I have only watched maybe half a dozen soccer games on TV all the way through. It’s probably not enough to start to understand the “finer points of the game,” although it doesn’t help that the announcers don’t make any effort to actually explain said finer points. This isn’t blistering-paced hockey; there is plenty of time to educate all those potential new soccer fans that might have happened across a match while channel surfing.
I constantly see this argument that Americans don’t like soccer simply because it’s low scoring, and, in my experience, the people that say that usually are thinly implying (or often flat out saying) that those people are simply dumb for not appreciating a game without the potential for big scores. I have a different take on it. Low scoring games place a huge weight on each goal, which I think leads to some major problems.
1) As seen in the Brazil-Croatia game, flopping/diving is insanely beneficial if you can get away with it. (How the world’s biggest event for a single sport can have clear camera footage of an obvious flop which gave the home team the winning goal and can do nothing about it is beyond me, but that’s another discussion.) Still, since a single goal is so incredibly valuable in soccer, it’s inevitable that players are going to seek that short circuit path to get a chance at scoring with a penalty kick that the keeper has almost no chance of defending if he doesn’t guess right. Flopping happens in basketball, too, of course, but the effect on the overall score is much smaller, so unless it’s done at the end of the game, there are opportunities to compensate for it.
2) Low scores reward random events. I know there’s skill in getting to the opponent’s goal and defending your own, and I’ve actually seen a higher number of impressive assists and goals in these WC games than I’ve ever seen before. However, I’ve seen a ton of goals in soccer where the ball simply bounces in the right place for an attacker who is there in a lucky position to pop it in before the defense and keeper can react. I just watched the U.S. lose to Germany based on a great save by our keeper that just happened to bounce straight to one of the Germans hanging out around the net with no one in front of him. It was a good ricochet for Germany, and it decided the entire game. Now hockey has this same issue, but hockey also many more scoring opportunities for the offense to even it up, while maintaining a much smaller net, so a goalie actually has a chance in hell of fending off multiple attacks in a row. The goaltending in the Stanley Cup finals was breathtaking in this respect. And yet several of the winning goals for the Kings seemed to just come from bad ricochets that the goalie would have had otherwise. I also hate sudden death in sports for reasons like this. Randomness should be minimized as much as possible in sports, so that the athletes and coaches can truly show that their skills are the reasons for winning or losing.
I think this is really the non-articulated core of the American dislike for soccer. It might be considered a matter of fairness in a way. The low scoring really allows for many unearned wins and upsets, and the size of the field and the pace of the game make it difficult to throw a lot of shots on goal to at least try to even things out, such as in hockey. The Big 3 American sports all have legitimate comeback potential at any time and the higher score potential mitigates the devastation of terrible officiating somewhat. I suspect that American fans who care even a little about the sport they’re watching don’t mind seeing a 0-0 pitcher’s duel or low-scoring basketball or football game if the reason for the low scoring is defensive excellence. (If it’s just utter incompetence by both teams, then it IS legitimately terrible.) The reason one can appreciate low scoring in those games is that we all know that it’s very possible to have medium-to-high scores in those games. Randomness and bad calls can only account for so many points/runs in football, basketball, and baseball; there’s always still that chance of overcoming even unfair obstacles through skill and determination. In soccer, one goal against you is basically a knife to your throat and two would probably be a flat out decapitation.
So, my position is that the sport needs higher scoring potential not to make it more exciting, but to make it more fair and less random. If all that American sports fans cared about was the endorphin rush of seeing someone score as soccer evangelists often claim is the case, we wouldn’t give two craps about PEDs, steroids, or anything else along those lines. The real reason, I think, is that it just doesn’t seem truly competitive enough the way it’s currently played.