The beautiful game is a lot like making love

The game we call football is known around the world as “American football.” This is because the game we know as soccer is called football elsewhere in the world. Soccer is also known as “the beautiful game” and, if you take the time to get to know it, as I have, you might just call it beautiful as well.

If you go to youth athletic fields these days, you’ll see a lot of soccer being played by kids. It has really taken off in this country. Attendance at professional league games has increased as well; Major League Soccer draws huge crowds on a consistent basis. Soccer has indeed arrived in this country.

The thing about soccer is you have to have an attention span to appreciate it. Baseball has been falling off the radar with the kids because it’s just too slow.

They keep changing the rules in American football in order to get more scoring, which “they” think will keep us interested in it (actually, gambling plays a big role in football’s popularity). I’m a huge football fan, yet even I can’t justify spending three hours to watch one game anymore unless it’s my favorite team.

What’s great about soccer is it’s two 45-minute halves, with no commercials. Awesome. As far as how soccer appears on TV, it’s better than the other goal-scoring sport, ice hockey, because it’s slower and you can see it clearly. Still, like football, you really need to be there in person, sitting high up, to get the big picture and see the plays developing.

With soccer, it’s all about probing the other side, trying to find a weakness. You push here, they push there, you feint, they counter. You make what you think is a slick move, then get rebuffed. Doubling back, you rethink your strategy, trying to find a balance between pushing too hard while at the same time not getting exposed.

It’s a lot like making love if you think about it, haha. All kidding aside, it’s a sport that rewards extended thought and attention. The more you watch it, the more you get to understand and then enjoy it.

Soccer is very similar to ice hockey in that they are both sports where the object is to score a goal. However, soccer is burdened by the “offside” rule. This means you can’t just let a guy hang back by the other team’s goal, waiting for easy pickings; the ball must always advance down the field before the team trying to score.

In ice hockey, they have a blue line; once the puck passes the blue line, anything goes. A line like that could easily be added to a soccer field (more properly known as the “pitch”). Then, instead of having so many 1-0, 2-1, and 0-0 games, you’d have 7-5, 10-8, etc. The thing is, it’s a worldwide game at this point with decades of tradition, so no one wants to change anything.

What confuses me is someone can watch a 1-0 baseball game and say it’s the greatest thing ever, yet trust me when I tell you, I have seen some truly fantastic 1-0 and even 0-0 soccer games that featured all kinds of great skill and drama.

The more you get to know the game, the more you get to know when you see greatness. Yes, there are some times where a team will go up 1-0 and then just play “keep away” in the hopes that it can just cruise to an easy win. What can you do? Nothing is perfect.

At least these days they keep track of goal differential, so the incentive is to always score as many goals as you can while giving up as few goals as possible. That usually makes for good play.

If you thought the only place to find “divas” was on the opera stage, you should try watching some soccer. It got to the point where so many players were taking “dives,” that is, trying to get the referee to call a penalty on the defender by overacting, that now you can get a penalty for taking a dive.

Like sign stealing in baseball, you can try to ban it but it will always be done. Players in all sports want any advantage they can get. Soccer referees work hard to call only real penalties, but the players make it so tough for them. Being a soccer referee at the highest levels cannot be an easy job.

In this country, all our major sports have a big problem with “tanking.” This is where a team will intentionally try to lose games in the hopes of finishing last so they can get the first pick in the draft (the draft is where they get the best college players).

Imagine that; you pay good money for season tickets or the sports package on your cable, only to watch teams intentionally lose. Well, this doesn’t happen in Great Britain’s soccer league, the English Premier League.

There, 20 teams start each season and, when the season is over, the bottom three teams get “relegated” to the minor leagues. This is the way to solve the tanking problem. We need that in this country for sure. There should never be any incentive to lose games on purpose.

Speaking of the English Premier League: It has a huge problem with racism for some reason; the Black players often get treated horribly by the so-called fans. Now, before each league game, players on both teams take a knee right there on the pitch, to signify that racism will not be tolerated. Good for them.

Now they just have to figure out what to do about the over zealous fans known as “hooligans” who get drunk, start fights, and cause all kinds of mayhem. It’s one thing to love your team, but devotion to the point where things get violent cannot ever be permitted, period.

American soccer players are getting better, but it is just a fact that soccer is played at a much higher level around the world than here. Think about it: In the past, your tall, fast, coordinated kids would all go out for football, basketball, baseball, or ice hockey.

That is changing now. We are seeing kids playing soccer and staying with it much more now, such that we have several Americans, like Tim Howard and Christian Pulisic, who star with the best teams around the world.

Also, our American women have been at the top of female soccer for decades. If you’ve never watched our women play soccer, you owe it to yourself to give them a chance. They play with lots of skill, heart, and joy, the way the game is meant to be played, and they are great fun to watch. They are a true national treasure.

There are a couple of great soccer players I just have to mention. The first is England’s retired star forward, David Beckham. He had the ability to “bend” the ball, that is, kick it in such a way that, like a curve ball thrown by a pitcher, it would curve or bend at the last second and wind up in the net. This was an amazing feat because he was so consistent with it.

Another great player was the great Brazilian star Pele. I saw somewhere where a coach was diagramming plays on a chalkboard for Pele using Xs and Os like they do in football. Pele grabs the coach’s chalk, and then just draws long, flowing Ss, winding up in the goal. That’s the kind of player he was, pure poetry in motion.

The World Cup, the greatest sporting event in the world, with literally billions of viewers, is coming up this November. It’s interesting when you watch this spectacle how the teams are so true to their heritage: The Germans are precise and clinical, the South Americans are fluid and graceful, the English are somewhere in between.

Spain has lots of passing and moving around, much like dancing. Argentina flows and presses constantly, like waves at the shore. The Nordic teams are painstakingly precise, while Mexico runs around with tremendous skill and energy.

As far as America goes, we try hard. We really do. We never give up, and that’s something to be very proud of.

Soccer is a sport that rewards the time invested in learning its many nuances. If you take the time to do that, I can guarantee you’ll be rewarded many times over.

Goals are hard to come by and, when they occur, they are often produced by sheer artistry on the pitch. When you see goals scored like that — often right off someone’s head who is flying through the air like a bird — you will understand why soccer, or really football, truly is the beautiful game.