There are legions of soccer haters in America, including some on this site. As I’ve said in the past, there’s nothing wrong with this. Many soccer haters know the game as well as I do and still can’t stand it. Others don’t know the game at all and hate it, which is illogical. Either way, the haters have their reasons and who am I to try and convince them otherwise?
I hate to be the bearer of bad news for the haters, but the World Cup has actually generated some interest in soccer. The ESPN broadcast of the U.S.-Ghana match drew a 7 share overnight, or 8 million viewers. By contrast, a usual broadcast of Monday Night Football draws an 8.6 share, or 9.3 million viewers. Somebody out there in America likes soccer and loves the World Cup.
But it is my belief that a few rule changes would go a long way to getting even more Americans interested in the game. Hopefully, these suggestions wouldn’t alter the character of the game, but simply make it more accessible to American audiences.
1. Injury, or “stoppage” time
The timekeeping problem in soccer is incomprehensible. Are the officials too stupid to keep accurate time? Why not stop the clock for an injury instead of adding on an indeterminate amount of time at the end of the half? (They’re rarely close to being right.) Why can’t they stop the clock after a goal is scored, or when there are long periods of time wasted on arguments with the officials? They rarely stop the clock, except in the case of very serious injuries.
There is nothing exact about timekeeping in a soccer match which is ridiculous in the 21st century. Either keep time or don’t. Add an official timekeeper as they have in football, basketball, and hockey. The ref can control when the clock is stopped and when it starts again. None of this nonsensical, subjective, inaccurate guessing about how much time was lost during a half.
No injury time. No stoppage time. Just 90 minutes of action. Isn’t that what they’re after in the first place?
2. A lack of precision on ball placement and out of bounds plays
How often do you see a foul called and, instead of the player placing the ball exactly where the foul occurred, he advances it 5 or 10 yards and puts it in play? Or you may have noticed when a ball goes out of bounds, the throw-in might eventually occur far from where the ball left the field of play.
The referee will occasionally blow his whistle and force the player to move the free kick back, or motion the player throwing the ball in to play to move closer to where the ball went out of bounds. But there’s no precision, no exactitude. (On throw-ins, I’ve seen players dance 20 yards down the sideline before putting the ball in play.)
It offends the American soul to see this demonstration of inexactness. It’s vaguely unfair. We’re used to games where precision makes a difference between victory and defeat. It can in soccer too.
I understand the attraction in not requiring the referee to handle the ball before putting it in play. It keeps the flow of the game going and maintains an advantage for an attacking team if they can quickly put the ball in play. But there are plenty of times when this rule is abused. Penalizing a team for abusing the practice by awarding a free kick to the opposing team should get players to be more exact in ball placement and out of bounds throw-ins.