The key to enjoying any sport is to fully embrace the addiction. To a non-golfer watching grown men walk down a fairway to club a small ball toward a green is perverse torture. The true golfer, however, embraces the tension before the hit, observes the swing with care, relishes the ball’s flight to the green and joins the crowd in the oohs and aahs that follow. Looks like madness to an outsider — and it is an exquisite, diverting and addicting form of madness.
To the uninitiated, soccer surely seems the same. For those of us who have caught the bug, however, the World Cup is a lovely summertime diversion. Here are seven things I like about it:
There are three games a day: One at noon, one at 3 and one at 6. The announcers don’t switch between games. You and the whole world focus on one game and only one game.
There’s lots of action but little scoring. In soccer, 11 men kick a round white ball down a field and try to get it into a large netted goal. However, they must get around 11 other men who are intent on (a) keeping them from doing this and (b) gaining control of the ball and getting it in the goal at the other end of the field. Both teams have a 12th player charged with guarding the entrance to the goal. So most attempts to get a goal fail.
Like basketball, something is always happening, but unlike basketball there isn’t constant scoring. In fact, it is unusual to have more than five goals made by both teams combined. A typical score is 1-0. This means you can go check the chicken on the grill and probably not miss any scoring.
You can follow the game without completely understanding the rules: Slugging another player isn’t allowed and gets the offending player kicked out. But as the point is to get the ball in the goal, it’s pretty easy to follow the action even if you aren’t quite sure why one team gets a free kick or why the shaving cream boundaries are where they are.
Like the Olympics, you get profiles of foreign countries. Teams from all continents are represented, so you benefit from a tour of the world.
You know when the game will end. Unlike a baseball game that can go into extra innings, soccer is timed: 45 minutes per half. Unlike basketball or American football, there are no timeouts. Rather, the refs at their discretion add anywhere from one to five minutes to the clock. If a game starts at 6 p.m. you can be sure it will be over by 8 p.m.
The rest of the world calls it football or futbol. We use “football” to describe our uniquely American game that obsesses universities and colleges. There is an easy way around the ambiguity. Our game is pronounced footbôl. What we call soccer is pronounced fooooot ball.
My teenagers and their friends are into it: Usually dad isn’t welcomed to their gatherings, but in this case I’m allowed as long as I sit at the back of the room and stay quiet.
Like fine whiskey, soccer is an acquired taste. This is at least the seventh time in my lifetime when soccer or futbol has been on the verge of becoming a mainstream sport of the United States.
Over 8 million American TV watchers viewed the June 16 U.S.-Ghana match, and even more watched U.S. vs. Portugal on Sunday night.
Nearly 40 percent of all households say they will watch at least one game.
We’ll see, but until after July 13 I’m not available during match times.
Cecil Bohanon, is an adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation and a professor of economics at Ball State University. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.