In the midst of World Cup “Futbol Frenzy,” it’s as good a time as any to analyze the reasons for Americans’ transient interest in this sport that inspires fan devotion around the globe.
No. 1: Flopping. I refer collectively to all the behaviors following nearly any and every contact between players. These moments are universally accompanied by theatrical and melodramatic reactions; every kicked ankle, bumped head, bruised thigh and stomped foot is elevated to the criminally offensive.
Such is the degree of agonizing pathos with which they roll about on the pitch ... only to be up and sprinting like a gazelle down the field moments later. It reaches the status of a Roadrunner cartoon, in which characters return good as new after being flattened to the width of a nickel and exploded into small bits.
There’s more drama involved in these futbol displays than in high school junior varsity cheerleading squads. Fans who aren’t drunk out of their gourds can only wonder — are we supposed to take this seriously?
Further, let’s look at soccer in the context of soccer nations and cultures: A great many of those countries that embrace futbol as their national sport and pastime also embrace a culture of machismo.
Standing in extreme and inexplicable contrast to that pervading climate are players who routinely roll their eyes, shape their hairdos into fancy designs, pout indignantly at every call, and preen for cameras in ways that our celebutantes can only envy.
In the end, however, it is the effect these histrionics have on the flow of the game that turns most Americans off. Such constant delays bring the game to a halt so we can watch as the victimized player has his time on stage to make sure everyone empathizes with his pain and violation. Solution: Take commercial breaks during these artful soliloquies.
No. 2: Scoring. The fact that soccer is low scoring isn’t news, but the real issue isn’t about the lack of goals and opportunities to celebrate and gloat; it’s about the consequence of that fact: Fewer goals mean fewer comebacks, which means more games decided well before they’re over.
Given such infrequent chances to score and the time it takes to move the ball down field for a scoring chance, fans intuitively know that there’s little reason to hold out hope for a comeback win. As opposed to hockey, for example, in which a team can transition from defense down the ice for a scoring chance literally in a few seconds.
Americans love sports precisely for their unpredictability and comebacks. That’s what creates all the drama — the possibility, however remote, of a comeback, whether you hope it’s for your team or refused the other. We root for underdogs for that very reason. When comebacks are mathematically unlikely, where’s the suspense and drama?
No. 3: Stoppage time. Perhaps the least likely culprit for the U.S. fan’s resistance is the practice of adding “stoppage time” to the end of the game. However accurately it might be calculated, it appears fairly arbitrary to fans, and that’s what matters.
It seems as if it could be used to favor one team or the other either by granting more time to score or less time to hold on to a lead. Most importantly, it means the game has no predetermined length, as our other major sports do.
Yes, other sports have time-outs for TV commercials and others at the coach’s discretion, sometimes far too many time-outs in fact, but they do not impact the end time. American fans dislike uncertainty in their sports, and stoppage time is the very definition of uncertainty, and at the most critical point in the game. It leaves a bad taste.
No. 4: The American “character.” Call it arrogance and superiority, or dress it up in nobler phrasing such as “independent and revolutionary spirit” — referencing, of course, our revolutionary heritage.
In either case, it’s an attitude of contention and contrariness that bridles at being the same as others. If practically the entire world favors something — in this case futbol — than we darn well better not.
This attitude is pervasive throughout American culture and self-image: right or wrong, we see ourselves not as a “member” of the United Nations, but as its leader and conscience.
If anything, the fact that the rest of world loves soccer/futbol alienates us further. As a result, it’s no wonder that we see its flaws more readily than we see its virtues.
Mike Filce is a South Lake Tahoe resident.
“There’s more drama involved in these futbol displays (of flopping) than in high school junior varsity cheerleading squads. Fans who aren’t drunk out of their gourds can only wonder — are we supposed to take this seriously?”