Soccer Thoughts: Proposed Rule Changes and Who To Root For
Before I offend any diehard soccer (or football, to the rest of the world) purists, let me say off the bat that I like the game. Liked playing it as a five year old on my local team, Dontatello (the four teams were named after the Ninja Turtles, not the artists), playing it again occasionally in the school yard in elementary school or gym class or summer camp. I even enjoy watching it: my family spent a month of the summer of 1994 in Vermont, I had broken my foot and had nothing else to do but watch the World Cup hosted by the USA (and the Expos cruise to the best record in baseball in the strike-ended season, but that’s another story).
Ever since then I’ve enjoyed watching the World Cup, and maybe the odd European championship or Premier League or qualifying match or whatever. But like most other North Americans, I feel like the game could use some more scoring. I know, I know, the fact that goals are so tough to come by makes them special, which is why announcers can scream “gooool” for half an hour. But seriously, too many nil-nil ties. So here are some ways to make the game more offensive minded:
1) Change the off-side rule.
The rule should not be eliminated. Obviously we don’t want a striker cherry picking the entire game behind all the defenders. But the rule as it stands is stupid. So I think it should be altered to be somewhat closer to the off-side rule in hockey. So the rule can remain as is with this crucial exception: create offensive zones. Once the offensive team takes possession of the ball in the offensive zone, the offside rule is no longer in effect and the player can make and receive passes anywhere in the zone. If the ball leaves the zone, the players don’t all have to leave, they simply cannot receive passes from outside the zone unless there is a defender behind them. It sounds a little confusing here but think about it and it works.
This is the most important rule change. They should try it out in college, or MLS or something. See what happens.
2) Create a back-court like rule.
You should not be able to pass the ball all the way back to the goalie. But obviously backwards passing is an important part of the game, so the rule can’t be exactly the same as basketball. Here creating offensive zones would again come in handy. The rule could be then: you are only allowed to pass the ball backwards across one line. So from one side of the “neutral zone” to the other, from offensive zone to the offensive half of the neutral zone. When the ball is in your half of the field, passing backward is unlimited.
3) Free subbing.
There is no reason why players shouldn’t be able to come in and out of the game. Let’s give the starters some rest and see them on fresher legs for longer.
So those are the rule changes I propose. If FIFA tried even just one of them, I think it would improve the game dramatically.
As for who to root for, this has always been an interesting question for me. Generally, I believe in supporting the country you hail from (in my case Canada) and any country you have ethno/religious/cultura/historical ties to (in my case, Israel, not Poland despite the fact that all four of my grandparents came from there). Unfortunately, neither Canada nor Israel typically make the World Cup. I do have the nice fall back of rooting against Germany, and they seem to always make it.
Beyond that, I like to root for the underdog. So while I root against the USA in almost every other sporting event, I occasionally root for them in soccer. I like England, because I speak English, and I appreciate the passion they have for the game, not because I’m technically a subject of the Crown and member of the Commonwealth.
I like to root for African teams because I think it’s good for the the world if they win. To a lesser extent, I root for Asian teams. If I rooted against countries that had a legacy of anti-Semitism, that would eliminate too many countries (rooting against Germany for all my lifetime is good enough, I think). I rooted for Iran in 1998 over USA because they were the underdogs and I think sports can represent positive, progressive values on the international stage (though not necessarily domestically, more on this later). But generally I think sports should be divorced from politics, at least modern politics. For example, I am a critic of the current Israeli government, but the players on the team, particularly the Arab players, have little to do with the government’s behaviour.
Weiner adds: Another bunch of rule changes: Introduce stopped time when the play is dead, and get rid of the absurd “stoppage” time. It’s 2010. C’mon. Also, how about some rule that say the team has 30 seconds to get the ball past midfield after the goalie touches. Or maybe even less time? Sometimes they really dally.