I'm an American, and honestly, I don't like soccer. I admit, perhaps I just can't appreciate the finer points of the game. Regardless, I do not enjoy watching it, especially on television. I am also not caught up in the nationalization of sport -- the flag waving -- the mindless chants of "USA! USA!" Utter nonsense as far as I'm concerned. The World Cup hype seems much the same as the phony patriotism perpetrated by the Olympics.
The other day, the U.S. "side" at the World Cup tournament was eliminated by Ghana. But it's not just that loss that accounts for the lack of American fan interest. The teams played for more than two hours and only three goals were scored by both teams combined. Low scoring games don't help, but even that alone is not the reason either. Here's why I think Americans don't like soccer -- not enough action. For fans, there's little to no anticipation of a goal during the game. When a goal is scored, it almost always comes quickly and unexpectedly. Frequently, it appears the players are as surprised as we are. Making matters impossibly worse is the blatantly incompetent officiating that disallows some of the rare goals which are scored. Television technology shows the whole world that these goals are good, but they don't count, and the game goes on with even less meaning than it had before, and no justice in its final result.
The four most popular team sports among American fans are: football, baseball, basketball and hockey. The action of each of these games brings the possibility of a score to virtually every moment of play, from the beginning of the contest to its final second.
In MLB Baseball there are between 200-300 pitches in every nine-inning game. Each and every time a pitcher throws the ball to the hitter there is the real possibility of an instant score via a home run, or the beginning of a run scoring rally with a base hit, or a run batted in if men are already on base. Fans hang on every one of those pitches as they account for an average of almost 11 runs per game. That was the average game score way back in 1929. And today, more than 80 years later, nearly the exact same number of runs per game are still being scored in major league games.
In the National Football League, and also in college football, each game has about 125 offensive plays from scrimmage. Like baseball, not every play results in a score, but also like baseball, every play carries the potential for one. And uniquely in football, every play can result in a score for both teams -- either the offense or the defense. Some 42 points are scored in the average pro football game.
The average NBA basketball game has about 90 total team possessions. After subtracting for turnovers, the result is about 80 attempted shots per game. And here, quite literally, every shot can score, even though we all know as many as half will be missed. Why are we intensely fixed on the action of every attempt? The answer is simple. We don't know which half of the 80 shots on basket won't go in. We think they all will be good. And the average NBA game has about 190 points scored. Anticipation rewarded, time after time.
Even the lowest scoring team sport supported by American fans, NHL Hockey, is still packed with potential scoring action. In the season just completed, shots on goal for NHL teams ranged from Chicago's 34.1 to the league low of Minnesota's 27.6. Hardly much difference there between the most and least aggressive teams. In the average NHL game, about 60 shots on goal are taken. So, even the lowest scoring hockey games have many scoring attempts.
American sports fans love action in their team sports. Sure, they love scoring too, but most of all they crave the excitement presented by the chance of a score on every play. Be it the crack of the bat, the snap of the ball, or a shot on basket or goal, every time there's a real chance points will be posted on the scoreboard.
Not true for soccer. If you somehow survived those maddening horns, what sort of action-packed games have been offered by The World Cup competition? You could almost write a History of Western Civilization while watching The World Cup on television, and it could be sold, published and released by the time one of these teams somehow scores a goal. That is if they score one at all.
Take the best of The World Cup teams, the Group winners -- Uruguay, Argentina, United States, Germany, Netherlands, Paraguay, Brazil and Spain. These eight elite "sides" had, according to Match Analysis, an average of 656 touches per-game for each team. How many of these 656 touches per-game do you think turned into a shot on goal, an actual chance to score? An anemic 6.3 in a 90 minute contest. Argentina has been -- by far -- the most aggressive offensive team, taking an average of 9.7 shots on goal per game. Argentina averages 753 touches per-game. So, that means the most aggressive scoring threat in World Cup soccer attempts a shot on goal 1.28% of the time it touches the ball.
I don't know about you, but for me that's not must-see TV. And these are the best teams in the World Cup tournament that shoot at the goal 1% of the time. The least successful teams in the competition -- usually referred to as the worst teams -- Honduras and New Zealand, averaged 469 and 453 touches per-game respectively with a whopping production of only 1 shot on goal per game. Yes, one shot!
Argentina and Portugal lead the 32 World Cup teams in scoring. Each has averaged 2.3 goals per game. Slightly more than a third of the teams -- 11 of 32 -- averaged less than one goal per game. One team, Honduras, played their entire schedule of games without making a single goal. They never got even one ball in the net! Exactly half the teams -- 16 of 32 - allowed less than one goal per game to be scored against them. The "sides" of Portugal and Uruguay are yet to be scored on. They have allowed opposing "sides" an average of 629 touches per-game, but zero goals.
American sports fans just don't want to see a team have possession of the ball 629 times in a game and only get off one or two shots on goal. And not score at all. Boring.
Millions play soccer here in the United States -- mostly children. This has been so for decades. When they grow up, thus far, they have not turned into adult soccer fans. All cultures have differences, even when it comes to sports. Here, unlike other places, we look for sustained action and the ever-present opportunity to put points on the board. Finding neither in soccer, interest in the United States will remain limited to events like the World Cup, with fan interest created by the marketing of false patriotism for a few weeks every four years, designed primarily to sell beer and razor blades.