Reuters Soccer Blog
World Soccer views and news
from Left field:
The NFL prides itself on ‘parity’, on the competitive balance between different clubs being close, ensuring that games are tightly-fought contests and that as many teams as possible start the season with some sort of chance of making the Super Bowl.
Looking at the start to this season, with surprise results and with unfancied teams such as Houston and Tampa making bright starts, the balance is very healthy.
There are a number of mechanisms in place in the NFL to ensure that an elite group of winners and a desperate group of losers do not form. The salary cap which makes sure that cash doesn’t talk too much and the draft, which gives the lowest ranked team the first pick of the best college talent, are the two most obvious means by which the NFL ensures that things stay interesting.
On the surface at least, it seems a remarkably socialist system for a profit-orientated American sports league to have in place. Money and talent is spread around equally to ensure that there is a healthy equality. It hardly seems appropriate for a society that prides itself, in theory at least, on being a free-market capitalist system, with choice and opportunity prioritized above fairness and equality.
When Uruguay’s Luis Suarez handled the ball in the final seconds of extra-time in the World Cup quarter-final against Ghana, the ball was heading across the line for a dramatic winning goal.
The officials did well to spot the offence in a crowded area at the end of what must have been a tiring encounter to be in charge of. But did the punishment of a penalty and a red card for Suarez really fit the crime?
Chile’s Group H game against Switzerland was wrecked as a spectacle by the dismissal of Swiss midfielder Valon Behrami for what the referee saw as a serious foul on Chile’s Arturo Vidal — to the disbelief of Swiss coach Ottmar Hitzfeld and his players.
It was an incident that changed the game from a nicely balanced encounter into one where Switzerland were forced to defend with 10 men for the best part of an hour eventually losing 1-0.
Even though the results of the United States team in international competition indicate the country has become a respectable force in the game, in the past 12 months beating European champions Spain and drawing with presumed World Cup contenders England for example, there remain many who doubt whether soccer can ever capture the imagination of the sporting public in the United States.
The main problem Europeans, in particular English fans, appear to have with the status of soccer in the U.S. is that it is not the number one sport in the country. Not even number two or three in fact. And the fact is that there is no-one in the soccer business in the U.S. who would pretend they are in a position to overtake, on a day-to-day basis, the NFL, the NBA or Major League Baseball.
After little more than four hours’ sleep, plenty of driving and the inevitable drop in adrenalin following a big game such as Saturday’s U.S. v England match, there were a few weary souls among the reporters following the United States when we headed to team HQ at Irene Farm on Sunday morning for a press conference with coach Bob Bradley and defender Steve Cherundolo.
There was no sign of jadedness from Bradley, though, who when touching upon Steven Gerrard’s fourth minute opener for England, described it in the following terms:
USA 2 Czech Republic 4 was hardly a morale boosting result for American fans as their team prepares for the World Cup finals, which begin for the U.S against England on June 12.
Of course, as the ESPN commentators were at pains to point out, perhaps worried about viewers turning off from the team before the tournament has even begun, the squad on the field last night was missing key starters such as Landon Donovan, Carlos Bocanegra (who instead was spotted chomping chicken wings in the stands) and Clint Dempsey. And as the ESPN crew also repeatedly reminded us, the result of games like these are “meaningless”.