example.  A routine foul is called and instead of retreating the required distance, even slowly, an opponent stands in front of the ball to thwart a quick restart. Outside of a blatant sanctionable misconduct, this takes away a promising opportunity for attack.  And wouldn’t we rather see more attacking opportunities, more chances for breakaways and goals?

Then there’s the thuggery going on in the box during every free kick within 40 yards of goal. Half Nelsons, Full Nelsons, bear hugs, shirt-pulling. Do attackers have so much of an advantage in these restarts that defenses have to revert to rugby? Don’t the refs have cards in their pockets?

It seems that every foul of any significance is immediately met with a bicameral filibuster to debate whether a card should be awarded or whether it was a foul at all.  These fruitless debates are meant to unfairly tip the balance of power and to hold up the game, either to regain advantage or let everyone catch a breather. That’s cheating. It’s ugly, it’s against the spirit of the game and it’s out of hand.  It makes footy look more like the WWE, and that’s never a good comparison.

Speaking of comparison…

How much cheating do we see in baseball? It’s pretty hard to do. Oh, there’s the occasional row with the ump or dugout-clearing donnybrook, but that’s about it.  In throwball, there’s holding on nearly every play and interference is used as a tactic. But flags are thrown without convening a congress. Intentional fouls are accepted tactical norms near the end of close basketball games, but the free throw is an appropriate remedy, readily applied.

Current politics notwithstanding, Americans of the U.S. stripe are lovers of “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” In a way, it’s good that no U.S. team is currently participating in these crooked antics in Russia. But we’ve seen too much similar cheating in MLS for years. It’s preventable, it’s sanctionable, and it’s un-American.

Wouldn’t it be nice if American Footy became a beacon of light to the rest of the futbol-loving world? Wouldn’t it be novel if we had really good refs here among the mountains’ majesty who insisted on keeping the game truly fair? Wouldn’t it be great to make a truly Beautiful Game a hallmark of the MLS and USMNT?

Why not Make Soccer Great Again?

(Sorry, had to go for it. Now, back to our regularly scheduled reality. Enjoys the fireworks).



  1. Thanks Matt. As a long time reader of this site I truly appreciate the thought. I would be happy to have better refs in the league! And the thuggery inside the box wouldn’t be so bad if only a few cards and PKs were issued. Thanks for taking time out of the 4th to post. Have a great Holliday! Now….where to find fireworks…

  2. Buccistick says:

    All the more timely because of our nation’s proxy representation in last night’s Colombia v England match. As the man in the middle for so much dispute and dissent, Mark Geiger reminded the global game of America — for better and for worse (far worse, according to Colombia).
    Since Matt’s post inevitably turns to fair play, and to refereeing … to you and the larger PSP community, I ask: if we reverse the lens on this thesis and then examine last night’s 120 minutes plus penalties through the microcosm of US officiating, how does the rest of the world answer Matt’s closing trio of rhetorical questions?

    • Geiger lost control of the match. Pure and simple. Were any of his calls heinous or outrageous? Not really. Did the Colombians play dirty? Sure, and it seemed to increase as the pressure to tie it up increased. They probably had 2 players that should have been shown the door. They should be more upset at their own play than the ref.
      It seems to me that the Latin teams have a propensity for cheating. You name it, they do it, and the amount or frequency depends on the score. I find it hard to support any Latin America team for this reason. I take joy in watching them lose.

    • I think Colombia behaved the way they did in part because they came into that match with no respect for Geiger. I think Geiger did a good job of keeping that game from spinning totally out of control. If he had sent a Colombia player off, which would have been totally fair, the whole narrative afterwards would be that a ref decided the match. Look at Maradona’s bullshit comment about the ref knowing baseball but not football. Colombia got what they deserved for playing an outrageously negative game. They have no one to blame but themselves.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        Exactly. I thought Geiger did fine. And yes it physically hurt to type that.

  3. It’s not in line with FIFA, but it makes too much sense to add another field ref or two. The ratio of refs to players is so far out of whack in soccer, compared to all other sports. No way one ref can see everything from 50 yards away. Or at least give the side judges the power to call fouls and give cards, too.

    • NJUnionFan says:

      I have been saying this for years. A hockey game has two refs and two linemen with 1/3 the area and half the players. How can FIFA justify one person to watch over 22 players at the same time?

  4. IS stepping out of the batters box to adjust your gloves cheating? Why not add another referee to call a strike when that is done? How about flopping during a charge in Basketball. Should we add a flopping referee? What is with all this desire the legislate and control everything? I remember when there was not enough scoring and then ball technology changed. Thugishness ultimately is a losers game and the refs have the power to control that if they choose. All games have gamesmanship, just relax , enjoy the theatre and yell at those stupid refs and players. It would be so dull if it were perfect. Try not to let your cultural biases get in the way.

    • Matt Custer says:

      As someone who did ‘way too many games as a solo center man with volunteer linesmen, I can’t imagine the chaos caused by having more on-field refs. The 2-man HS system is bad enough.
      “Thugishness is a losers game and the refs have the power to control that if they choose.” Yes. But if I wanted to watch gamesmanship and theater I’d join a political party or become a fan of WWE. Perfection isn’t possible, but we can get a lot closer to fairness when skill isn’t penalized by gamesmanship.
      I just hope that the kids watching the WC nonsense don’t think some of that stuff is OK on my field.

    • But see, the “theatre” as you call it, in reference to the diving, biting, kicking, scratching, rolling around on the ground like one has been shot, is not enjoyable to me. How can one claim to “love the beautiful game”, when all they do is try and tarnish it? Neymar disgusts me. Pure and simple. To have so much talent and play like a dirty little F**k, no that has no appeal to me. That’s not drama, that’s being petty. It’s not showing respect to the game or the other teams players. If recognizing that Latin players tend to dwell in the “darker arts” of the sport makes me culturally biased, then oh well. I don’t agree with it, but if that’s your opinion, you can have a penny for it.

      • “They” sure try to tarnish what “They” essentially invented. Keep your money and just enjoy all aspects of the game, if you can. You know, that rolling around was kind of funny.

      • What did they invent? Surely you don’t mean the game invented by Englishmen do you? Or were you talking about the diving and crying? Cause yes they did.

      • Yes, those “jogo bonito” inventors sure are a problem to us purists. We know who the enemy is, Just like in the comic strip.

      • Matt Custer says:

        Respectfully disagree that this is cultural. It is, instead, a matter of entropy. As a fan of the Spartans, Atoms and Uke Nationals, the gamesmanship then was nowhere near the levels we see today. You might have gotten clobbered or had your junk grabbed, but the obstructionism, whining and multiple revolutions after being touched were not accepted practice as they are today.
        And players of all nationalities are now engaging in blatantly unfair theatrics in, albeit some more than others. No, the game is being degraded. I wasn’t always like this

      • We can agree it started with the Latin players can we not? Ask any Englishman, they’ll tell you. Has it spread to the world? Yes it has. The Latin player isn’t singular in this. But they do take it to another level. All you need to do is watch this World Cup, or any for that matter. If people want to ignore what their eyes see so they can believe they are “woke”, that’s on them. Ignoring facts for feelings helps no one. It’s detrimental in fact.

  5. The Truth says:

    Once the baby boomers and their children die off the remaining generations (and so on) will shift their interest and dollars into the world’s most popular sport. I’m a millennial I guess and I have recognize I just have to be patient. I know I’m not going to convert my father, my father-in-law, or even my older coworkers. I don’t need to convert my younger coworkers or younger cousins because the love of the game (or at least the standard apathy/tolerance) already exists. It’s just a waiting game. The NFL will eventually shrink to nothing and the new, demographically shifted America will be chock-full of soccer leagues and love. One day we’ll laugh about how little attention America paid to the world’s most popular sport. I’ll be an old man by that time but I’ll still be laughing.
    edit: And to address the post more directly; I don’t believe the game needs to change to attract more Americans. The game changes slowly and doesn’t need any sort of American-specific alterations. It’s fine just the way it is the majority would agree.

    • Though I agree mostly with the idea that things will change when baby boomers pass, I think you are off base with their children. Being one, and being one of those kids that soccer moms drove around, I think this new wave of fandom started with us. You can’t have soccer moms without soccer kids, and we’ve grown up. I’d bet a good majority of us posters here are children of baby boomers.
      Close, but a bit off.

  6. Matt Custer says:

    Last sentence of my previous post should have been “It (the game) wasn’t always like this.”

  7. Alicat215 says:

    Matt, my pops played some with the Atoms and VE majors during the 60’s and early 70’s. I recall hanging in VE’s club as young player hearing crazy stories of the thuggery that used to go on pretty routine every weekend. That was the same league with the Ukie Nationals, UGH, Phoenix, Philly Inter, Norristown LAM, Kenso Bluebells and Lighthouse, Danubia. No match bans for red cards……the last ten minutes of every match if it was in hand meant the blades were out. Crazy stuff went on during matches back then! Second, to blaming Latin players for the dark arts is ludicrous on many levels. Anyone watch a Classico the last fifteen years? They can spin into chaos pretty quick and I only recall a handful of matches over the last 10-15 years where it hasn’t. Dark arts and no mention of the Italians? Seriously? The first guy to tell me how to punch a dude in the junk if your hemd in was an Irishman when I was 11 or 12. The dark arts have always been part of the beautiful game, it’s called gamesmanship.

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