By Josh Roeloffs
What is holding soccer back from being an elite sport in the United States? It’s the most popular sport in the majority of countries around the world, why hasn’t it caught on in the U.S.?
Well at first glance there are a handful of problems that prevent soccer from reaching a popular climax. There are many reasons that seem prominent in the minds of Americans when it comes to how Soccer is played; these problems include low scoring matches, draws, yellow and red cards, faked injuries, the referee having too much influence on outcome, slow pace, the clock doesn’t stop and lack of stops in action or missing the goals.
The list is almost daunting, but there are some simple tweaks to the rules and culture of the game that would immediately fix these issues. There are a few solutions that help to minimize multiple problems on the list.
First of all, FIFA could lax the off-sides rule. At this point, if any part of your body is ahead of the defender, you are off-sides. If it were to be changed that if any part of your body is behind or in line with the opponent there would be a drastic increase in the pace of play as well as the amount of goals scored throughout a match, not to mention that the more goals that are scored by the players without a referee blowing the whistle is a good thing for the game.
To help the growth of soccer in the United States, FIFA may want to re-evaluate a rule that they have rejected for years: stopping the clock. This is something, that as a fan of soccer in America, I have heard over and over. People say things like, “Soccer is ridiculous! Why would I watch a sport that doesn’t even stop its clock for injuries?” But a problem that would be addressed if FIFA were to implement this rule is the epidemic that is faked injuries. A player will fall to the ground writhing in fake pain just to waste a minute or two in the finals moments of a game; but if the rule is in place, there is no reason for them to do this as the clock will just stop.
An alternative solution for faked injuries would be to force anyone who stays on the ground injured, real or not, to stay out of the game for about 5 minutes to help discourage the action. When it comes to the clock, the opposition to this rule change would argue that the final attacks in extra time of the half and match are important. What if the referee could still let a final attack continue? It would be fine if the referee was the final say on the game ending clocks, but it would be on a shorter leash than it currently is.
Another way to help prevent these late game injuries would be to allow for one or even two more substitutions. It has most definitely been a problem in the past when it comes to the final ten or fifteen minutes, as well as regarding the longevity of players’ seasons and careers. Another benefit of additional substitutions means that the fans as well as the coaches will be able to see a larger variety of players on the pitch. It would also benefit the young players as it would give them opportunities to grow their skills with in-game experience. It could potentially hurry the maturity of superstars, therefore getting them into the match earlier in their career.
There’s a concept that Americans struggle to accept and generally refuse to watch soccer because of it. This concept is a tie. Americans grew up with tournament style, elimination, no ties type of games. When it comes to soccer, a 0-0 draw is possible, and many Americans hate it. Unfortunately, it’s a tough problem for FIFA. FIFA’s only option is to make draws less likely. They have a few options to consider. First of all, there could be a short extra time in regular season matches, decreasing the chance for a draw.
A final reason that the sport has seen slow growth in the United States is the lack of commercial stoppages available for TV providers. With a lack of potential income comes the lack of TV coverage. With the lack of TV coverage comes a lack of attention and fan dedication, which has been a massive problem for the MLS in the United States. Say if FIFA was to rule that there would be a few minute stop at the 20th minute mark as well as say the 65th minute mark, therefore increasing advertisement profit possibly all the way up to 30%! This income could allow for cash to be put back into the sport furthermore increasing coverage specifically in the United States, but potentially around the world. It would also provide the players for a quick break to rehydrate. It could reduce the amount of late game injuries and cramps that are all too common from game to game.
In response to the proposed rule changes, FIFA has a responsibility to make changes to adapt our beloved sport to competition in the 21st century. America is slowly taking interest in soccer, but the U.S. lags way behind when it comes to national interest in comparison to countries around the globe. The adoption of any of these small changes would be a step in the right direction for the sport as a whole, and would eventually lead to an extreme increase in interest in the United States in the years to come.