Soccer is a near-perfect game with a fundamental flaw, and its costing it’s reputation.
I am excited that North America is steadily embracing soccer. The success and expansion of Major League Soccer (19 franchises and growing to 21 next year) proves that there is an appetite for the game. This year’s World Cup has been a viewership Cinderella in Canada and the US, setting record audiences for TV and radio — though, it helps grow the numbers when you provide quality programming. Additionally, soccer is the sport most widely played in Canada, not hockey, so interest should be garnered through grassroots. Clearly, the beautiful game is trending up on this continent.
The sport itself is nearly perfect — all you require is a ball, or something sphere-ish, and enough players to form two teams. Granted, the sport is not everyone’s cup of tea — in fact, many would probably consider tea and soccer as an apples to apples comparison — but you’ll never get 100% acceptance of any sport.
The fundamental flaw is how the sport handles a tie, when a winner must be determined (like in a tournament). In the 1998 and 2002 World Cup, FIFA had the right recipe. Extra Time was “Sudden Death,” meaning that the first goal scored in the bonus period would end the game — a Golden Goal. This is a dramatic and climactic conclusion to game, giving an urgency to the play. If need be, experiment with subtracting 1 player from each side every 15 minutes, to a maximum of 3. If this sounds asinine, remember that at the conclusion of Extra Time, they currently remove all players and just kick the ball at the goal. What seems crazier?
If the game is still tied after a 45 minute Extra Time, let the players rest, and resume next-goal-wins play after the break. Soccer is a team sport. It’s criminal that a tie game, on the world stage, can be decided with Penalty Kicks. What was the whole point of playing the team portion of the match, if we’re just going to have it be goalkeeper vs a shooter?
It completely diminishes the element of a team, and heaps all the pressure on two individuals in the moment. Not to mention that much of the time, the keeper looks completely foolish because the shooter kicks from so close a distance. It’s a guessing game! It’s absolutely ludicrous that a game poised so highly on athleticism, strategy and teamwork is resolved in this fashion.
When you eliminate the notion in a players mind that when the clock runs out, he might get to take an uncontested kick 12 yards from the goalie, it removes distraction. The players on the pitch should be solely focused on getting the next goal, and not worried about whether their keeper is going to get hung out to dry.
Take out the shootout in international competition, and return to a Golden Goal finish, and you’ve just perfected the rules of soccer.