HOOSIER SCOOP SAGE TAKE OF THE DAY, Nov. 2, 2012
Disclaimer: I am an admitted soccer fan. I wanted to say that up front before I proceeded to drive soccer purists into apoplexy by proposing a pretty radical change for the sport.
I was privileged to cover Indiana University soccer for 15 years during my previous stint writing sports for the Herald-Times, lucky enough to be along for the ride when Jerry Yeagley’s program won its first five NCAA titles.
Covering the first one, actually, prompted my first major road trip for the H-T. I was still a part-timer at the paper in 1982 when I got to witness and attempt to document the epic eight-overtime win over Duke in Fort Lauderdale.
Writing about Yeagley’s great teams through the 1980s and 1990s taught me the game. Up until then, I had harbored what I would imagine were some pretty commonly myopic American perspectives on the sport. Yeagley’s Hoosiers helped me learn to appreciate it better.
Now I’m a massive Premier League fan. Liverpool is my club. Gerrard is my guy. I watch every Champions League match I can. I invest emotionally in every World Cup, rooting for the Americans while remaining enough of an Anglophile to suffer along with the English.
Having said all that, watching Thursday night’s thoroughly entertaining Big Ten showdown between host IU and defending conference champ Northwestern brought to mind a major bone I still have to pick with the sport.
(And, no, it’s not just that any athletic pursuit designed for homo sapiens with opposable thumbs really ought to have more hand-eye coordination involved.)
It’s simply that there so often just isn’t enough scoring to properly quantify play.
I’m not one of those instant-gratification junkies who craves a goal every other minute. I’m talking about just a few more goals. I’m talking about making soccer finals more like, say, hockey scores. More 4-2 or 3-2 games. Fewer 1-0 and 0-0 games.
Thursday’s match, by rights, would have properly resulted in about a 3-2 or 4-2 IU win. The Hoosiers totally controlled the first half. Northwestern dominated the opening 25 minutes or so of the second half. Then IU was ascendant again for the balance of regulation play and through the overtimes.
The final was a 1-1 tie that did not properly quantify play. Shots hit posts. Shots hit crossbars. More goals should have ensued, for both sides.
There is an easy solution for this. Others have proposed it before. Purists hate the idea, but I have always advocated for it, because I believe it would make soccer a better sport.
Enlarge the size of the goals.
Not a lot. Only enough to increase the overall number of goals by perhaps 30 or 40 percent. Maybe raise the crossbar a foot or two, and widen each post a foot or so. Goalies (invariably larger and more athletic now than when the game was in its infancy) would still be able to do their jobs, but a few more shots would squeeze their way into nets.
Just enough, hopefully, to generate fair results more consistently.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m well aware goals alone don’t define the beauty of the game. Watching a give-and-go in midfield, a well-timed overlapping run by a winger, a great slip-head, a clever back-heel — there are plenty of other aspects that amount to entertainment value for the experienced fan capable of appreciating the game’s many nuances.
I fully recognize that the general paucity of scoring often adds to the drama, too. When the goal finally comes after a long stretch of scoreless play, it constitutes a tremendous release of tension and emotion. It can be little short of orgasmic.
So I’m just talking a little more scoring, not a torrent of goals. Just enough to have more deserving sides win more often.
Consider this: Northwestern is a very good American college team, and came to Bloomington needing just a win to secure another Big Ten regular season title. But the Wildcats entered play Thursday not having scored in over 350 minutes of play. And Thursday amounted to their fourth straight overtime game, and a school-record ninth of the season.
Is that the sort of thing we really want, soccer fans? A team that can’t score consistently winning championships? A lack of scoring so acute that a majority of games in that team’s season require overtimes?
Sure, enlarging the goals would dramatically affect statistics, skewing numbers after the change and rendering them unfit for comparison with historical stats. But to me, that’s a small price to pay for a better game. Stick an asterisk on the stats, then move on.
Jerry Yeagley agrees with me on this, by the way. We’ve talked about it more than once over the years. I might still be just another meathead American who doesn’t understand how to properly appreciate the game, but I don’t think you can say that about him.