This goes out to all of the sports fans outside of the U.S. who are constantly dumbfounded by the notion that Americans just don’t like football soccer. Forget all of the fancy nicknames you can come up with in order to glamorize the sport (boxing has “the sweet science,” and nobody’s buying that one either). Many people believe that Americans only crave sports with “high scoring.” That is not necessarily the case. American fans do appreciate a good defensive struggle. E.g.: look at any Pittsburgh Steelers – Baltimore Ravens tilt from the past few years, or the New York Knicks – Miami Heat playoff series from the late 1990’s. There is a fine line between defensive superiority, and offensive ineptitude. Americans will watch the former, but change the channel on the latter. The one big reason we Americans don’t care for soccer which anyone on either side hasn’t mentioned yet is because the U.S. already has a pastime that already embodies most of soccer’s characteristics … we call it “professional wrestling.”
If soccer ever wants to be in the conversation with American sports fans, it must stop acting like sports entertainment, and start acting like a sport. First off, FIFA must embrace instant replay. This is the 21stcentury. Fans care less about “the human element”, and care more about getting the calls right. (Although, I fear that gambling, and the advent of betting online is a major factor in this). Every four years, the World Cup continues to embarrass itself with ridiculously blown calls that would be easily overturned with replay. The likelihood that the number of death threats aimed at the referees would decrease drastically should be incentive enough. I understand that the FIFA governing body is a hopelessly corrupt organization, on par or worse than the IOC. And that the powers of red tape will probably prevent any progressive legislation being passed in regards to replay. That why I blame the major European leagues: like Serie A; the Premiership; the Bundesliga; or Primera Division of La Liga for not being proactive. They have the leverage, and yet somehow refuse to use it. Despite its low popularity, one of the biggest reasons that hockey is still a part of “the Big Four North American sports leagues” is because of their progressive replay system. Every game is watched in their league’s HQ in Toronto. Every time there is a review, an official in Toronto looks at every camera angle in order to make sure the right call is made. Reviews do not usually last long – 2 or 3 minutes tops.
Speaking of officiating, soccer needs to add an additional ref, especially if they do not adopt instant replay. Soccer has the largest playing area, and the least number of officials. I admire the stamina and endurance that they must have, but they can’t see everything. Since wrestling lives on the trope that a ref can be easily distracted within a small area that is the wrestling ring (“squared circle”), you can understand why soccer players always try to get away with cheap shots on their opponent (an elbow here, a tug on the shirt there, or if you’re really crazy, a head-butt.)
And speaking of gamesmanship, I must out the most common gripe Americans have about soccer: the penchant for taking dives left and right, and not particularly doing a good job at selling it either. There is a difference between getting a cramp in your calf muscle, and breaking your leg. I’ve experienced both. Pulling a cramp hurts for a while, but it is not the near-death experience soccer players make it out to be. Just have the trainer loosen up the muscle, drink some Gatorade.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, many wrestling fans today know today about the true nature of the business. They recognize that professional wrestling is entertainment, and not a “sport.” A regular follower will know the entire lingo of the industry; they will use words like “face” and “heel” and “jobber” in their conversations. Fans will go online to discuss and review matches the same way theatre critics analyze Broadway plays and musicals. Sometimes I think they are smarter than soccer fans because wrestling fans would not tolerate watching 90 minutes without any action or excitement.