(Or “Why Soccer Really Doesn’t Matter To Americans”)

Having been exposed to Shaun Toback’s borderline-hilarious Bleacher Report article on “Why Soccer Will Never Matter in the US” by the good people at The Football Ramble and Zonal Marking, Thierry Ennui felt prompted to retort. There are some truly baffling arguments to be found, and Thierry likes to poke fun at ignorance nearly as much as he likes referring to himself in the third person, so from the top…

 1. Soccer’s Great Moments Are Fleeting

Toback announces this as if every American sport is a non-stop roller-coaster ride of action. American Foootball features men in  Power Armour standing around for minutes at a time in something apparently called a “Timeout”, which can happen as often as twelve times in an hour. Baseball is a sport so perplexingly dull that they have to orchestrate chants during games to stop people slipping into comas, or else bombard you with music and confusing stats via scoreboard to maintain your attention between pitches. Nothing shrieks sporting excitement quite like maths!

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But that’s not the only problem with this argument. Guess what, Shaun, life’s great moments are fleeting. Remember that moment in your bedroom, looking down in rapture upon the magnificence of that girl’s gravity-defying breasts for the first time, in the half-light of morning. That was a “moment of transcendent greatness”. Does that mean that we should dismiss all else before that moment, and after, as “nothingness”, as you do with the preceding 122 minutes of football that included at least 3 goals besides? Cheer up, buddy! My surname may be Ennui, but you are in serious need of some Prozac. Or perhaps it’s Ritalin, I know you guys are crazy for that stuff over there: it’s that whole MTV-generation attention-span thing. Two hours require too much focus? I notice that you don’t even mention the penalty shoot-out that followed the goal in question. Did you flick channels and get distracted by Jersey Shore?

2. Soccer Is a Finesse Sport and Americans Don’t Care About Finesse Sports

Wow, Shaun, way to generalise your entire nation. Well, if you’re “going there”, I would suggest that y’all don’t care much for “finesse”, period. If we look at the comparative speeches on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, that argument seems to hold some water:

Leiutenant Tim Collins of the British Army’s 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish, said:

“Iraq is steeped in history. It is the site of the Garden of Eden, of the Great Flood — and the birthplace of Abraham. Tread lightly there.”

Vice-Admiral Timothy Keating, Commander of the US Fifth Fleet, meanwhile opted for:

 “Make no mistake, when the President says `Go’, look out, it’s hammer time.  OK, it is hammer time”.

Touchingly understated. This really resonates with your observation that “Not only do most soccer plays appear to be incredibly ordinary, they are spectacularly nonviolent and nonexplosive. They are therefore, unimpressive. In the U.S., we have football—a violent, primal game that moves in super-fast, super-athletic bursts.” You’re right, subtlety is so boring. Why read a book when you can watch Two and a Half Men? Why go to the park and fly a kite, when you can just pop some pills? This whole line of thought is starting to bore me, I need some coffee…

3. The Field Is Too Big

Wow, Shaun, you are really all over the place on this one. First of all you say red cards are “nonsensical”. Then you suggest that if a team can still win while a man down, then the sport is “in need of immediate remedy”. Well, which is it? Does punishing a team by reducing their numbers make no sense at all, or does it make sense because you feel that 10 men are disadvantaged, and that them winning was against the odds? Perhaps you would prefer it if the team to be punished just lost? Or maybe we could blow them up? That would be violent and primal! Nothing says “super-fast bursts” like a localised explosion!

Not pictured: chunks of Cristiano Ronaldo.

No, your suggestion is “shrinking the field”, because you somehow reason that covering less distance is more difficult for 10 men. The consequences would then apparently be so severe that “the rules regarding red cards would likely have to be changed”. So your solution to the apparent inefficiency of red cards is to change the pitch so that we have to change the rules of red cards? Take some Adderall and think that one through, there might be at least one completely unnecessary step in there somewhere?

But you have your heart set on this smaller pitch thing anyway: “Shrinking the field would also increase scoring, and therefore viewer interest.” Yes, that’s what we need, big numbers. When I want “gripping entertainment” I never before thought to go looking for a one-sided, high-scoring walk-over. You know what else might help? Different methods of scoring? Let “football” players use their hands? Maybe strap on some plate-mail and a crash helmet, and then make the contestants smash their skulls together? I think we’re on to something here…

4. ESPN Doesn’t Care About Soccer

This may be your only actual point, but it is still peppered with specious reasoning. The 2011 Women’s World Cup Semi-Final is not “a great moment for even casual soccer fans”, the most ardent of “soccer” fans hardly knew that the tournament was even on. A cursory glance at the BBC Sport’s football section today reveals banner headlines like “Man City agree to sale of Tevez” and “Villa set to complete Given deal”. Scroll down to the foot of the page, and you’ll find (tucked below “Non-League Football”, “Irish Football” and “Welsh Football”): “Women’s Football: Japan win World Cup on penalties“. The Women’s World Cup Final barely registers in the interest stakes of the British media, appearing lower on the page than the sensational “Plymouth striker Rory Patterson joins Linfield on loan“.

Right or wrong, women’s football is not anywhere near as popular as the men’s game, and yet it still attracted more viewers than the population of Los Angeles. As for the men’s game, the latest World Cup displayed the burgeoning Stateside interest in the beautiful game. It may take a while, but “soccer” will break America. It is already hugely popular in Latin America, and a significant proportion of Spanish-speaking Americans are from where?

5. Excessive Flopping and Terrible Refs

“Ahhhhh, good old excessive flopping…the go-to argument for why soccer sucks.” Well, Shaun, I could nearly agree with you here, if you hadn’t already went public with your thirst for genuine ultra-violence. “Diving” (as it is actually known) can be a bit of a pain at times, sure, but one can hardly imply that most match officials are “fishily” corrupt and that they steal the limelight from the players. Perhaps it’s your admitted status as a “soccer hater” (and perversely, a “casual fan”) that leads to your assertion that “soccer matches (and, in fact, entire tournaments) [are] routinely decided by which team got more red cards, or suffered crucial bad calls and missed plays at key moments”. Come on, Sean, you admit that the same thing happens in basketball, which you follow with a more studied (and presumably less stereotypical) eye, and it doesn’t mean that the sport is bankrupt as an entertainment spectacle. Indeed, your statement that “bad calls” can “completely decide the outcome” puts me in mind of the hilarious satirical sports report where the determinism resulting from a coin-toss sparks an existential crisis in a whole “football” team.

6. The Mystery of Extra Minutes and Other Vague Soccer Rules

Oh dear, Shaun, here you further advertise your ignorance of the sport, trumpeting your lack of knowledge as a fact of the game’s stupidity and arbitrariness. I’m sure there are plenty of Americans who actually do understand offside calls and Injury Time (as we like to call it, rather than your mysterious interpretation of “Extra Minutes”). It’s a good thing we haven’t taken your ideas on board, because the explosive violence you crave in sport would make the game even longer, and we’ve already seen how little your ADHD attention span can bear a long game.

7. Americans Suck at Soccer

Ah, now we get to the crux of the problem: you don’t like losing! Apart from character assassinations on your finest footballers, you dress this argument up as a vicious cycle, where soccer’s lesser stature equals less pay, equals less interest; but you are really highlighting the fact that on a global scale, you only play team sports where you compete against other Americans (or Canadians, which my Australian friend calls “Shit Americans”). We all have a great laugh over the pond at your “‘World’ Series” Baseball, and the brass cojones it takes to claim the word “football” from the rest of the world for a sport which primarily involves the use of the hands. But the most interesting facts are the total omission of defeats in the World Cups. You mention the “transcendental greatness” of the Women’s Semi-Final equaliser. Yet there is no mention of the Final, where America went down to Japan on penalties (which are likely another one of those “vague soccer rules” that you speak of). If you didn’t have time to mention it when going to press, you also neglect to mention the World Cup 2010 Second Round elimination of your men’s team by Ghana, 2-1. You give television ratings for the three group games, but omit mention of the loss to the Black Stars completely. That’s it then, in a nutshell: “bad losers”. Explains why an article on soccer “sucking” came out on the day that the Japanese captain inadvertently stole an American national idiom:

“We’re so happy about the title, now we’re number one,” said Japan captain Homare Sawa, who won the Golden Boot for top scorer in the tournament.

To Thierry Ennui’s mind, our American cousins probably don’t feel that “We’re Number Two!” has a very satisfying ring to it.

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