Stuck up, foreign fans of the world's most popular and ancient sports like to say that Americans do not understand soccer. I played soccer from the time I was 6 years old, through high school, and in various city leagues until 3 years ago when a knee injury effectively ended my soccer career. I also have a good brain for X's and O's, if I do say so myself.
I understand soccer very well, but I must say, I find watching soccer to be no where near as entertaining as watching any other sport. There are many reasons for this, but the biggest is that soccer is simply a poorly constructed game. (Cricket, by the way, is also a poorly constructed game for similar reasons.)
In sports, the ultimate goal is to win, or to amass wins, and the data points that we use to assess winning are called points, or goals, or runs. We'll use points as a generic term for scoring. In baseball, a team's wins will generally correspond well with their "Pythagorean Record," which is a record based on a team's "points scored" v. "points allowed." Pythagorean Record is useful for making predictions, and for giving some insight into when a team is underperforming or overperforming. I've long suspected that Pythagorean Record would not translate to soccer, and now I've found some support that this is the case
. (Note: Pythagorean projections work fairly well in American football, and one of the top two team in PR nearly always wins the Super Bowl.)
The previous link deals with MLS, and I would love to see an EPL comparison, but I suspect that PR would be even worse when applied overseas.
You see, soccer, in general, lacks scoring. The field is too large, there are too many players on it, the goal is too small, and the off-sides rule is asinine. Substitutions are also limited for no good reason. The result is that 0-0 ties are frequent, and most games end with no team having scored more than 2 goals. As scoring becomes more difficult in a sport, luck plays a bigger and bigger role in determining the outcome, and the talent level on the field will show a smaller correlation with scoring, and with winning.
Moreover, the overly punitive "penalty kick" gives referees an enormous amount of power and encourages pandering, a quality that makes international soccer almost impossible to watch. In international play, drawing a foul inside the penalty area is as good as winning the match for your team well over 1/2 of the time. Fouls in soccer are extremely subjective, and almost 90% of calls probably should not be made. This means that of the meager scoring that does occur, a large percentage of that scoring is simply awarded by referees to the best actors.
Europeans like to tell me that I don't understand "the artistry" of the game. Not true. During the last World Cup, Zidane was clearly the best player on the field. (Yes, the head-butt guy
.) His footwork and passing are beyond excellent, and he makes everyone better. That said, France still struggled mightily to make the finals, and used two 1-0 victories to get there, one of which was won on a Zidane penalty kick awarded for one of the many questionable calls of the tournament. Zidane's play, while great, did not manifest itself on the scoreboard, and ultimately France would lose. Between Zidane's nifty but ultimately meaningless moves and his ability to draw crowds, big-time soccer is really more akin to figure skating than anything else. Both favor artistry over objective score keeping, both have experienced officiating scandals at the highest levels, and both tend to overvalue personality vs. talent on a regular basis.
The other sport that most resembles soccer is the fictional Quidditch, of the Harry Potter universe. In this game, the actions of most players are utterly meaningless with regard to the outcome. All that matters are the two star players charged with chasing the "golden snitch." Catching the snitch sometimes requires more luck than skill, and even though there is a lot of other stuff going on, catching the snitch is all that matters.
Soccer is baseball with a 2 foot-high mound and 120 feet between each base. It is American football with no "pass interference" penalty. It is basketball with 25 foot hoops. It could be a great sport, but tradition and entrenched popularity preclude any sweeping reforms.
It's too bad, really. They could have really had something.