During last year’s Men’s World Cup, controversial conservative pundit Ann Coulter released a piece on how much she hated soccer, vilifying it as anti-American and a “sign… of the nation’s moral decay.” She was roundly criticized by both the right and the left at the time, as the US Men’s National Team went on to lose to Belgium in the round of 16 in extra time. Coulter made nine points as to why soccer is “bad” for the United States. Now, in the wake of a dominating World Cup win for the US Women’s National Team, where the final was the most watched US soccer match in history, and as the men begin their CONCACAF Gold Cup title defense, I want to revisit this little bundle of joy and restate the obvious by proving just how wrong she was.
Point the first: Individual achievement is not a big factor in soccer…. There are no heroes, no losers, no accountability… Do they even have MVP’s in soccer? Everyone just runs up and down the field and, once in a while, a ball accidentally goes in.
Counterpoint: Lionel Messi, Steven Gerrard. Hope Solo. Cristiano Ronaldo. Lady Andrade. Homare Sawa. Sebastian Giovinco. Sergio Aguero. Abby Wambach. Thierry Henry. Carli Lloyd. Clint Dempsey. Frank Lampard. David Villa. Andrea Pirlo. Pele.
Quite clearly Coulter would know nothing of these names, but many many people around the world do. If individual achievement were not a big factor in soccer, no one would know who these people are! If individual achievement were not celebrated, there would be no awards such as the Golden Boot (most goals scored) or the Golden Glove (best goalkeeper).
Yes, they do have an MVP in soccer. Individual games award the Man of the Match, and tournaments award the Golden Ball.
As for personal accountability, let’s look at a play that happened earlier this year as Manchester United visited Anfield to take on Liverpool.
Yes, that’s the aforementioned Steven Gerrard, Liverpool legend, getting a straight red card and an ejection for stomping on the shins of one of his opponents. He was also suspended for his next three Premier League matches. This is about the same level of personal accountability as, say, baseball, where an ejection can lead to a fine, suspension, or both.
The common ground here is that one person alone can be punished for an illegal action. Yet, in the sport Coulter so loves, American football, usually the penalty for an infraction like holding or pass interference is against…
The entire team.
Not the player who committed the infraction. The entire team is penalized X number of yards, yet she’s harping on personal accountability?
And I certainly don’t think this is an accident.
Especially not this (link only).
Point the second: No serious sport is co-ed, even at the kindergarten level.
I wonder what she thinks of Mo’ne Davis? A GIRL on a BASEBALL team who could play better than most of the BOYS?
Or Melissa Mayeux, a French girl who was recently declared eligible for the MLB international draft?
A quick Google search turns up nothing. Hmmmmmm…
(On that note, Little League baseball is in fact co-ed. And there is a US Women’s baseball team.)
Point the third: No other sport ends in as many scoreless ties as soccer.
Yes, this is true, because that’s how the rules work for league and group stage matches. There is a point system where a win is 3 points, a draw is 1 point, and a loss is 0, Last I checked, 1 is greater than 0, so if a team is being dominated by the other team yet the score remains tied, or if they are losing a close game, they are going to try their darndest to salvage a point out of the mess.
Of course Coulter can’t appreciate how difficult it is to score a goal, even for the best players. They have to be in the right place at the right time and the defenders usually have to make some kind of mistake. Let’s face it; if soccer were as easy as she thinks it is, everyone would be playing it, and she wouldn’t be so afraid of it.
Point the fourth: The prospect of personal humiliation or major injury is required to count as a sport.
Let’s start with personal humiliation. There is nothing in soccer more humiliating than the own goal, putting the ball into your own net and scoring for the other team. What’s worse, that goal counts for your statistics! You alone are responsible for scoring against your team. (Also a nod to personal accountability.)
The whole world knows that Laura Bassett scored into her own net in England’s World Cup semifinal, but that was on a defensive play that she had to attempt. Let’s look at two others.
First, a 2010 World Cup game between the USMNT and England:
Next, the USMNT v Guatemala in a recent Gold Cup warm-up match:
In the first video, the English goalkeeper, Robert Green, attempts to save a shot by US captain Clint Dempsey, but butterfingers the ball, which slips by him and into the goal. In the second, DeAndre Yedlin crosses the ball across the face of goal, presumably to a teammate, but it finds Carlos Castrillo instead, who inexplicably directs it past his goalkeeper and into his net. Both times the offenders stand around dumbfounded with looks on their faces that scream of “what the HELL just happened” and “oh my goodness WHAT HAVE I DONE”.
Meanwhile, in American football, the most points you can score against your own team is two, on a safety, versus six for a touchdown; in hockey, the opposing player who last touched the puck gets credit rather than the player who put it in his cage; and in baseball, while a team can let in as many runs as they want in the stupidest of manners, they can never directly score against themselves.
As for the prospect of major injury… I’ll let this video speak for itself.
Point the fifth: You can’t use your hands in soccer.
Wrong. Obviously you need your hands to run and to keep your balance.
Joking aside, there are two instances when you can touch the ball with your hands in soccer.. The first instance is, if you’re restarting play via a throw-in, corner kick, free kick, etc. you are allowed to pick up the ball and use your hands to position it how you like it. Throw-ins necessitate use of the hands.
The second, of course, is if you are the goalkeeper.
Point the sixth: Soccer is force-fed onto us by the media.
Let’s face it: the media are (supposedly) reactionary; that is, they can only report on something that has happened or has the potential to happen. When do you see reports for Major League Lacrosse or professional rubgy in the local news? Never. Yet soccer is, because it is popular–not the other way around.
Point the seventh: It’s foreign.
Getting into pedantics, but unless you are descended from any tribe of Native Americans you really can’t make this argument.
The arguments that baseball was originated from the British sport of rounders, or that football originated from the British sport of rugby, have been explained multiple times by other people, so I won’t get into them again.
Point the eighth: Soccer is like the metric system.
Then explain to me why every single one of a soccer pitch’s dimensions is measured in yards.
Not meters. YARDS.
110×70 yards. The 18 yard box. The 6 yard–
Wait, that’s not what Coulter was going for, was it?
Ok, so if we take the perspective that soccer is like the metric system in that it is was foisted on to us by Europeans.
Newsflash: Soccer has been here, in the United States, for just as long as baseball and American football!
MLS expansion club New York City FC played this video before their first ever home game:
That’s not the only one, either. They have a whole series of videos covering local New York soccer clubs, mostly pre-WWII, just as baseball and American football were also getting popular.
And who could forget the original New York Cosmos, who, in a massive coup, signed Brazilian superstar Pele and sold out Giants Stadium for a couple of years? Some say that, if the original NASL hadn’t tried to expand too quickly and folded, they and not MLS would be the top flight of soccer in the US. Perhaps its popularity would even be on par with MLB and the NFL.
Point the ninth: Soccer is not “catching on.”
Simple observation of American league soccer proves this wrong.
Never mind the fact that more people are watching the US national teams than ever before. Never mind that there are so many members of the American Outlaws, the US national teams’ supporters group. Never mind that so many people showed up for the ticker tape parade in New York celebrating the US women. Just look at MLS.
Average attendance has been on the upswing for years now. Part of this can be attributed to David Beckham’s signing by the LA Galaxy, and part of it can be attributed to relatively new franchises like the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC. After falling on hard times early and facing criticism for not using FIFA rules, the only nominal differences between MLS and other domestic leagues are the roster rules, playoffs, lack of relegation, and the spring-to-fall unbalanced scheduling. The Laws of the Game still apply in the States.
One can also look to the sheer number of expansion teams that have recently started play or are in the pipeline for the future. New York City FC and Orlando City SC joined the league this year. Atlanta United FC and Minnesota United FC will join the league in the near future. And there are plans for replacement franchises for the contracted Chivas USA and Miami Fusion FC in the works.
Let’s also take a look at individual clubs. The Seattle Sounders regularly draw 40,000 fans per game, similar numbers to a mid-tier Premier League club. Their rivalry with the Portland Timbers can be as vitriolic as rivalries between any two teams in Europe. And speaking of rivalries? Over 60,000 fans saw Orlando City and NYCFC play their first ever match in the Citrus Bowl, and NYCFC sold out Yankee Stadium–a baseball stadium–with 48,000 tickets sold for their derby match with the New York Red Bulls. NYCFC itself has sold more than 17,000 season tickets–many holders of which, according to the club, are first time season ticket holders for any sport–and regularly sell over 20,000 seats per match. And that number can only go up, now that the likes of David Villa, Frank Lampard, and Andrea Pirlo are signed to the club. The LA Galaxy, David Beckham’s old club, have also signed Steven Gerrard, who should prove to be a big draw for them.
And as compared to the Big Four sports leagues? MLS obviously trails the NFL and MLB, but actually lead the NBA and the NHL in average attendance per year.
Don’t get me wrong. Soccer still has a long way to go. Any league that is not MLS has paltry attendance–and that includes the top flight women’s league, the NASL. But a recent Daily Mail editorial claims that, given time, the scandals and the potential for permanent injury that the NFL presents will cause more people to turn to MLS and soccer in general, and eventually the quality of the league will be such that they could compete with Champions League clubs on even footing.
But these are just hypotheses. It’s quite clear that soccer is here to stay in the United States, no matter what Ann Coulter says or wants. If she still thinks that liking soccer is un-American, so be it. Millions of Americans disagree, and that’s the way we like it, we like it, we like it.