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Soccer needs new rules to awaken interest

Watching the U. S. Women’s team over the past two weeks competing in the World Cup, while trying to stay awake, was an excruciating exercise.

Amanda Ilestedt of Sweden
Amanda Ilestedt of Sweden celebrating after the FIFA Women’s World Cup quarterfinal between Japan and Sweden on Friday in Auckland.
Mathias Bergeld/Sipa USA

Now that baseball has revitalized itself with new rule changes speeding up the game by eliminating dead spots, leading to more on-field action and increased scoring, soccer needs to follow a similar path.

Watching the U. S. Women’s team over the past two weeks competing in the World Cup, while trying to stay awake, was an excruciating exercise. Not because the games in New Zealand were broadcast at ungodly hours here, nor that the Americans were eliminated before reaching the quarterfinals, breaking their epochal two consecutive championships, but because the games were so soporific.

Setting aside the national pride factor, the three games in which the Americans scored a total of one goal in regular time play after the initial 3-0 blow-out of the overmatched team from Vietnam were as interesting as watching paint dry.

This phenomenon is not unique to the quadrennial international matches; observing soccer generally is like looking at grass grow. Its chief benefit is that it helps curb insomnia. There is, to be sure, a group of rabid fans like those who sell-out Allianz Stadium in St. Paul for the Loons games and elsewhere in urban centers around the country and the world for that matter, as well as its popularity at high school levels in Minnesota, too.

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But the game will not attract new followers and grow into a truly major sport in this country unless it makes some much-needed modifications.

Shortening the field

Start by shortening the field, or pitch, so that more action takes place near the goals and, as a corollary reduce the number of players on the pitch at any given time to, say, eight or nine, with frequent substitutions like hockey.

As the game now is played, most of the so-called action consists of players running around so far from where they could score a goal that they barely need a ball on the pitch. It’s like seeing a football game played almost exclusively between the two 40-yard lines or watching joggers running back and forth without the twists, turns, and changes in terrain of a marathon.

Marshall H. Tanick
Marshall H. Tanick
These changes would facilitate more scoring and make the games more interesting and competitive especially when a team falls behind by a goal or two, which usually signifies almost certain victory for the team that scores first or managed to take a two goal lead.

Making the ball a little smaller, but not too little to mar viewing, or increase the size of the goal, would also augment scoring, much to the consternation of the goalies’ union.

Also, giving each team a free “penalty” kick, say, at the start and end of each half would add to the excitement – and scoring.

Purists and participants

Purists would, of course, frown on these proposals, saying the game is just fine, as it has been for more than a century, like some in the baseball community – fans and participants alike – were hesitant in adapting to the new changes in that game.

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But they have worked out well for the national pastime, and soccer could benefit by doing likewise to boost the number of followers and, importantly become more conducive to television ratings and increased commercial advertising.

Some of these advances might even get curmudgeons like me out to Allianz.

Marshall H. Tanick is a Twin Cities attorney.