- The Washington Times - Friday, July 5, 2002

Like so many other Americans, I am a huge sports fan, but I never mustered any enthusiasm for soccer. In fact, the rest of the world's favorite sport seemed incredibly boring to me.
Perhaps when it comes to soccer, though, I was guilty of some kind of American jingoism or xenophobia. With this year's World Cup, I decided to give soccer what the rest of the globe calls football another chance.
So, over the past month or so, I dedicated more time and attention to soccer than I ever had before. I read the World Cup previews and numerous articles. I perused "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Soccer." And from the opening match of the 2002 World Cup on May 31 between defending champion France and Senegal to the final between soccer mega-powers Brazil and Germany this past Sunday, I watched about a dozen or so matches.
Mind you, this was no easy task, given that South Korea and Japan hosted the World Cup this year, so the games were televised in the States in the early morning hours. As it turned out, though, with the surprise performance of the U.S. team making it to the quarter finals for the first time in 72 years this was the ideal year for soccer to try to convert U.S. sports fans like me.
Let me add that prior to this year's World Cup, I could never really figure out why I disliked soccer. It's not the pastoral nature of the game. After all, I love baseball and golf, which are pastoral sports. It also isn't that soccer tends to be a low-scoring affair. Give me 1-0 games in hockey or baseball, and I am in sports heaven. Nor could my trepidation about soccer be blamed on the rather slow pace of play. Hey, I became engrossed in curling during the Winter Olympics.
Maybe my problem with soccer arose from my political and economic conservatism. For some reason, it does seem that liberals particularly socialist and socialist-leaning lefties like soccer and conservatives do not. And this split long predates the emergence of so-called soccer moms during the Clinton years. It had been my suspicion that socialist nations embraced soccer because the game amounted to 90 minutes of boredom broken up by a few fleeting moments of excitement, and that probably reflected life under socialism. However, I like to think of myself as a more independent thinker than to spurn soccer without more of a reason than that my fellow conservatives have done so and lefties embrace it.
By the end of Brazil's victory over Germany this past Sunday, it turned out that the 2002 World Cup did teach me a few things about soccer. First, I got a handle on what each player's role is and gained an appreciation for the athleticism of the participants. I also finally figured out what it means to be "offside" I think.
Alas, though, the World Cup did not win over this sports fan in the end. Nor, I suspect, will soccer ever win over a large swath of the American public. But I have finally figured out why apparently most other Americans and I find soccer so boring.
Americans enjoy sports that feature speed and/or strategic thinking. Golf and baseball are slow sports, but are "thinking man's" games. Football, basketball and hockey combine both speed and strategy.
In contrast, over the past few weeks of being immersed in the sport, it became clear to me that soccer offers neither speed nor strategic thinking. Soccer is not much of a mental game at all. It is more than just simple after all, there are interesting simple sports, like horse racing. Soccer is simplistic. In particular, play development in soccer proceeds at a glacial pace and then rarely culminates in anything terribly interesting.
That soccer is simplistic goes a long way in explaining why soccer is so widely played by young children in the United States, but the game loses interest as people grow into adulthood. Particularly as fans, Americans want to invest their time, resources and passions in something far more challenging than soccer.
Can the rest of the world be wrong about soccer? Of course they can, and they are. We Americans do not turn away from soccer out of some kind of jingoism or xenophobia. Our rejection of soccer lies in America's exceptional pursuit of interesting challenges.

Raymond J. Keating is chief economist for the Small Business Survival Committee and a columnist with Newsday.


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