Monson: Does 'beautiful game' need lipo, nose job to broaden appeal?
Among many mainstream American sports fans, it's often heard that soccer would be vastly improved, at least for the spectator, by way of major rule changes changes typically meant to increase scoring and satiate the Yankee taste for offense. Or, at a minimum, greatly reduce what is categorically loathsome here: games that end in a tie.
Soccer may be the world's game, but in the United States a lot of fans of other sports say they might be more likely to gravitate toward it if a few alterations were made. They believe the beautiful game could use, if not plastic surgery, a timely makeover.
Some call for the elimination of the offside rule, a change that would represent a visit to the doctor with all his slicing and dicing and lifting and augmenting, alterations that would revolutionize and, in the minds of purists, ruin the sport.
If there were no offside call, teams could plant forwards up front and bomb passes into them from long range, killing possession soccer, erasing the need for building strategies and linking passes, creating more goals, but also a more random, chaotic scenario.
"If you had no offside, you're basically inventing a new sport," says Real Salt Lake general manager Garth Lagerwey.
Rather than transfigure the game in that manner, Lagerwey suggests a slight modification to the offside rule: "A player would not be offside unless an official can see daylight between the attacking player and the defender. It's a subtle tweak, but it eliminates close calls and it would be a big improvement. Give the benefit to the attacker in everything. There's no reason to take away the exciting plays that would create."
Others have suggested awarding two points for a goal scored in live play, and one point for a penalty kick, not unlike a field goal versus a free throw in basketball. This accomplishes two things: 1) it reduces the drastic effect of an erroneous judgment call on the part of an official when awarding a PK, and 2) it could make draws less likely.
"Interesting," says Lagerwey.
Varying other suggestions include dividing the field into zones that would alter the offside rule, allowing free substitutions, creating a backcourt rule that would prohibit teams from taking the ball all the way back to the goalkeeper as a means of stalling the action and playing keep away, changing the assessment and consequences of penalties from present yellow and red cards to sending offenders off the field and into a penalty box for short periods, much like hockey, and the ever-present cry to "make the goal bigger" to increase scoring.
Most of that, though, is neither necessary, nor particularly useful.
Soccer isn't perfect. It could use some changes, but not the revolutionary sort, just evolutionary.
A couple of examples:
The game shouldn't tolerate the flopping and faking of injuries. If fans wanted to see bad acting, they'd watch "Jersey Shore." In fact, this part of soccer is the least tolerable by those in the hardcore American sports tradition. Fans here can't stand that B.S. in part, because they are brought up playing sports in which toughness is highly valued. Rolling around on the ground, writhing in fake pain, wasting time is pathetic to Americans.
"We hate that crap," says Lagerwey, a Chicagoan who grew up rooting for the Bears. He rightly believes penalties should be harsh for soccer players who want to be thespians.
I say give them a red card, and boot their sorry derrieres off the field. The wasting of time often is done on purpose by players on the team that is ahead because those players don't think the ref will add as much time back on the clock as they're whiling away. For that reason, it would be helpful to make the added time known at the time it is wasted, or to stop the clock.
Video reviews should be used not only to check on faking players, but also to make certain controversial plays, such as whether a ball crosses into the goal, are correctly called. Still, even such small changes are difficult to get enacted.
FIFA not only craves its own tradition and moves at a glacial pace, it also rules the game with a hammer, having the power to disqualify any country not playing by its rules from international competitions.
Outfits like Major League Soccer, then, are stuck.
"The larger goal for soccer in this country is to win the World Cup," Lagerwey says. "If we make major rule changes, how does that help us win the World Cup?"
Winning more on the world level might generate respect at FIFA and hence a bigger ear toward and louder voice from American soccer officials as they conjure ideas.
In the meantime, if creating scenarios that would lead to more scoring and, thereby, more interest among mainstream sports fans here isn't the answer, then, what is?
On the whole, Lagerwey says, letting it be.
On the whole, he's right.
Winning and letting it be.
"Not everyone is going to love soccer," he says. "And that's OK. The progress of the game is inevitable, based on demographic patterns and kids' exposure to the game. But it's not for everyone. I wouldn't want major changes that might be attractive to some Americans, but that would alienate the rest of the world."
Except for that flopping-and-faking thing. That's got to go.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 104.7 FM/1280 AM The Zone. He's at email@example.com.