MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., August 17, 2014 – Fresh from the World Cup in Brazil, U.S. interest in soccer is increasing. The athleticism and skill of the players had us mesmerized. This is especially true for those of us that at any time have played the sport.
While the rest of the world refers to this sport as football, we insist on calling it soccer. This somewhat parallels what our attitude is about the metric system. While other countries that used the same British system have at least set a path to “metrification”, we haven’t. This presents us with the dilemma of scientist and to some extent engineers using the metric system and the British system.
Of course, the obvious is that soccer is played mostly with feet (football) and football is played mostly with hands. Logically the latter should be called hand-ball, but no one ever said our passions had to be logical.
Soccer is a free flowing game. While a team has a strategy, each particular play has so many variations that to most it appears random. On the other hand, (American) football is mostly played with set plays. The game stops after each particular play and both the offense and the defense plan what would be done next.
In soccer there are few set plays. Only corner and free kicks have some structure and strategy associated with them. In football each play is planned and rehearsed many times.
In soccer there is also plenty of training associated with doing things in a certain way and in repeating plays. However, the idea is that in the case of the offense, the players have to be proactive and try to find a way to get open and make a play. The defense is reactive and depends entirely on what the other team offensive players do.
In both, there are some fundamentals. The defense has to cover either a player or a zone. There are 11 players on each side and there is the chance for substitution. While in football, a coach can substitute as much as he wants, in soccer there are only a set number of substitutions.
Possibly one of the most critical decisions in a soccer game is penalizing a player with a red card or two yellow cards in the same game. This not only gets the player out of the game, but another player cannot take his or her place. The affected team has to play “a man down,” with only ten players, against another team at full strength.
Seeing a star player in the soccer field is like watching a ballet. Movement with and without the ball, feigning to get past an opponent, controlling a contested ball that is high and/or apparently out of reach are works of art. Passes across field that are travelling at high speeds are easily controlled by a skilled player. If the reader has ever tried to do that not using hands, then you know what I mean.
Possibly the most challenging play in soccer is when a player tries to control a high ball, away from the body near the out of bounds line. Stretching their legs to their maximum, the players stop the ball and are able to bring it down and control it. They appear to defy the laws of physics.
Another thing that is special about soccer is that most of the super stars are persons of normal or low height. This is because the most valued attributes in soccer are skill, balance and quickness. While in football these capabilities are also necessary, a football player with brute strength can compensate for not being that quick.
Super stars in soccer that command salaries in the tens of millions are generally good goal scorers or “finishers”. When the ball gets into a crowded penalty box, only those who can control the ball, maneuver, position themselves and kick the ball where the goalie is not, are super stars.
While one person will not be definitive in whether a team wins on both football and soccer, a super star definitely makes a difference on the chances the team has to prevail. We see that in every football game and saw it in the case of Messi or “Hames” (don’t call me James) Rodríguez in the world cup.
On the sociological part of the argument, a number of persons with a ball (soccer, volley, basket or tennis) can start a soccer game with almost exactly the same conditions as the most professional game. This is one reason soccer (call me football in the rest of the world) is the most popular game in the world.
Go Skins, Terps and last but not least United.
Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifis, is an avid football (change the name Dan) and soccer. He can be found in Twitter (@chibcharus), Google+ and Facebook (Mario Salazar).