Debunking six soccer myths in America

July 11

What if LeBron James decided to play soccer instead of basketball? (Getty Images/Express Illustration)

After every World Cup, no matter how far the U.S. team goes, the same topic arises: What does it all mean for the popularization of soccer in America? With the 2014 World Cup coming to an end this weekend, let’s debunk some American-made myths that seem to emerge every four years.

1. Myth: America needs its best athletes, like LeBron James, playing soccer for the U.S. to be truly competitive with the rest of the world.

While U.S. soccer would surely improve with youngsters consistently choosing it over playing football, basketball or baseball, great size and strength aren’t as beneficial in soccer as they are in other sports. The best player in the world, Lionel Messi, is 5-foot-7 and 148 pounds. The Argentinian probably can’t dunk, but in soccer, he doesn’t have any problems getting around defenders of every shape and size.

2. Myth: Soccer needs to get rid of the offside rule and stoppage time.

While doing away with offside would probably increase scoring, it would also ugly up the game by rewarding cherry picking and boom ball. Skillful midfield play would be lost, as the gameplay would be stretched from end to end. As for stoppage time, it’s a necessity in a game with so many stall tactics. These are two basic principals in the sport that won’t change. Rather than get worked up over the rules, just enjoy the game the way it’s played.

3. Myth: Sure, the World Cup is big, but soccer will never be mainstream here.

Unless you define “mainstream” as “on par with the NFL,” soccer is already here. Despite being a glorified minor league compared with other soccer leagues around the world, MLS has higher per-game attendance than both the NBA and the NHL. On television, NBCSN’s English Premier League coverage gets better ratings than the NHL does during the regular season on the same network, despite most games starting before half the country wakes up.

4. Myth: Nobody flops like a soccer player.

(Natacha Pisarenko/AP)
(Natacha Pisarenko/AP)

Have you watched a basketball game? Flopping in the NBA has gotten so bad that the league has started to fine its players. In all sports, players embellish to fool referees. Even in the NFL, they often exaggerate any sort of contact to earn personal foul or pass interference calls. Soccer has attempted to thwart flopping by handing out yellow cards (although not one ref has done so in this World Cup). Flopping is an issue in soccer, but it’s naive to think it’s the only sport where it happens.

5. Myth: Soccer is un-American.

Bizarre Ann Coulter screeds about the game aside, soccer couldn’t be more American. Schoolchildren learn about America’s origins: the underfunded, undermanned colonies banding together to rebel against the big, bad British. Today, the U.S. is generally the superpower in almost everything it does. But when we watch the men’s national team, we get to adopt the “scrappy underdog” tag again, watching our (mostly) underpaid heroes become more than the sum of their parts when they don whatever hideous jersey Nike has them wearing.

6. Myth: Soccer is boring.

This one is actually kind of true — soccer sometimes is boring. The Netherlands-Argentina game is a perfect example. But soccer is held to an impossible standard — no sport is exciting all the time. Baseball features about an hour per game of pitchers just looking for a sign, while football players spend more time in the huddle than actually playing football. Americans love those sports because of the excitement that breaks the tedium, and there may not be anything in sports more thrilling than a late game-winning goal, like John Brooks’ header to lead the U.S. to a 2-1 victory over Ghana last month.

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