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6.30.2009

Possibly the dumbest article ever written about sports, or by a political pundit on any subject ever 

Fresh off the US's upset of Spain in the Confederations Cup semis and near-upset of Brazil in the finals, Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute manages to pooh-pooh soccer in the US. His primary argument is that it appeals to Europe and Central/South America's fruity socialist sensibilities and not to Americans because it's the sport in which the less-deserving team has the biggest chance to win.


Indeed, in the first two games, the U.S. was hammered by Italy and Brazil and only got into the semifinal match by beating Egypt and the fluke of a very arcane scoring system that soccer uses to break ties among teams.


Ranking by W-L record, then goal difference, then goals scored? Yeah, that's some pretty crazy tiebreaker scheme.


And even in this game, a neutral observer would have said that Spanish players clearly outplayed the Americans, outshooting the U.S. squad by a margin of 20 shots on goal.


Um, no. FIFA's match report lists the shots as 29-9, but later on where each player's shots are listed, they only total 19-8. Now this counts "shots", which is pretty much any attempt by a player to smack the ball into the goal, whether it goes in, gets saved, misses the target entirely, or gets blocked before it gets anywhere near the goal. The "shots on goal" statistic, which counts only goals or shots that are saved by the goalkeeper, favors Spain 8-2, as many of Spain's shots were blocked before they got anywhere near goal. In addition, any neutral observer who actually watched the game would have concluded that only 3 or 4 shots really gave US keeper Tim Howard any significant trouble. He played well, but it wasn't an unusual performance at all by his standards. Late in the game when the US had the lead, the team was happy to concede possession of the ball because Spain couldn't actually do anything with it. It wasn't much different from one of those frequent Detroit Red Wings games where the Wings outshoot the opponents 40-15 but lose because all of their shots were from long range or bad angles while the other guys scored on odd-man rushes or on shots from the slot.


For sure, there may be a number of reasons that is the case but my suspicion is that the so-called “beautiful game” is not so beautiful to American sensibilities. We like, as good small “d” democrats, our underdogs for sure but we also still expect folks in the end to get their just desert. And, in sports, that means excellence should prevail. Of course, the fact that is often not the case when it comes to soccer may be precisely the reason the sport is so popular in the countries of Latin America and Europe.


This season in the English Premier League, the worst team out of 20 won 12 out of 38 games for a .316 percentage, if you count wins as 1/2.

This season in MLB, the worst team out of 30 has so far won 22 out of 74 games for a .297 percentage, and teams routinely win games despite not getting on base as often because of the way scoring works -- HR + hit + hit < hit + HR.

It completely boggles my mind why ignoramuses (mostly in US sports media, but apparently also in other publications) feel the need to publish such nonsense about soccer. It's almost as if they feel personally threatened by a fantastic sport that they don't understand.

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