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Complete archive of Robert Wagman's It Seems to Me.

It Seems To Me . . .

Soccer bashers should keep their opinions to themselves.

By Robert Wagman
Special to SoccerTimes

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Thursday, October 15, 1998) -- Iíve about had it. First let me say, I enjoy both college and professional football, college basketball (professional less so), and used to be a professional hockey fanatic until it became a game of dump and chase, grab and hold. I grew up playing football, blew out a knee in high school so I could not play in college, and ended up at Saint Louis University on a golf scholarship.

This was in the era of SLUís national soccer championships every year, and I fell in love with the sport. For the past 35 years I have watched soccer all over the world, and I have written about it for the past 25. Now, I have grown tired of these ignorant attacks on soccer you see in much of the sports media, and surprisingly from people who claim to be soccer fans.

A case in point. I watched on television with a group of (Washington) D.C. United fans as the Miami Fusion were eliminated from the playoffs by United in a shootout. By the end of regulation in the tension filled match, most of those watching were too spent even to talk. Forgetting for the moment the fairness of shootouts, by the time United won, some of those present could barely get to their feet.

Yet the next morning sports fans in South Florida were greeted with an opinion column in one of its major daily newspapers that ranks among the most profoundly ignorant I have seen recently. The columnist ripped the match as being impossibly boring with the only interesting moment the shootout. He then went on to say that soccer will never amount to much in this country until the rules are changed to increase scoring. Finally, he drifted into a little racism by alleging that the Fusion will never draw a decent sized crowd playing in Fort Lauderdale. They must move to the Orange Bowl, he offered, to be nearer their fan base. (Translation: only Hispanics can be expected to watch soccer).

This is the kind of stuff you read constantly in the sports pages, or hear on sports call-in shows on radio, or get from the TV anchors of the nightly sports wrap-up shows, either network or on the late news. Why is it you hear a commentator wax eloquently about a 12 inning 1-0 baseball game that lasted close to four hours, and then castigate a 1-0 soccer match that had up and down action and lasted two hours?

I have a theory. This is all a carry over from their high school days. In high school, football was played by the BIG STUDS. Soccer, if played at all, was played by the little wimps. Most of these writers and commentators never actually competed, heck, most would have trouble bench pressing their dinner plates, but they were all BIG STUD wannabes. So they happily denigrated soccer and continue to do so. To them soccerís popularity around the world makes it vaguely un-American. Real Americans are baseball fans, or football fans, but certainly not soccer fans. And they will share this opinion loudly and often.

What you hear most often, especially at this time of year, is how low scoring soccer is compared to a real American sport like NFL-style football. Well, letís try a little experiment. Letís change the way both football and soccer are scored, and see how they match up. First, football. Letís eliminate the field goal, since kicking is, after all, a soccer skill. Ditto for the extra point, which is automatic anyhow. Then for each touchdown, weíll give just one point, just like a soccer goal. (Yes, I know, this is slightly off, because without field goals teams would try to score touchdowns and there would be a slight increase in the number scored each week.)

Now letís compare last weekís NFL scores, with the scores from the last two regular weeks of the MLS season. You get: 4-2, 5-0, 1-0, 3-0, 3-1, 1-0, 2-1, 1-0, 3-2, 4-3, 3-1, 1-0, 3-1, 2-0, 3-2, 1-0 versus 4-2, 3-2, 3-1, 3-2, 0-0, 2-0, 2-1, 2-1, 1-0, 4-0, 3-1, 4-3. OK, which is MLS and which is the NFL?

Actually the first set of scores is for MLS and the second set for the NFL. And, by the way, last week was the highest scoring weekend in the NFL in the past two seasons. But you see my point. It is not so much that football is that much higher scoring than soccer, itís more that football has an artificially inflated scoring system. How exciting really, is a 12-9 NFL game where the two teams kick seven field goals?

We could just do the same thing for soccer. Arbitrarily, weíll award seven points for every goal scored. 28-14, 35-0, 7-0, 21-0, 21-7, 7-0, 14-7, 7-0, 21-14, 28-21, 21-7, 7-0, 21-7, 14-0, 21-14, 7-0. Now is everybody happy, soccer is as high scoring as the National Football League.

What dismays me even more than the anti-soccer commentary are some of the e-mails I get. Most start by saying "ĎI am a life long soccer fan . . . " and then immediately move on to "of course, for soccer to ever be popular the rules have to be changed . . . " The suggestions usually include some combination of enlarging the size of the goal, eliminating offside, not allowing the goalie to handle the ball outside the six yard goal area, not allowing a wall in front of free kicks, moving the corner kick in closer to the goal, etc.

I have a better idea. Want to increase scoring: blindfold the goalie. Then not only will you start having 25-24 matches, but you would have the fun of seeing the goalie knock himself senseless on the posts several times a match ("Watch out Tony . . . " Bonk!). Soccer could start drawing the wrestling crowd.

So, I say, letís make a deal. Hate soccer if you want, but keep it to yourself. If you lay off soccer, I wonít tell you how numbingly boring I find baseball, nor how unathletic I find watching a rookie quarterback dropping a snap from center and having some 400 pound defensive lineman stagger up and fall on the ball for a touchdown, nor will I wonder how it can be that a team in the NBA calls a "20-second" timeout and television is able to go to two one-minute commercials, several promos for upcoming shows and still come back with enough time for the analysts to tell us in some detail what both teams should do next.

Bob Wagman wrote a nationally syndicated political column for Scripps-Howard for many years. At the same time he has covered soccer in North America for British and South African newspapers since the days of the North American Soccer League. His "Football In America" column now appears regularly in British newspapers. He can be e-mailed at MobileWag@aol.com.

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