I caught a tweet from the good people at MLS UK, who linked an article by Denver sports columnist Mark Knudson. The article made hay on twitter and the comments on the article itself were so confrontational and borderline hateful, that I came away confused.
All I know of Mark is the article itself and that he used to play Baseball. The title of the article was "How to Attract Americans to Soccer." Let's first take a moment to realize that this non-soccer fan is actually trying to get more people to watch soccer in America. Compared to many in the fringes of the soccer world this is already a positive step. He acknowledges the growth of the game in the US and the fact that the other main sports in the US will never reach the heights that soccer hits globally.
Then he starts into a list of ways he thinks the game can be improved for American audiences without making it so different so as to alienate the viewers from outside the US. That right there is a worthy goal. MLS's predecessor, the NASL, was in a similar mindset when it first started. They messed with which direction the clock ran and had run up penalty tiebreakers. They focused on getting people at east interested in the game by trying to make it more familier. in a sense you can't fault them for trying. At the time most people simply weren't aware of soccer. It's a reaction to American soccer that has been seen by outsiders for decades. Knudson is just the most recent person to take a crack at it.
His first suggestion is actually the one that seems the most reasonable to soccer fans. "get rid of stoppage time." He argues that Referees being timekeepers is outdated and every team has felt the sting of a ref who gives too much or too little time. Now think of it from a soccer fan's perspective. The ref can focus his effort at the end of the game on the game itself vs clock watching. Any time wasting during the game is now easier to punish in that you can't add time later. And the game clock is visible to the players, making the end of the game possibly more exciting. It has the added benefit of making total sense to American sports fans.
His second point is one we hear all to often "Eliminate all ties." Personally I'm not a fan of tiebreakers and I think this one will never make it in soccer but he's not wrong in that it would increase viewers in America. If they knew that with each game there was a winner and loser, they would be more inclined to watch. He also wants to "add a shot clock" which is certainly the worst idea of the bunch. He means well in trying to get people to shoot more often but simply shooting does not make a game better.
His last suggestion is something we're already doing in America but he seems to not be fully aware. "Penalize Diving/Flopping" No soccer fan, American or otherwise is a fan of simulation. we wish it could be dealt with and he has his own rule to add. "If you get medical attention, you go off the field for 15 minutes." Of course 15 sounds harsh but imagine a 5 minute penalty for simulation? Suddenly we're talking power plays in soccer and I don't think I hate the idea.
So really his ideas are expected and in some ways a little insightful (albeit flawed). And he seems to be genuine about wanting to make soccer better for American sports fans. Yet the comments are 6 shades of anger and frustration from current American Soccer fans. Basically calling him stupid and his article the worst thing ever written. It's unhelpful and likely to shade the writer's view of soccer further. Why do we do this to ourselves?
Why couldn't we say, Hey I hear you on this, but here's the reason we like this. I like stoppage time because the Ref should always be the 3rd party. I like that the could seem to be for or against your team. Losing the game can be softened if you think the ref screwed you, as crazy as it sounds. We all hate flopping but until the refs are more acute at picking out the fakers we'd rather not punish people for getting hurt. Sometimes two teams are just even and a tie is reasonable. Forcing people to shoot removes the flow from the game. Soccer has a lot of nuance and flow compared to a game like Basketball or Baseball. To compare, imagine forcing football teams to go for the endzone in their first four downs with the ball. You lose the buildup and force poor scoring chances. Mark, thanks for taking some time to think on making soccer work for Americans. Soccer fans, maybe think about better ways to react to a fan who is giving soccer a shot. A beer is a good start.