Every neighborhood pub had been turned into a mini-embassy for various nations and EVERY television was turned to the World Cup. Now this wasn't a big game they were getting ready for; it was France versus Korea for cryin' out loud. Still the pubs were crowded and America's pastime was nowhere to be found.
So I ended up at the ESPN Zone, but there was no cheering for the Yankees or the Mets… but when France scored… ooo-la-la!
It gave me just a hint of the passion these other countries have for the game of futbol and this event that captures all of their attention every four years.
I Still Don't Get It
While the experience increased my first hand awareness of the interest the World Cup for those of other nationalities, it still didn't win me over. Soccer is still a game that is plagued by incompetent often criminal officiating. Soccer is still a game plagued by few if any true scoring opportunities. And Soccer is still a game which fails to make effective use our most effective body parts. (The hands, wise guy!)
There were 48 games played in the round robin/group play portion of the World Cup. In those 48 games 24 teams lost via shutout. That's half the games in which the losing team didn't score. But that's not all. Five other games ended in scoreless ties. So in the first 48 games there were 34 instances of a team not scoring. Not in 90 minutes of play, plus overtimes!
In those first 48 games you want to guess how many times the losing team scored more than once? It happened twice.
As I write this, five games in the "round of 16" have been completed and four were shutouts. A sixth just went to halftime scoreless. Even the one game in which both teams scored, Argentina versus Mexico was plagued by nothingness. Mexico scored first, Argentina answered and for nine minutes it was as good as soccer gets. About two hours later Argentina scored again for the win. Jeez!
I have offered up my views on improving the scoring in soccer, especially the elimination of the off-side rule, but nothing is going to change. So instead let's look at the one thing that would do the most to improve the potential for U.S. Men's Soccer in the future
Expand Collegiate Soccer
It's amazing to consider that U.S. Women's Soccer is great, always among the best in the world, but the U.S. Men are not even the best in North America. Why is that? Well, I think the U.S. women have capitalized on something men's soccer desperately needs. Widespread high level competition on the collegiate level.
Nothing would do more to improve U.S. soccer around the world than for the NCAA to expand men's soccer opportunities. It's absurd the SEC does not have men's scorer, given our weather and facilities. I know there are gender equity issues, but if U.S. Soccer were to find a way to partner with the NCAA in expanding those opportunities it would pay off.
I have a family member who was a standout soccer player. However he gave up the sport he loves to risk his 130-lb body on the football field because, "That's where the scholarships are." We cannot expect U.S. men's soccer to grow like the women's game has without creating the opportunity for more and more players to continue developing their games at a high level.
Expanding collegiate men's soccer programs would also help build the fan base among college alums and even the youth who will get to follow players during their college years. Do that, and maybe, just maybe we can get more than four shots in goal in 270 minutes of action in 2010.