I suppose I need to disclose in the beginning that this post is being written in the immediate wake of the United States’s loss to Ghana in the 2010 World Cup.  This posting is fueled by frustration and disappointment.  That definitely was a tough loss to swallow.

While I would not classify myself as a dedicated fan of soccer, I do consider myself more than a casual fan.  My interest in soccer developed a few years ago after watching several European games.  Any person who watches either the Champions League or the elite European matches (i.e., Premiere League) can see soccer played at its highest level (yes, even higher than the World Cup, where most players leave club teams to go play for national teams with less talent and inferior coaching).  I also had the luxury of attending an Arsenal game during my first trip to London with my Dad and Grandfather in 2002.  I feel that I have an appreciation for the game.  The lead-up to the World Cup has also showcased the accessibility to the sport for so many in the world.  The sport can be played by the poorest, least educated people in the world because all you need is a round object.  I think that is awesome! If you have not already seen it, I recommend watching ESPN’s piece about the political prisoners in South Africa who organized a soccer league and then, after their release, translated the growth and development of the league to the formation of new governance for the country.

Nevertheless, I would like to share three observations about the weaknesses of game of soccer.  Or, put another way, three things I think need to change if the sport is ever going to interest the casual American fan on a regular basis.  The three observations are that the sport needs more than one referee, teams should be penalized for late “injuries,” and instant replay needs to be utilized.

(1) Multiple referees: It is just wrong that there is only one referee to control the entire field of play.  Tennis, which is played on a court that is 78 feet by 27 feet, has one head Chair Umpire and between one to nine line judges to assist the head referee!!!  How does a sport expect one referee to cover one of the biggest fields in all of sports?  It’s asking a lot for a single judge to catch all the diving, contact, and illegal play that occurs between 22 players on the pitch.  Americans are used to watching games that are observed from multiple angles and well-regulated (even if imperfectly [see my prior posting on the perfect game that wasn’t]).

(2) Faking injuries: This is was simply infuriating during the end of the USA-Ghana match.  My anger is at the system, not Ghana’s team.  If a team is winning, I do not fault them for using every tactic permitted by the game to try to win the match.  I appreciate in football when a team runs down the playclock and keeps the ball on the ground, in basketball when a team fouls to slow down the game and disrupt the other team’s flow, or back-passing and icing in hockey.  My frustration here is with the fact that faking injuries, whether prohibited or not by the rules, is clearly permitted!  One player had to be carried off the field due to an injury inflicted on him by no one – not even himself!  The referee threatened no one, punished no one, and only added three minutes of stoppage.  That is outrageous and unparalled in American sports.  In the NFL, if a player is injured during the final two minutes of the game and requires attention from the medical staff, then his team is penalized with a forced timeout.  If the team does not have anymore time outs, then they receive a yardage penalty.  In soccer — nothing!  That garbage went unchallenged!  A finish like today’s game had to erode at least some of the gains made by soccer over the past year.  How do you justify the time wasted at the end of this game?  Unacceptable.  At the very least, if they are not going to penalize players or teams for wasting time, then stop the clock!  That’s far more reliable then the sole referee keeping a secret tab on what is and isn’t “addable” time.  Or award a free kick to the other team at the place of the injury.  That’s fair because if the act that caused the injury was intentional or harsh, the referee can overrule the free kick and award a yellow/red card.

(3) Instant replay: Disallowed goal in the Slovenia game — need I say more?  Football, baseball, tennis, Ice hockey, NASCAR, and even horse-racing use at least limited instant replay.  In a sport with one single referee is making all of the non-offsides calls, institute instant replay.  What on Earth could be the defense against getting the call right?  It’d slow the game down?  Clearly that’s not a concern!!

Hopefully soccer will catch on in the United States.  It can be very entertaining and, out of national pride, I would love to see the United States contend for a World Cup in my lifetime.  Without changes to modernize certain aspects of the game, however, I fail to see how it will ever rival American football, basketball, or baseball.