The Beauty of Soccer
It is a time honored tradition that at every World Cup, American soccer fans are subjected to several of the country’s leading voices lecturing them about how liking soccer is un-American. In 2014, Ann Coutler proclaimed “Any growing interest in soccer can only be a sign of the nation's moral decay.” This year, we were treated to the National Review columnist Kyle Smith’s warning that soccer is a socialist sport “organized to strangle human flourishing.” Such a position reveals both a poor understanding of the sport of soccer and an impoverished view of what it means to be an American.
The most obvious observation when reading either of these articles is that the authors know very little about the sport of soccer. They claim that, since soccer games are low scoring, they are boring. The implication being that, during the times of the game where goals aren’t being scored, nothing is happening. This however, fails to take into account the long buildup that precedes each goal. The Spanish national team has perfected the art of having a long possession with a series of intricate passes leading to a scoring opportunity. At first glance, this play looks like a lot of boring passes. It is actually the patient artwork of a dominant team probing the defense for the perfect opportunity. A soccer fan watching this play will recognize the threat posed by each of the passes and will admire the teamwork and strategy exhibited by the Spainish.
It is undeniable that goals are rare in soccer. This rarity, however, makes them exciting and magical. In a NBA game, where hundreds of baskets are scored, there is not nearly as much reason to get excited by one basket. This brings a greater sense of anticipation to each scoring opportunity. Fans know that one play, at any time in the match, can ultimately determine the outcome. Therefore, each moment has significant importance. In soccer, a momentary lapse by a defender in the first minute can cost his team the match. In basketball however, James Harden can play defense like this and still be an MVP candidate. He can afford to give away free baskets because he knows that they most likely won’t alter the outcome of the game.
The most foolish critique offered in these articles is that soccer is bad because it is European. This not only reveals a surprising level of close-mindedness from people who purport to be intellectuals but also shows a great lack of historical awareness. Some of the greatest parts of the American tradition were adopted from Europe, from things as trivial as the hamburger to something as consequential as the Christian faith.
If Ms. Coulter and Mr. Smith do not enjoy soccer than they should refrain from watching the World Cup. This is a free country, and no one is forcing them to do anything. However, they should not let their dislike of soccer lead them to make unfounded and nonsensical attacks on the sport as a whole.