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Why do Americans find soccer boring?

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A few years ago while I was playing soccer with some friends in Shanghai, China, one of my friends bragged about his skills by referring to himself as “David Beckham”.  I quickly asked “Who’s that?”  His response to me:  “Spoken like a true American!”  Obviously with all the hoopla surrounding the British soccer star’s recent arrival to play in the U.S., it’s impossible for any sports fan to avoid knowing who Beckham is.  Beckham’s mission to popularize professional soccer in America makes one wonder whether the game has enough appeal to the American sports market to compete with the NFL, MLB, and the NBA.  Those three leagues are clearly head and shoulders above any other US sports organizations.  There is one identifying feature in each of these three sports that makes them the good fit that they are for American sports fans, especially when compared with soccer: scoring.

Who typically gets interviewed by the press after the big football game?  Is it the linebacker who recorded 15 tackles? Rarely.  It’s almost always someone on offense, and I’m not talking about the linemen.  It’s the quarterback or one of the star running backs or receivers.  Whose NBA jersery is sold the most?  You don’t see many people walking around with “Mutombo” on their backs, even when he was younger.  The top scorers are the most popular.  Baseball has a slight exception to the rule.  Pitchers achieve stardom when their defensive accomplishments become the storyline of the game.  Still, there is something more impressive to Americans about Barry Bonds chasing the home run record than Tom Glavine getting his 300th win.  Simply, we Americans love to see scoring.

ESPN has run some commercials lately attemting to convince the American sports public that they already are soccer fans.  The argument is that all the things we love about basketball, football, and baseball – teamwork, intensity, strategy - are also the mainstay of soccer.  I don’t question that soccer has just as much of stuff as any other sport.  The problem facing those marketing soccer in the U.S. is that those defining features of competitive sports are secondary to fans desires to see someone cross teh goal line, or hit clutch shots over and over again, or to rally from a six-run deficit in the ninth inning.

The same dilemma exists with hockey in the U.S.  The majority of sports fans here in American have a sense of disappointment in seeing teams move up and down the field of play time after time coming away empty handed.  We don’t seem to understand how one team can beat another team with a 0-0 score, even when we’re told that an overtime shootout determined the winner, although the goals scored during the shootout somehow don’t count towards the score.  Per our expectations, if the ball goes into the goal, it’s a score – and it should happen at least a few times during the game.

What can the soccer people do to make us like the sport more?  How about making the goals larger?  Maybe they could take away the off-sides penalty so cherry picking could thrive.  Whatever the solution, unless scoring becomes more a part of the game, soccer just won’t compete with the big three.  But hey, at least we know who David Beckham is now.