Hockey > Soccer

We’re at a great point in the sports calendar. The Stanley Cup finals are winding up, the NBA Finals are in full swing, the World Cup is getting underway, baseball is rolling along, the US Open tees off at Winged Foot on Thursday, and NFL quarterbacks are proving that they should probably wear their helmet off the field.

I’ve been enjoying watching the Carolina Hurricanes play over the past week. I don’t have cable or satellite tv, so the NBC broadcasts have been my first real chance to see them play all year. I have had the distinct pleasure of listening to Chuck Kaiton call their games on the radio, however. He’s one of the great voices in sports broadcasting. I watched the second half of the Sweden/Trinidad and Tobago match on Saturday as well, and was reasonably entertained as well, for a 0-0 tie.

I got to thinking about why I like hockey so much more than soccer. In some ways, they’re very similar kinds of sports — relatively low scoring, get the object in the goal games — but they provide completely different spectator experiences.

I’m not a soccer-hater. I like to watch well-played soccer. I’ll follow the World Cup. Back when I had ESPN, I spent a summer following Ajax in the UEFA Cup. Their style of play was very interesting to watch. Ultimately, however, soccer can’t hold a candle to ice hockey. Here’s why:

1. Physical effort. While soccer players are incredibly fit, they’re on the field for 90 minutes, so they can’t give maximum effort all the time. They have to conserve their energy, expending strategically in short bursts. While this can make for interesting tactics and strategy, I much prefer hockey’s system of putting players out in short shifts of a minute or so where they are in constant motion for the whole time.

2. Substitution patterns. Speaking of shifts, while I understand how soccer’s substitution rules make a certain amount of sense and create their own drama as coaches have to decide when and how to use their substitutes, it just doesn’t do it for me. Substituting without stopping play — that’s where it’s at. Is there any sport where the coach has to make fewer in-game decisions than soccer?

3. Diving. Yeah, there are floppers and divers in every sport, but come on. There’s nothing more pathetic than seeing a star soccer player writhing in agony on the ground, only to pop up and run around as if nothing had happened once play resumes.

4. Speed. Is there a faster game than hockey? No.

5. Tie-resolution mechanisms. Shootouts? Aggregates? Whatever. Yeah, regular-season NHL games can be unsatisfying with the old-school overtime ties and new-school shootout wins, and Olympic hockey still lets gold medals be won via shootout, but the Stanley Cup playoffs have the best tie-resolution mechanism in sport — sudden-death overtime, first goal wins, play until we have a winner.

6. Star culture. Is there anything more tiresome than hearing about the social lives of your favorite (or least favorite) sports stars? Stars in the NHL are guys you’d feel comfortable hanging out with (My wife grew up in Alaska, where the hockey players were the BMOCs at school, so she may disagree).

7. Physical danger. Every time Chris Pronger winds up for a slapshot, Mike Emrick’s voice rises a couple of octaves as he anticipates one of three things happening: a goal, a miss, or some poor defenseman getting in the way of a frozen piece of rubber travelling at 90 mph. The crazy thing is that the defensemen are sometimes intentionally trying to get in the way of the puck. Insanity! That’s on top of the regular old hitting that goes on in the course of a game. By contrast, there’s no more comical sight than a line of men standing shoulder-to-shoulder with their hands cupped over their crotches. Yeah, it’s dangerous on the wall, but it just doesn’t look very manly.

8. Wives and girlfriends. While footballers’ wives are stereotypically hot, there’s no rational explanation for the number of butt-ugly hockey players with supermodels on their arms, other than they must be cool.
9. Broadcasters. Hockey play-by-play men (I don’t know of any women with this job) have the hardest job in sports broadcasting. When done well, it’s amazingly exciting to listen to. Did I mention that Chuck Kaiton is awesome?

10.  Playing with the man advantage.  Trinidad and Tobago played pretty much the entire second half of their match with Sweden down a man, and they managed to pull off a tie.  What?  Something’s wrong with your game if a) you have matches in which one team plays shorthanded for more than half of the match, and b) it doesn’t materially affect the outcome.  Of course, Edmonton is something like 1 for their last 20 power play opportunites, which gives the lie to my objection, but still.

I’m sure there are more reasons, but I need to get some work done. Feel free to disagree.


118 thoughts on “Hockey > Soccer

  1. I’ve never been able to get in to hockey. But I love to watch good soccer. Part of hockey’s problem is that tiny puck and the close quarters. It’s often hard see exactly what’s happening. Also, all that time when the puck is in nobody’s possession and the players are wrestling against the boards and kicking and poking at it really bugs me for some reason. It’s just very awkward and gives me a sense of claustrophobia.

  2. In general–taken solely on the sports merits without context–I agree that hockey is better than soccer. Given context, though, high-level soccer (the World Cup) is better than high-level hockey (Stanley Cup / Olympics). Outside of the Marty McSorleys and Todd Bertuzzis of the world, the stakes just don’t seem as high.

  3. Bryce, the rest of the world will never understand why, for some of us, Matteau is a more significant name than Maradona. But I think some would admit that the 1980 USA-USSR olympic hockey game was more exciting than any moment of a World Cup.

    I discovered that I’m getting all the World Cup games on Univision, so I’ve been watching much more than I expected (I even signed up with Ronan’s BBC game — Ronan, you can add me to the league if you like: coprario, ID46272).

    But I agree with you that sudden death overtime in the NHL playoffs is more exciting than a shootout. I remember during the 2000 finals between the Devils and Stars, there was a triple overtime game. I happened to go into the 14th st. Virgin megastore on the way home to buy a CD. It was about 11:30 and the first overtime was just starting. A big crowd of us watched transfixed, past the midnight closing time, on the big screen.

    This was not half so exciting as when I watched the 1996 world series game 4 all by myself on a tiny black and white set.

  4. By the way, when I was in high school in Alaska, I don’t remember the hockey players especially being BMOCs.

    And you forgot one event in your opening litany: the French Open. The final had the chance to be one of the most significant matches in history. Unfortunately, it turned out to be kind of a dud. Neither player was at his best, Federer, especially, seeming not to keep to a coherent strategy.

  5. Bryce, I understand you completely. I’m a big hockey fan too, and have also noted at the similarities w/ soccer. Totally #4 and #10. I love, LOVE LOVE power-play hockey.

    Good post.

    Can’t wait for NFL to start though… now that’s a sport.

    Bryce, you might want to check out ESPN Deportes. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, they carry a lot of cool soccer games.

  6. Bill, Game 4 of the 1996 World Series was truly amazing. Also, I didn’t forget the French Open, but since it is over, I didn’t include it.

  7. I’m perfectly willing to acknowledge the importance that soccer has as the one truly worldwide sport. There really isn’t anything like the World Cup.

    Hockey is just more fun to watch.

  8. Tom, if you haven’t watched the NHL this season, you should give it a try (although tomorrow night is probably your last chance — sorry SG). It’s a much more free-flowing game now, and easier to watch, I think, for the newcomer to the game. There are still puck battles along the boards, but for the most part, successful teams are the ones that can get out and skate instead of mucking it up.

  9. I’m not a huge hockey fan, and I love soccer. A few reasons why soccer trumps hockey for me:

    (1) Beauty/creativity: All soccer is beautiful (the huge field itself, the physical movements the body makes when playing, etc.) And played with flair, soccer is particularly beautiful—you know, what Pele meant when he called futebol the joga bonita. An example: years later I am still astonished by the beauty of some of Roberto Carlos’s free kicks. Hope he gets to take some today! I just don’t see that beauty in hockey.

    (2) Democracy/opportunity: soccer is the least expensive sport in the world to play. All you need is a ball. Really. The kids I saw in every area of my mission (Brazil) had no cletes or goals. They played barefoot on just about every surface except grass (a campo gramado where kids could play was extremely rare) with goals improvised out of rocks or whatever else was available. Some of them didn’t even have a proper ball. They improvised those too out of tape and whatever else they could find. Hockey, in contrast, could possibly the most expensive sport in the world to play.

    (3) Violence. Soccer is a physical game, but not stupidly so. The same cannot be said, in my opinion, of hockey. My aversion to the brutality of hockey, I know, puts me at odds with my aggression-charged demographic (Men 18-34). But I take sport as a metaphore for life. And in life, agression may be necessary, but not throw-off-your-gloves-and-pummel-another-guy-senseless-in-the-middle-of-game agression.

    (4) The international game: soccer is a language nearly all of the peoples of the world speak. Not hockey. Not even close.

  10. My beef with ice hockey: cannot see the damn puck. You only know if a team has scored once the players celebrate.

    BTW, international soccer does indeed have sudden death “golden goal” (with penalties after 30 minutes). But there is nothing more high-stakes and agonising as a penalty shoot-out.

    Now, hockey may indeed be a better game (IYO). But the sheer importance of soccer globally means that the World Cup is incomparable. If England win the WC, the WHOLE nation will be in ecstasy. If, um, Carolina win the Stanley Cup, who the hell cares?

    Bryce, I say it again: you are lost, son.

    Bill, you’re in.

  11. Really, if you don’t see beauty in hockey, you don’t watch enough hockey. I’ve seen enough soccer to know that it can be beautiful, but it can also be mind-numbingly awful.

    One thing that hockey has going for it is the constant motion. There are physical motions that hockey players can perform that players running on their feet can’t possibly duplicate. Your lower body can be moving one way, while your upper body does something completely different. There’s a reason that figure skating as a sport still has an artistic merit component.

    As for the violence — there’s nothing more beautiful than a good clean hit.

  12. Notice the French team flat on their feet, turning their heads in unison, watching the ball soar past…

    Notice the kid behind the barrier flinching in preparation for impact…

  13. Soccer has, in a sense, perpetual motion. Much more so than baseball, football, or even basketball. But it is true that soccer is not as frenetic or focused as the big American sports (including hockey). That is part of the charm—good soccer is patience punctuated by brilliant flourishes. Scoring is rare and each goal is extremely dear. It is the opposite of instant gratification. That is probably part of the reason why many average Americans can’t get into to it.

  14. S.P. That’s a nice free kick, and beautiful, and amazing, but it’s so static. No one is moving. What makes hockey so beautiful is all of the movement. The skater moves one way, the puck another, the stick another, the goalie moves four ways at once, all at high speed, all beautifully coordinated, and occasionally devolving into a glorious chaotic mess.

    Ronan — the golden goal OT doesn’t count, because you can still get to a shootout. And shootouts are simply manufactured drama. Sure, they’re tense and agonizing, but that’s because they’re designed to be that way. Overtime hockey is even more agonizing, because every single shot could end the game.

    Soccer shootouts are worse than hockey shootouts, because of the rock-paper-scissors aspect of it. When world-class goalies get beaten because they guess wrong, diving left when the shot goes right, that’s just stupid. Mind games have their proper place in sports (one of the things that makes baseball great), but when championships come down to coin flips, that’s just lame.

    I’ve never understood the “can’t see the puck” complaint. It’s not that hard to follow, is it? Maybe it’s just a matter of knowing how to anticipate what will happen.

  15. S.P. is the man. The image of the poor kid kicking a ball in the favelos is the beauty of soccer.

  16. The end of Germany-Poland looks like it was a real winner.

    But is there anything worse than giving up a short-handed goal in OT at home to lose a game? I guess if it were a Game 7 it would be. Still, painful to watch.

  17. Yes, SP’s reasons are the True and Correct reasons soccer beats hockey.

    England’s team has been around for how long? A couple centuries? And Carolina Hurricanes? A couple years?

    There is also something wonderful about a sports franchise not needing a mascot (the Seahawks notwithstanding).

  18. The flags. The patriotism. Yes, even the fighting. Note also how WC TV-rights have become an issue of national importance. The photo of the guy in his shop in Afghanistan watching the WC on a tiny TV says it all.

  19. You soccer apologists are all arguing about things that are external to the actual game play. I don’t deny that the World Cup means more to more people, and that soccer one of the most democratic of sports, or that the matches in international play take on a special significance. But as far as the actual play itself, soccer < hockey. Prove me wrong, boys and girls. You can't do it.

  20. One thing that is nice about both hockey and soccer is that the stars aren’t generally freaks of nature — freakishly athletic and fit, perhaps, but of relatively ordinary height and weight.

  21. Bryce, you can’t separate the externals from the gameplay. It’s those externals that make it so interesting and wonderful and tragic and awesome.

    But to take your challenge:

    I was writing a response to a few of your issues and I realized that your overall issue is that soccer is more strategic (in your eyes boring) while hockey is bigger, badder, faster, and more agressive. In other words, you need instant gratification, big explosions and a lot of beer in your sports while some of us (Ronan, SP, me, etc) prefer strategy, sniper-like precision and aged wine in ours. Or even in more other words, your taste = bad; ours = refined.

  22. Good soccer is better than good hockey.
    Bad hockey is better than bad soccer.

    Football, even NFL-E, is better than both good hockey and good soccer. [Except for the externalities that make the World Cup exciting.]

  23. Rusty, Rusty, Rusty.

    How’s this: Baseball > Hockey > Soccer. Baseball is in so many ways the perfect game, and there’s nothing better than the 1-0 game. I’m not all about action, violence, and hitting. But that’s not the issue here.

    I can only take your refusal to address any of my specific points as a tacit admission of defeat. Very well. I accept your surrender.

  24. Pris is on to something here, I think. Except baseball > football, and for live viewing, nothing is better than hockey. If you’ve never been to an NHL game, you should withhold judgment until you do.

  25. Bryce,
    Yes, we can agree that Baseball > Soccer > Hockey (yes, in that order). And yes, hockey is a lot of fun to see live, about three-billion times better than on tv. In fact, live hockey > tv soccer. And I’ve never been to a live soccer game so I can’t make the live vs. live comparison, only the tv vs. tv one.

  26. WTF! Baseball is terrible in comparison to both of those games. Get over yourselves, yanks — there’s a reason no one outside the States can stand the game. Here is the Supergenius ranking of sports to watch on TV, btw, in terms of actual game play:

    1. College Basketball
    2. College Football
    3. Pro Soccer
    4. Pro Football
    5. Pro Hockey (if Hockey Night In Canada)
    6. Pro Baseball
    7. Curling
    8. Synchro Swimming
    9. Darts
    10. Paintball

  27. you’ll note that pro basketball is not in the list. That’s because it is dreadful to watch except in highlights. Did anyone care about this year’s finals? No.

  28. Something very strange happened to Kulturblog. We’ve got Bryce seriously making a case for baseball being better than footie. On another thread we’ve got people debating Monsters, Inc. as if it were the Seven Samurai or something.

    Anyway, England atoned. Good late win. Gotta wrap these games up earlier though.

    How’s the NHL doing? Are they still playing? (Seriously, I have no idea. Ditto for NBA.)

  29. Oh and Brycey boy, sure, hockey is faster than soccer. But then so is ping pong. That’s what hockey has over soccer, I admit it. But it’s an utter irrelevance.

  30. Of course, it is ultimately a matter of taste. You are wrong, 5 billion other people are right. Still, keep rooting for those Carolina…er, um? What they called?

  31. Ronan, to bring KB back around to its High Fidelity top-ten-list-making groove, when comparing baseball and footie, we can apply the same test that we did when comparing baseball and cricket — top ten baseball movies vs. top ten soccer movies (I can’t type “footie” with a straight face).

    I’ll make it easier for you: here’s number 1 on the footie list.

  32. I’ll watch pretty much any semi-respectable sport if there’s a bit of drama and pretty play in the game.

    I prefer soccer to hockey on TV. The movement is easier to understand. Yes, powerplays can be exciting, but watching a counterattack develop in soccer is fantastic.

    My rankings:

    1. Pro Football
    2. College Football
    3. College Basketball
    4. Baseball (but only the last 2-3 innings of a close game with a decent amount of pride or standing at stake)
    5. Women’s Basketball (just kidding — I’m glad the WNBA exists, but I have a hard time watching the gameplay)
    5. Pro Soccer
    6. Pro Basketball (but really, all you need to watch are the highlights — stick with college b-ball if you want to see actual game play)
    7. Golf (but only the last nine holes of a major tournament that is hotly contested)
    8. Pro Hockey
    9. Tennis (but only the majors and only in short doses — no way I could watch every match of Wimbledon for instance; whereas, if I could, I’d probably watch every bowl game).
    10. Lacrosse
    11. Short track speed skating / horse racing (same dynamics here so I group them together)
    12. Arena football
    13. Badminton/Table tennis/fencing/team handball/water polo
    14. Gymanstics/figure skating

  33. Bryce #39,

    It’s a typical Yank who has to manufacture sporting drama through movies. Baseball is so boring that you have to create a fiction to make it interesting (like baseball in a corn field with dead players). Football needs no Hollywood touch, the drama is on the pitch, mate. Baggio’s penalty in World Cup 94…you couldn’t make that stuff up.

    Fair play, though, Fever Pitch was quite a good film. Wait a minute, wasn’t the book about Arsenal FC? Right! Another Yank move: steal everyone else’s good ideas.

    Colonials. Keep playing your sports that no-one else likes. It’s what makes America such a lively and engaging place.

  34. Sports with judges handing out scores = not a sport

    Bryce, I can agree with you 100% on that one.

  35. Rusty,
    I been to 3 ML games since I’ve been here. An evening at Camden Yards is a mightily pleasant experience. But footy it ain’t. And basing a sport’s greatness on its movies is plain barmy.

    BTW, you should quit being babies and engage better in the baseball World Cup next time.

  36. All right, here’s my list:

    Whenever possible:

    1. Baseball
    2. Tennis
    3. NFL
    4. NCAA tournament

    If convenient:

    5. NBA
    6. NHL
    7. College football
    8. World Cup
    9. Golf

    Not for anything:

    10. NASCAR

    And spare me the sentimental arguments about the poor kids in Brazil. The poor kids in Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Domincan Republic, and Cuba are heading to the baseball field. Much of the world has opened itself to the glories of baseball, including many Asian countries. There’s more interest in soccer in the United States, however, than there is in Europe for baseball. I can only attribute this to close-mindedness and an over-reliance on the traditions of their fathers. Or perhaps the pernicious influence of cricket.

    And you can’t have it both ways (i.e. 5 billion can’t be wrong, and we have more refined taste).

  37. I will grant you that as I was watching England/Trinidad today, I thought that one of the virtues of soccer is not having any timeouts. The constant timeouts at the end of NFL and especially NBA games makes it difficult to sustain the momentum and interest, even in a close outcome. (Of course, baseball, having dispensed with the clock altogether, wins on this score as well).

    That said, there sure is a lot of standing around in these soccer games. I’m moving around a lot more and a lot faster in ultimate frisbee.

  38. Bill,

    Nevermind. You’ll aways have the “World” Series to look forward to. Oh, and whoever wins the Superbowl is the “World” Champion. Who needs these poxy games those furners play?

    Enjoy real world sports my yankee friends. You can achieve world domination that way, and it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than going to war.

    Yee Haa! I wanna smash some faces in! Find me some Trinidad fans, quick.

  39. Actually Supergenius, since you asked way way back, I’m kind of excited about the possibility that the Mavericks could deny Shaq another championship.

  40. Ronan, I’m sure it won’t placate your inner hooligan, but I’ll be watching as much Wimbledon as I can get.

    It also may or may not comfort you to know that the Episcopal church I sometimes play the organ for in the Bronx has a congregation almost entirely from Barbados, Antigua, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. I have never once heard them talk about soccer, even in the last couple of weeks, although I have had several baseball conversations with them. However, they are all rabid cricket fanatics, and they’re already planning a big trip to the big whatever-it’s-called world championship down there next year.

  41. Can we, at least, agree on one thing and call soccer “soccer” and real football “football”? It’s confusing, and I don’t like the one true sport being sullied. (You can keep calling it “footie” though, cause that sounds funny.)

    For the record:

    1) Pro football
    2) College football
    3) Baseball
    4) College basketball
    5) Golf
    6) Tennis
    7) Arena Football
    8) Pro basketball
    9) International soccer (World Cup)
    10) Pro hockey
    11) Non-World Cup soccer

  42. Ronan, you miss the point. People make movies about baseball because there are so many great stories to tell. It’s a storyteller’s game. When Bill mentions Game 4 of the 1996 World Series, I am immediately transported to another time and place.

    The American Fever Pitch was pretty lame, I’ll give you that.

  43. And Danithew,

    you’re right that the NBA playoffs have not been entirely uninteresting this year. First of all, the round 2 series between Dallas and San Antonio, was some of the best and most exciting basketball ever. Too bad it couldn’t have been the final. We’ve also seen the emergence of Duane Wade as the best player in the league, although I don’t think he’ll have enough against Dallas.

    Both the NBA and NHL, thanks to some rules changes, have been much better this year than the previous 5 or 6. They had to do something as they were hemorrhaging viewers. The NHL, in particular, after their disastrous strike, was wise to make a nod in the direction of the more exciting international style. What would we do without all those Czechs, Russians, and Swedes?

  44. 1. World Cup football.*
    2. UEFA Champions League football.
    3. English Premier League football.
    4. UEFA “Euro” Championship football.
    5. Spanish La Liga football.
    6. Italian Serie A football.
    7. English FA Cup football.
    8. All other European professional football.
    9. South American professional football.
    10. Amateur football played in the park on a Sunday morning.
    11. Cricket.
    12. Rugby.
    13. NFL.
    14. Baseball.
    15. College American (foot)ball.
    16. Lacrosse
    17. Aussie Rules (foot)tball.
    18. MLS football.
    19. Netball.
    20. Kabaddi.
    21. Field hockey.
    22. Volleyball.
    23. Handball.
    24. Water polo.
    25. Jai Alai.
    26. NHL.

    *You know, the football that is actually played with the feet.

  45. I will grant soccer this: relegation is a great way to do things. And how great would a UEFA Champions League style competition be for college football?

  46. I told you Bryce, but maybe you don’t understand me because of my accent (I’m from this other country, you know, out in yonder sea, past Cape Cod): movies manufacture drama. Soccer is drama.

  47. You’re right, Bryce

    Who can possibly take college football seriously until they come up with a legitimate championship.

    A sport that is determined by polls is no better than one where judges try to rank things like artistic merit.

  48. Ronan’s right, Bryce.

    Who cares about the movies. Baseball’s history can provide sufficient examples by itself.

  49. My point regarding sports movies is that no other sport comes anywhere near baseball in its ability to produce great stories and great dramatic moments. This is reflected in the number of movies made about baseball. Filmmakers are looking for stories to tell — baseball provides them like no other sport.

  50. TRUCE.

    Let’s rip on Canada.

    Their one world champion was a doped-up freak (Johnson, B.). They play American sports…badly. They play American sports…weirdly (CFL). And they can’t even play the old colonial games like cricket and rugby.

  51. Bryce,

    Yeah, because Field of Dreams really happened, man! Ghosts really did visit that bloke in Nebraska, or wherever.

    Ooops. Sorry. Truce.

    (P.S. Shaolin Soccer. There!)

  52. Yes, but they do rock the synchronized swimming world.

    It really ticks off Canadians that the two most recent Stanley Cup champions will be from Florida and North Carolina.

  53. Ronan, on a serious note, how does an American baseball fan approach cricket? I really do think I would like it (not quite as much as baseball, mind you).

  54. Plus, Ronan, the Canadian national sport is last on your list. But if you bring up the southward migration of Stanley Cup titles to a Canadian, they will change the subject, and start talking about what a great basketball player two-time MVP Steve Nash is.

  55. Bryce,
    You’d have to watch it with me. Preferably at the end of a gargantuan England vs. Australia series, when a two month series comes down to the last ball. Or Pakistan vs. India in Karachi. If you were watching on TV, you should find a limited-overs half-day game. But it would be hard. Look me up in England one day.

  56. 1. College Football
    2. World Cup Soccer
    3. The Olympics
    4. College Basketball Tournament
    5. Everything else

    Regarding Professional Baseball:
    I am painfully ambivalent. I have spent some fine summer evenings at baseball games. And I have a store of good baseball memories (two examples: (1) being at Yankee stadium as an 8-year-old in 1985 to see four future (or likely future) hall of famers homer: Don Mattingly, Ricky Henderson, and Dave Winfiend homered in consecutive at bats for the Yankees, and Carlton Fisk homered a few innings later for the White Sox; and (2) I attended several games in the Salt Lake Trappers’ record breaking 29-game win streak in 1989–arguably one of the great all-time baseball stories). Yet I can’t get past the steriod scandal, the class issues that keep rich teams permanently near the top, and the powerful and thugish players union. I am just too disgusted by what baseball is now to care much about the game itself or all of the romance about what it once was, what it means in American history, etc.

    Regarding Professional Basketball:
    At one point, the NBA was at the top of my list. The Celtics-Lakers rivalry, the Bulls dynasty, and the Jazz’s heartbreaking failure to bring home a championship captivated me. But now I have a hard time caring at all. Players only seem to play hard in play-offs. Season is way too long. Most teams have abandoned meaningful strategy and defense for run-and-gun or isolate and drive. Few current stars interest me.

    Now if you want to talk about sports to play … It’s something like this:
    1. Basketball
    2. Soccer
    3. Football (Flag)
    4. Ultimate Frisby
    5. Bocce (Lawn Bowling, baby!)

  57. In case anyone missed it, the New York Mets set a major league record this afternoon becoming the first team ever to win eight straight road games when scoring in the first inning, breaking the record formerly held by the 1939 Yankees.

    No other sport has so many great statistics as baseball.

  58. Bill,

    I give you the “record of the most extras in a single innings” from the Wisden cricket almanack:


    21 (B) 8 (LB) 4 (NB) 38 (W)
    Pakistan v West Indies (435), Georgetown, 1987/88

  59. In 1899, 13-year old Arthur Collins scored 628 not-out in a junior match for Clarke’s House at Clifton College. This remains the highest score in any form of cricket. He then took 11 wickets to help his team beat North Tower by an innings and 688 runs. Collins never played first-class cricket and was killed in WW-I

  60. Inane statistics and their memorizers is another thing about baseball that I find extremely distateful.

  61. Ha! I was just posting that utterly meaningless statistic in hopes of further riling someone up.

    However, deep knowledge of the game doesn’t need to go searching in almanacs.

    By the way, who was that defender that saved the goal near the end of the first half? He was the real hero of the game for England.

  62. So far the best goaltending I’ve seen has been (despite their losses) Poland and Trinidad. The worst was Ukraine.

  63. Don’t forget Keller against the Czechs. Sure his defense let him down, but he could have stopped at least one, maybe two, of those goals. He needs to have a big game Saturday to give the US a chance against Italy.

  64. I didn’t see the USA game, and have only seen about half the games, so my pronouncements should be taken with a grain of salt. That, and I don’t really know much of anything about the finer points of soccer, and since I’m watching it all in Spanish, I’m not picking up the vocabulary.

    That’s not preventing me from doing well in the Kulturblog league, but ignorance seems to be no disadvantage there. It’s more about trading psychology.

  65. “Trading phychology,” i.e., irrational exuberance regarding England, extreme undervaluation of the actual favorites to win, and even more extreme undervaluation of legitimate dark horses (Ecuador, anyone?)

  66. S.P., I’ve observed some rationality to some of it, though not the kind I would expect. If you keep an eye on the daily win bonuses, you’ll see that the teams involved, especially the favorite to win the challenge, will go up steadily until the win bonus deadline and then they’ll fall steadily. I’m guessing that there’s probably a similar pattern for teams that will get a lot of press relative to their share price as it gets closer to Saturday, although I can’t be sure.

    It was helpful for me to read through the detailed game FAQs. If you go in just thinking about best teams and game outcomes, like I initially did, you’re not likely to do too well. Of course, I’m not sure I’m going to do real well now that I know how things work, obviously Bill’s figured it out better than I have, but some things are starting to make some sense.

  67. I haven’t put much time into figuring it out. Maybe next time. (I am undoubtedly too far behind at this point to get very far!)

  68. Well, the overall trading competition is based on percentage increase over a week, so you’re never out of the running. But there are thousands of people competing, so none of us has much of a chance at being a top weekly trader. In the Kulturblog league, it looks like everyone’s still in the race for second.

  69. 11. Goalkeeping. Hockey netminders are da bomb! They get tested 30+ times a game, and a hot goalie can steal a game for you every now and then.

  70. Yes, the win bonuses are where I’ve made most of the percentage increase. The last couple, I bought in on both sides, assuring myself of at least some profit. To really win big, however, you have to put all your available cash in the win bonus and pick the right side. My upcoming strategy is to buy a lot of Trinidad and Tobago (I’ve already been stockpiling some in anticipation) since they will be everywhere in the news for a few days and so will have an attractive dividend yield.

  71. A couple of soccer questions I’ve been wondering:

    1) How are the refs (is there a different title used in soccer?) determined for the World Cup? Are they German? Are they pulled from different countries?

    2) A red card is worse than a yellow card which is worse than a foul–I get that–but are they inter-related? Like, ie, does a third foul require a yellow card? Is a second yellow card worth a red? If they’re not inter-related, what actions are deemed worth a foul, a yellow card, and a red card?

    3) How are ties broken in WC standings? Say, for instance, that Group E ends and Italy has 9 points, but the other three have 3 points (Hey, I just wanna know how the US can advance after it loses to Italy)–who advances?

    Help much appreciated.

  72. 1. Best from each federation (European, Asian) etc.
    2. Some fouls would elicit a straight red (violent conduct); some a yellow (two-footed tackle). Otherwise yellows are kind of cumulative: 2/3 clumsy fouls = yellow, but it’s quite subjective.
    3. Goal difference, then head-to-head.

  73. 2. Also, two yellows in one game equals a red and you’re gone for the rest of the game and also for the next game. If you get sent off with a red your team plays a man down for the rest of the match. In the WC, if you get a yellow in each of the first two games of the opening round you don’t get sent off, but you can’t play in the third game. It resets in the round of 16.

    Ronan, correct me if I’m wrong here. I think if you’re the last defender and you foul an attacker to prevent them from scoring, that’s a yellow even if it’s not a violent or dangerous foul that wouldn’t otherwise get you carded. Sometimes that gets a red if it’s really blatant. Also a hand ball in the box to prevent a goal gets a red.

    3. Goal difference=goals scored minus goals against, in case that’s not clear.

  74. I think if you’re the last defender and you foul an attacker to prevent them from scoring, that’s a yellow even if it’s not a violent or dangerous foul that wouldn’t otherwise get you carded. Sometimes that gets a red if it’s really blatant. Also a hand ball in the box to prevent a goal gets a red.

    Spot on.

    BTW, good luck Yanks for tomorrow.

  75. Thanks. I was doing some more reading and, in case this interests anyone but me, all WC refs this year are required to know English.

    “I think if you’re the last defender and you foul an attacker to prevent them from scoring…”

    Shaq vs. Stackhouse last night, anyone?

    Somebody who watched Argentina/S&M — what the heck happened? That there is almost an (American) football score.

  76. I had to get to school so I only saw the first half a a little of the second, but it was 3-0 at halftime. Argentina was just handing it to them. Then not long after the half, S&M’s most vigorous player was sent off for a bad tackle. That’s when I stopped watching, but at that point S&M was even more sluggish and lackluster than in the first half. Given that they were a man down, it’s almost surprising that Argentina didn’t score more.

    I have to say, Argentina scares me. Especially considering how bad Brazil looked in their opener.

  77. Argentina’s second goal was a far more beautiful thing to behold than anything you can see in hockey, baseball, or giant leather egg throwing. In fact all of their goals were more beautiful than any steroid juiced home run.

  78. Home runs are not the reason a connoisseur watches baseball. None of the goals I’ve seen over the past week can compare to the double play started by David Wright that saved the game for the Mets in the bottom of the ninth on Tuesday night.

    That play by John Terry comes close, however.

  79. Bill, I actually find baseball the most engaging of all the US sports, after the regualar season at least. However, I confess I am a novice. Could you explain what the connoisseur sees that I don’t. And I’ll explain why I think Argentina’s second beats anything you’ll see in US sports. I think it was so beautiful because it was the culmination of over 20 passes, some simple some elaborate, a sublime back heel, and memerizing movement by almost the entire team. You can’t script that, you can’t draw it up on a chalkboard, you can’t practice it, you can hardly even dream of it. It involves the synchronization of the entire team. While the bottom of the ninth in a major league game adds intensity to the double play, at the end of the day it is still a play you’ll see in hundreds of ball parks every day, it’s a play that only involves 3 players, and it’s a play that every kid in little league is practicing. The same can’t be said about Argentina’s goal.

  80. I guess we had a misunderstanding of terminology. When someone speaks of a “goal”, I never anticipated they were thinking that it included all 20 plays that led up to it. In hockey, for example, the goal is the final scoring shot. The penultimate pass may be credited with an “assist”. Of course there may be plenty of improvisatory movements and passes leading up to this point.

    I will say that I enjoy the virtuosity on display in some of these games. The Germany-Poland game, for example was the best example I’ve seen so far of precision passing and control of the ball.

  81. As for baseball, there are routine double plays and spectacular double plays. There may even be a double play the likes of which no one has ever yet dreamed. This is probably a main reason people watch baseball and soccer — to see something they never saw before, in the context of very familiar patterns and sequences of events.

    For example, a double play is much more meaningful if a pitcher has come on in relief with the based loaded and no one out, especially if the score is close and he is able to get the first out on a strikeout or pop fly. Also, a routine walk is very different from a walk that results from a player being down 0-2 in the count and fouling off 8-10 excellent pitches before finally forcing the pitcher to give in.

  82. I love those crazy double plays where short or second makes a heroic play just to get the ball to the other man so he can turn it, you know, those blind, diving, over-the-head flips that are right on target? Awesome.

  83. Yanks were shafted. No way those were two reds. Moral victory goes to USA. It’s another reason that soccer rules the world, though: it’s like Greek mythology — sometimes Zeus screws you. This makes the agony even more beautiful. Iti’s beat Czech’s; Yanks beat Ghana; USA goes through.

  84. Brutal, stressful game for me. U.S. looked like the better team today; and a million times better than they did against the Czechs. A draw down a man is as good as you can hope for, I guess. At least we caught a break with the own goal.

    Beasley’s worthless. Gimme Johnson.

  85. The US were certainly worth their point, but on reflection I don’t think the ref had as bad a game as it first seems. 1st red was well deserved. 2nd was harsh, probably only a yellow, but the guy went in 2 footed with studs showing – I’ve seen them given for less. 3rd was a stupid play by Pope. He took the man from behind, in a dangerous area, and got nowhere near the ball. That’s definately a yellow, therefore a red. 3 reds make the ref seem trigger happy but 2 were deserved and the 3rd (ie the 2nd) wouldn’t seem as bad if no other reds had been given. Well done to the US though, they’ve given themselves a chance, which didn’t look likely this morning.

  86. I wasn’t able to catch the U.S./Italy match, but I did watch most of the Ghana/Czech one — my first of the World Cup so far.

    I’d forgotten how much I liked to watch soccer because all I’ve seen in the past few years is a few boring MLS games. The spacing and positioning in soccer and how synchronous it can be when a team is on (as gomez mentions above) makes it more interesting to me than basketball, I think. Position and synchronicity obviously matter in basketball, but the dimensions of the court and the fact that there are only 5 players diminishes it as a spectator sport, I think. Although basketball is more fun to play than soccer (in my opinion) because it’s easier to score and defend.

    That second goal by Ghana was beautiful.

  87. I think the Ghana match was one of the most exciting of the tournament so far. Frankly, I am considering cheering for them against the U.S. on Thursday,

    Why do so many of the U.S.’s World Cup matches turn ugly and physical? I’m thinking of 2002’s slugfest with Mexico. Are we a nation of gratuitous foulers?

  88. Against Mexico is was the Mexicans’ fault. And nobody on our team did anything as bad as throw an elbow to somebody’s face on purpose.

  89. Amen, Tom. That elbowing should have that player banned. It could have broken McBride’s nose. I think you might have to chalk it up to anti-Americanism.

  90. Quick question for the soccer experts:

    In game six of the hockey finals, the Carolina goalie made a glove save. The momentum of the puck carried it very close to all the way through the plane of the goal, but replay evidence was insufficient to credit the shot as a goal. If the entirety of the puck were indisputably to have crossed the plane, it would have been a goal.

    Is the soccer rule similar? For instance, the replay showed that, contrary to my initial impression, when John Terry kicked the ball away it was probably about a foot away from having crossed the plane. What if he had kicked it out after it had already, or partly passed through?

  91. Ronan: I think you might have to chalk it up to anti-Americanism.

    You know I will. To me, every hard tackle, every jeer from the crowd, and every bad call, especially when these things are done by Europeans, is a manifestation of anti-Americanism. That’s why I take an inordinate amount of pleasure in France’s suckiness and why I hope so bad that Germany flames out in the round of 16. I’m not so anti-England because your PM doesn’t seem to hate us (he likes us too much).

    I also hold residual cold war grudges.

  92. In game six of the hockey finals, the Carolina goalie made a glove save.

    That was an awesome save.

    Related question: Was McBride’s offsides call on the Beasley(?) non-goal a garden variety offsides, or was there some other rule invoked?

  93. Bill, the majority of the ball has to cross the plane of the goal. Bryce, it was an uncommon offside. Normally, you can be in an offside position on a shot as long as you are not interfering with play. But standing in front of the goalie probably counts as “interfering with play.” On another note, give McBride a knighthood or something. People bleed in football and hockey of course, but there they bleed for their billionaire owners; McBride bled for his country, man.

  94. Ukraine is making Saudi Arabia look pretty bad. But Ukraine itself looked terrible against Spain. Is Spain that good, or did Ukraine have a bad day?

  95. By the way, who remembers the NASL from the 70s and early 80s. I didn’t pay it much attention, and derived most of my knowledge of it from Kix cereal boxes, but I always thought the Dallas Tornado was one of the coolest franchise names.

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