Saturday, October 24, 2015

Chp 21) Playing on Our Terms

The whole idea of sports fandom and Social Identity Theory are among some of the topics studied for degrees in the Psychology of Sport at state universities throughout the U.S. and at universities in other parts of the world.  The reason there is so much emphasis on sports is due to the amounts of revenue generated and the effects from the behaviors of people as fans.

To put it lightly, there's a lot on the line in every major sports match.  People's behaviors and finances can rise or fall depending on a win or loss from one team to the next. Since the Roman Ages, leisure activities have always been a big industry. People want to get away from the mundane aspects of their lives and want to be entertained.

Each of the mainstream sports are going out of their way each year to improve the spectacle of their sport and the rules accompanying the spectacle.  This has been their duty going forth into a future with so many lives depending on them. Perfecting their games as much as possible is seen as the most forthright and logical steps to take when others are watching events so closely.

Americanizing soccer is aligned with how the other major sports are conducting their business and respecting sports fans. The philosophy for Americanizing the rules to soccer is about assembling the highest, possible amount of quality drama and athleticism into one event.

There is a percolating wave of support for the U.S. to take over the leadership of soccer and enhance the rules to fit an American audience. But, anyone willing to say anything on the subject is certainly not willing to use the word 'Americanize.'  This is a word that creates enemies in some circles.  Do a Twitter search on the word sometime and look at all the controversy that surrounds it. In 2015, I wrote about one famous coach in American soccer who was at least willing to say a few stirring words, 'Peter Vermes Supports Americanizing Soccer.'

In a recent piece for Sports Illustrated, Grant Wahl interviewed some influential leaders with MLS asking what they would change as commissioner of MLS.  Peter Vermes, the manager (aka head coach-manager was the title given in SI report) of Sporting KC, responded with an Americanizing soccer answer. The only person to win MLS Cup as a player and head coach for the same team said he believes that MLS must treat itself as "Our League."

Vermes started off saying, "I would treat our league a little more like the NFL does (for its league). The NFL is lucky because they don't have FIFA to deal with and the US Soccer Federation (to deal with)."

He was adamant that MLS must try to act for itself and not wait around for FIFA and the USSF to dictate terms for soccer. "This is our league and we have to do things that are good for our league," he said.

He commented that innovation here in MLS could end up getting picked up for leagues around the rest of the world. "I think the rest of the world... would like to see (that) since it works here, it could work there," he said.

He opined a little more on feelings for how the rest of the world looks at the game. "I think the rest of the world is too much into the tradition of the game and they're afraid of trying things that are outside the box a little bit.  I think it would be very good for the game, such as adding one more referee to the field-little things like that."

Of course, Vermes can't be expected to let out exactly all of his thoughts on Americanizing the game because he may fear for too much backlash from the purists.  He gave a subtle example by mentioning a fourth referee. He was trying to be delicate and strong at the same time. There is no doubt, though, he feels like the game can be better with American improvements. He finished by saying, "Philosophically, I think we should look at our league a little differently."

Americanizing soccer has already been initiated. It started a few years back at the 2010 World Cup when too many arguable calls on goals or non-goals put soccer in the tough situation of having to admit that 'replay' would be a useful tool.  In 2010, I wrote 'Lessons from World Cup 2010: Americanizing is Okay.' 

What may be recognized as Americanizing is not getting the mention as 'Americanizing'. Take for instance, 'instant replay', the main Americanizing subject of World Cup 2010. Instant replay in spectator sports is an American ideal. It is straight out of  'justice within sports spectatorship', an American original. 

Instant replay in Soccer may come to be part of World Cup 2014. The subject does not seem to want to go away as quietly as Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s chief executive wanted it to. He has addressed it and now soccer purists are taking issue as well. Everyone seems to be in agreement that instant replay is an appropriate method to getting the call right and it will be part of Soccer’s future.

How far will instant replay go becomes the more interesting question. Will it only include goal-line technology or will it address off-sides and penalty box calls too? Will the coach get a red beanie flag to throw on the field like in the NFL?

Don’t be fooled and don’t get intimidated by the soccer purists. They want to have it both ways, telling American sports fans the best way for soccer to be watched and accepting change, but not referring to the change as Americanizing.  Sorry purists, it is what it is. Instant Replay is as American as apple pie.

Soon after, the rule for 'instant replay' was being called 'goal-line technology' to see if the ball crossed the line for a goal or not.  By 2011, it was a hot topic and everyone, including purists, were calling for it to be implemented. I made my point by writing, 'Goal-line Technology Changes Soccer Forever.'

This could be the first step in the Americanization of the game.  Probably, few people would be willing to call it that, but some purists feel the pull.  It's like a riptide over the Atlantic Ocean.

And, yet, other purists say they're ready for it.

The announcement was made this week by FIFA President, Sepp Blatter.  He stated that video replay could be used as soon as the 2012-13 season and will be used for sure in the 2014 World Cup.  The technology would either confirm or deny goals and non-goals.

For the most part, the proclamation for its use has been met with benign resistance.  Basically, most fans, supporters, players, coaches and executive are ready for the change.  People want to know for sure if the ball crosses the threshold or not. No more ambiguity allowed.  These plays are too important to be human-only determinations.

Having instant replay become a part of the game is a huge deal, but for Soccer it's a much bigger deal than for other sports. What no one is talking about is, what's next to be changed about the game. This is the single most important item to take from all of this.

Unlike other popular sports, hockey, baseball, basketball and football, which are all using instant replay in some regard to help in getting referee calls correct, this is modern world soccer's first ever tinkering with intentionally stopping the game for any reason. Does this change to the game open the floodgates?  Purists will no longer have the argument that Soccer is a sport with constant fluidity, no stoppage and has 'always been this way' attitude.

This replay system will stop the game for sure, whether the clock stops or not still hasn't been answered. (One would think that there will be some communication to broadcasters and timekeepers at what point the clock is stopped.  In soccer, only the referee keeps the time to the exact second.)

There are not likely to be that many reviews. The ball crossing the goal-line threshold is not a play that happens often. But, the initiative is set.

What comes later is not known, but it would seem likely, something will come later.  In baseball, controversial homeruns or non-homeruns were the first items to be reviewed.  This upcoming season, baseball will include catches or non-catches, for review. Will offsides goals in soccer be the next up for review?

This first official stoppage of play in soccer changes the game forever.  This is not an injury, red-card or goal celebration.  Time will tell where soccer goes from here.  Hopefully, other common-sense changes won't take another 50 years to see.

And, of course, since no one else would broach the subject, I had to write the article to ask the follow-up question after goal-line technology was finally acknowledged as the newest soccer rule. In 2012, I wrote 'Should Instant Replay Include Goals Waived Off by Bad Refereeing?'



This past weekend saw an obvious bad call by the referee in the Sporting KC vs. Real Salt Lake match. Sporting KC had an obvious header for a goal, a great header, but the ref said the player pushed off to create space to make the play.  The replay obvious shows this not to be the case (It happens at the 1minute 55 seconds mark in video above.).

Sporting KC was trying to protect its undefeated record and thankfully they were able to do so by scoring a winner later in the second half because they would have been robbed of that undefeated winning record had the late goal not occurred. Sporting KC is off to a tremendous start to their season, sitting at 6-0.  The 1996 LA Galaxy team holds the MLS record, beginning their season with a 12 game winning streak.

There has been plenty of talk of goal line technology to confirm goals or not confirm them for crossing the line and entering the goal, but there hasn't been any discussion on using instant replay for other reasons. Instant replay for Soccer becomes a focal point every four years at World Cup and nothing ever changes, but it seems now, that FIFA is ready to make the move for common sense.

There have been more controversies recently, bringing more negative publicity.  Only last week, in a Chelsea game, a goal was awarded that shouldn't have been.

The replay to get the right call seems like the right thing to do for Soccer; especially as so many other sports are engaged with it as well.  What about using the NFL's red flag challenges for instant replay, could this work for Soccer, too?

It seems that this past week's game for Sporting KC was a scenario for which review could have been possible. Giving goals and taking away goals for the wrong calls should not be tolerated in Soccer. Goals are too hard to come by to not be legitimate.

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