The 2010 FIFA World Cup is winding down. We are down to the “final four” (now final three) that will decide who the World Champion will be. The four teams left are Spain, Uruguay, Germany, and the Netherlands.
I, like many Americans, only took a partial interest in the World Cup in the past, and mostly followed the United States team and games.
I took a different approach this year though. I decided to watch as many games as I could. I wanted to see why they loved the sport so much compared to those in the United States. As I watched more games, I started to get into the sport more. It went from "oh this is boring" to being on the edge of my seat on every single match.
After watching about 15 matches of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, I can now see why the sport does not appeal to Americans so easily.
The most popular sports in America are generally ones where there is an abundance of scoring, with very strong individual stars that can make or break a team. Football, basketball, and even baseball to a lesser extent have enough scoring where there is constant action.
You do not have to think about it to be entertained.
The individual star power in popular American sports is strong. The expectations are easily defined in those sports.
If Peyton Manning has a great game, it is easy to claim him the hero. If he throws four interceptions, it is very easy to coin him as the goat.
The expectations heaped on the best players in American sports are tremendous. Most of the time, if they do not play well their team does not win.
Soccer is a bit different.
I only knew of one top level international soccer player before the World Cup. Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo. That was only because of the many women I run into that want to mother his children.
I knew who most of the players on the United States team were. However, most of them are not considered big time “stars” on the international level.
As I watched, I started to learn players like Wayne Rooney, Kaka, and Lionel Messi just to name a few.
The funny thing is all of those players I named did not score a goal in the World Cup. Yet all of their teams made it to the elimination round.
Soccer is one of those sports where your best player does not score every single game. However, there are things that player does on the field that set up scoring chances for other people. This is very similar to dominant wide receivers in football drawing a double team, or someone being pitched around in baseball to get to a weaker batter.
The part that I believe is frustrating for most Americans is it is nearly impossible for a star player in soccer to win the game on his own.
Kaka is not going to get the ball from his goalie, dribble it down field past 10 defenders, and kick it into the goal. It just isn’t going to happen.
Americans are used to the star athletes being able to take matters into their own hands if the rest of the schmucks around them are not showing up to play. This is very difficult to do in soccer. There needs to be a lot of pieces around players in order to be successful.
If Ronaldo was stuck on a team of stiffs, that team would be horrible. There is no way he could score enough goals by himself to make the team competitive.
In basketball, LeBron James on a team with a bunch of scrubs would actually be competitive, at least some of the time.
I am by no means an expert on soccer.
However, after sitting down and giving the game a chance, I started to pick up on the little nuances of the game.
Look at how ESPN marketed the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It was the same as we do with our sports. They put the biggest stars in the commercials; when those players did not do much, the commercials seemed off.
Germany, Netherlands, and Uruguay did not have one single player in any of those commercials. Those teams are in the final four.
Americans will fall out of love with soccer once the World Cup ends.
I, however, gained a new appreciation for the sport. The excitement lies in the lack of scoring rather than the abundance of scoring we are all used to.
When I found myself jumping at the shots on goal that almost went in, I realized why 1.8 billion people around the world love the sport.