Hoosier Scoop Sage Take of the Day, Nov. 2, 2012

Disclaimer: I am an admitted soccer fan. I wanted to say that up front before I proceeded to drive soccer purists into apoplexy by proposing a pretty radical change for the sport.
I was privileged to cover Indiana University soccer for 15 years during my previous stint writing sports for the Herald-Times, lucky enough to be along for the ride when Jerry Yeagley’s program won its first five NCAA titles.
Covering the first one, actually, prompted my first major road trip for the H-T. I was still a part-timer at the paper in 1982 when I got to witness and attempt to document the epic eight-overtime win over Duke in Fort Lauderdale.
Writing about Yeagley’s great teams through the 1980s and 1990s taught me the game. Up until then, I had harbored what I would imagine were some pretty commonly myopic American perspectives on the sport. Yeagley’s Hoosiers helped me learn to appreciate it better.
Now I’m a massive Premier League fan. Liverpool is my club. Gerrard is my guy. I watch every Champions League match I can. I invest emotionally in every World Cup, rooting for the Americans while remaining enough of an Anglophile to suffer along with the English.
Having said all that, watching Thursday night’s thoroughly entertaining Big Ten showdown between host IU and defending conference champ Northwestern brought to mind a major bone I still have to pick with the sport.
(And, no, it’s not just that any athletic pursuit designed for homo sapiens with opposable thumbs really ought to have more hand-eye coordination involved.)
It’s simply that there so often just isn’t enough scoring to properly quantify play.
I’m not one of those instant-gratification junkies who craves a goal every other minute. I’m talking about just a few more goals. I’m talking about making soccer finals more like, say, hockey scores. More 4-2 or 3-2 games. Fewer 1-0 and 0-0 games.
Thursday’s match, by rights, would have properly resulted in about a 3-2 or 4-2 IU win. The Hoosiers totally controlled the first half. Northwestern dominated the opening 25 minutes or so of the second half. Then IU was ascendant again for the balance of regulation play and through the overtimes.
The final was a 1-1 tie that did not properly quantify play. Shots hit posts. Shots hit crossbars. More goals should have ensued, for both sides.
There is an easy solution for this. Others have proposed it before. Purists hate the idea, but I have always advocated for it, because I believe it would make soccer a better sport.
Enlarge the size of the goals.
Not a lot. Only enough to increase the overall number of goals by perhaps 30 or 40 percent. Maybe raise the crossbar a foot or two, and widen each post a foot or so. Goalies (invariably larger and more athletic now than when the game was in its infancy) would still be able to do their jobs, but a few more shots would squeeze their way into nets.
Just enough, hopefully, to generate fair results more consistently.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m well aware goals alone don’t define the beauty of the game. Watching a give-and-go in midfield, a well-timed overlapping run by a winger, a great slip-head, a clever back-heel — there are plenty of other aspects that amount to entertainment value for the experienced fan capable of appreciating the game’s many nuances.
I fully recognize that the general paucity of scoring often adds to the drama, too. When the goal finally comes after a long stretch of scoreless play, it constitutes a tremendous release of tension and emotion. It can be little short of orgasmic.
So I’m just talking a little more scoring, not a torrent of goals. Just enough to have more deserving sides win more often.
Consider this: Northwestern is a very good American college team, and came to Bloomington needing just a win to secure another Big Ten regular season title. But the Wildcats entered play Thursday not having scored in over 350 minutes of play. And Thursday amounted to their fourth straight overtime game, and a school-record ninth of the season.
Is that the sort of thing we really want, soccer fans? A team that can’t score consistently winning championships? A lack of scoring so acute that a majority of games in that team’s season require overtimes?
Sure, enlarging the goals would dramatically affect statistics, skewing numbers after the change and rendering them unfit for comparison with historical stats. But to me, that’s a small price to pay for a better game. Stick an asterisk on the stats, then move on.
Jerry Yeagley agrees with me on this, by the way. We’ve talked about it more than once over the years. I might still be just another meathead American who doesn’t understand how to properly appreciate the game, but I don’t think you can say that about him.


  1. I don’t know if enlarging the goals would solve the problem though. I think shrinking the field would be a better solution.

    Take indoor soccer for example. The smaller field forces more shots on goal by not allowing space to spread out, make long passes, and play balls to the sidelines and corners for crosses. This increases the number of points scored even though the goals themselves are smaller.

    Shrinking the field would speed up the game, allow more shots on goal, and force players to use a bit more offensive creativity.

  2. Andy, I am not much of a soccer aficionado so I say this somewhat tongue in cheek. Just eliminate the goaltenders which would also free up prospective talent for FB and BB. Win, win?

  3. For those of you who think this is heresy, remember the NHL has adjusted the size of goalie pads to increase scoring. Not quite as radical, but in the same spirit. I actually wathed parts of the game on BTN, and agred that overall IU outplayed them. Doesn’t show in the score.

  4. I don’t think that’s a bad idea at all. I can’t count the number of times as a player or spectator that the “bar music” has played. What I’d like is for *just* the sides of the goal to be expanded. I would want to reward skilled placement shots, not the quick trigger guys who blast away from 30 yards because they are convinced that they are gods of the field.

    A simpler thing, implementable right now and around the country, would simply be a lot more forgiving about offsides. How many goals has quick offsides calls cost the Hoosiers this season? If you reward the offense instead of the defense on these calls, you’ll see that significant increase (100%+, I’d guess) in scoring per game very quickly.

  5. Interesting idea. I’m okay with low scores because it intensifies the significance of each goal, and a lot of the appeal of the game, at least at the high levels (World Cup, European professional leagues) is the skill required to put together the combinations and interplay between teammates needed to put the ball in the net (and similarly, the skill of the defenders at preventing goals).

    You are right about overtime and how a tie can be broken. Enlarging the goals would be a pretty good way to lessen the number of ties.

    Bigger problems with soccer, in my mind, are the time wasting from faking injuries and attempting to fool the ref into calling non-existent fouls. To fix those, I’d recommend FIFA review all game tapes and retroactively adjust yellow and red cards for faked injuries/fouls, and assign any cards to the player who is guilty of faking. That might deter faking because players would know they could be held out of their next, possibly critical game. Also, any player taken off the field should have to stay off the field for a period of time, say 5 minutes, on order to provide a disincentive to faking injuries.

    These measures would also speed up the action, and presumably lead to more goals.

  6. Always good to have more LFC fans out there. “Steve Gerrard, Gerrard…. He’ll pass the ball 40 yards…”

  7. Why not just let every player use their hands?

    Also, if a player gets “hurt”, then make him get hurt. The other team gets to go Tonya Harding on his leg with a crowbar.

  8. (Warning: Long post/response to The Sage and subsequent postings. Read at your own risk.)

    Dear meathead American who doesn’t understand how to properly appreciate the game (of soccer)-Andy: (Actually Andy, I’ve always liked your soccer stories but…)
    First, you’ve probably wondered how it took me this long to respond to your blog suggesting a change to the dimensions of the 300+ year old soccer goal to enhance the attractiveness and excitement of the game. I took me this long (about 5 hours since I read your ideas and some of the commentary by other bloggers) to stop rolling on the floor laughing to the point of needing diapers. I actually had to re-read the comment again two hours later to make sure I had not missed any verbs, or my computer had not dropped entire paragraphs or anything else that could affect the meaning of your musing on soccer. The another two hours to stop crying at the thought that it was a serious proposal.

    Then, thinking about it the reason why your view of the game is so skewed became obvious and clear.It explains why you are having trouble being entertained by soccer. Besides watching entirely too much NCAA soccer, you spend way, way too much time watching the Premier English League. Both feature a style of play that resembles bumper cars or pin ball in three dimensions with your last ‘Happy Birthday’ balloon, rather than the skilled, precise, thoughtful and creative game of strategy, style and execution that soccer is when you watch good teams with 11 skilled players on a side. The last time England played a good game Silvester Stallone was their goalie in a war prison camp movie.

    Ask yourself one question Andy. Why have the English not been able to get to a World Cup final since Richard, the Lion Hearted played midfield in a tin suit. Other than Rooney who resembles a horney Friar Tuck wearing the #9 shirt for the Camelot Beercans, most great scorers in the English leagues are from Argentina, Brazil, Germany and a lost Dutch, Italian or French guy or two.

    Let me be fair, since I witnessed the same IU soccer history you did. After initial ambivalence in my part, I came to the realization that Jerry Yeagley is truly one of the great heroes of soccer in the US. I will always admiringly remember him as one of the forces who gave me back the game I had lost when coming to this country as a kid by bringing it to the heart of intercollegiate athletics. He was also as good a coach made in the US as you will ever hope to see. IU was lucky and so were its fans.

    Likewise Todd. Todd is a symbol of the game in the US. He grew up, adopted it, loved it and assumed it. Todd Yeagley gave his considerable athletic skill as part of early generations of players who helped us join the rest of the world and ‘really tried to play the game as it is meant to be played’. Not only were father and son incredibly successful(as the story of your own relationship to it tells), but both assumed the responsibility, stirred the passion and nurtured the game; refining it and passing it on to others.

    Now…from a game played by 22 and watched by 8-10 guys with accents as used to be the case; college stadiums are built with stands in the thousands, and professional stadiums with capacity of greater than 20,000 built exclusively for soccer are being built in large and medium size cities like Chicago (Broadview,IL and Portland, OR). Thank you Yeagleys!

    At the center…the Indiana University soccer program, its Bill Armstrong Stadium and its more than half a dozen national championships in the middle of the America, the Indiana plains.

    We, the US clearly are not there yet. Let’s be honest and truthful. The US plays better and better soccer each day; but it is not yet anywhere near the ‘beautiful game’ of the Brazilians beaches, the Argentine Pampas (plains), the German and Italians street, or kids on a beach in Rio or a a railroad siding or dirt street in Amsterdam, Munich or Buenos Aires.

    But…be fair to the game Andy. Don’t change what history has not change while a billion fans around the Earth follow with passion each day; that to include Bloomington, Indiana now. The game doesn’t need change just because you don’t yet quite get it (though just as truthful and honest, you really do more than most). It’s like complaining about the Chicago Symphony when it plays Beethoven. Because it doesn’t sound like The Temptations and we can’t dance it doesn’t mean it’s not good music.

    The 1-0 or 2-1 scores in soccer are such because that is the beauty built into the game. Just like baseball (which I know is your passion). The magic is not in the 13-12 scores but in the great 1-0 or 2-1 (yawn) games where nothing happens; when every ball is hit 260 feet and is caught for an easy out. Until that one time!, the one time when the ball goes 282feet and just barely clears the fence and stays 6 inches inside the foul line. Those are ugly games, aren’t they?? Please!! Dizzy Dean, Herb Score, Steve Carlton, and the boring Greg Maddux made for an exciting sport?

    Nor, does soccer multiply by the quaint tradition of multiplying each score by 6, or changing the scoring from 2 to three points per score to make the sport more ‘exciting for the fan’, as they do in American football and basketball to hype the score, make it sound busier. Like football, soccer intends to make it hard to score; to bring out the fact that skill and intelligence mixed with athleticism is the virtue at the center of the game. Unlike basketball, which is played with the hands and where each possession is intended to result in a score (after all, putting the ball in the hole with your hands should not be much harder than throwing paper in the toilet). The whole challenge and, now we find, the magic of basketball is in the art of stopping the ease with which one should be able to put a ball inside a bigger hole with his/her hands.

    Soccer is different. It’s damned hard to carry a ball between your feet among 11 players-a-side. The magic is to figure out a way to get around being stopped.

    That is exactly what happened in the other night’s 1-1 tie with Northwestern. Yes, the Hoosiers controlled the ball, the play and, most of the time, the territory. But the Wildcats cleverly concentrated their defense 35 yards in front and to the side of its goal and reduced the spaces in which attacking Hoosiers could strike. Simply, Northwestern let us come at them and we found the spaces reduced and with 7-8 blue-purple shirts crowding.

    Smart, they knew they could not play with IU. And, IU’s players helped them reduce spaces. Look at the film. Most of the time, IU attackers rather than spread the field seemed to funnel into the center. Side to side, the IU attack seemed to cover no more than 35 yards across the field. The Wildcats could stay compact and not have to move much. The same was especially true if you look at the vertical attacks into the last 30 yards towards the Northwestern goal. The Hoosiers often crowded each other out. On the TV screen I could always, through the entire game, count 4-6 white shirts;…meaning, IU players were crowding each other out rather than creating space behind the defenders by moving their defender away. They key in soccer is to create space behind the defender by moving.

    And IU helped by playing too many balls high, vertically that defenders could come to facing them. The erased the skill of the Hoosier attackers. Way too many 30 yard balls at the Northwestern goals meant defenders could simply stay tucked in.

    Zabaleta is a very gifted player, but he has to play more like a midfielder and not push forward into the backs so much. He’s making it easy for the defenders to find him and always in their own reduced spaces. Lionel Messi used to do the same exact thing and rarely score on Argentina’s national team 2-3 years ago, when he played too far forward (not so at Barcelona)and was forced to get the ball with his back to the opposing goal. That, when forced to turn to face the goal with a defender on his back just makes the talented, skilled player anopther human being. Solution? the last two years Argentina has pulled him back 25 yards or so and get him the ball facing the goal and forces the defense to come out and meet him. Meanwhile, Argentina has talented area players like Higuain and Aguero play a double point to the sides-creating spaces as the defense’s fear Messi coming at them. Likewise, DiMaria attacks-from the side- all the way to the end line opposite Messi and takes advantage of the spaces. And the crosses are not in the air where the 5’7″ Messi has to compete with a 6’2″ fullback for a header. Passes are on the ground where every ball touched is half a goal.

    Creating space for 1 on 1 finishing is the key…just as it was when legends Pele and Maradona di and now, Cristiano Ronaldo does at Real Madrid. The players have to be willing to play it just as they have it coached to them every day in practice.

    So Andy…the solutions, in conclusion, won’t come from British soccer…that’s like asking for Jurkin to play point guard and feed Yogi for the dunk.

    I really, really enjoy your soccer coverage (it does give me a good idea of what happens on the field). BTW…we should also insist that Dopirak also cover soccer. Despite a name like that, he’s gone on record too often to (almost) declare he has no intention of ever… ever doing so.

    Finally…some of the suggestions in some other postings are almost too funny. Especially, the one suggesting changing the dimensions of the field (like indoor soccer). Why waste all that land when we could just play it by repeating the 10 yard/4-down set and score 1 point for every time it is completed. That takes a lot of skill…just like pin ball.

  9. just get rid of offsides altogether. what a stupid rule. be great for hockey, too. imagine if basketball had olffsides.

  10. TTG, it sounds as though you certainly have a grasp of the nuance of the sport. I’m afraid it’s something you have to grow up with. Every few years I’ll see an article about how THIS is the decade soccer bursts into the American consciousness. No doubt he influx of ‘big names’ into the American teams has given it the whole celebrity curiosity thing I just don’t think it will every bring the international appeal to our shores. I can’t count the number of American professional soccer leagues and teams I’ve seen go bankrupt in my lifetime

    After reading your comments about college attendance I checked and found that only seven teams had an average home attendance of over three thousand a game. That’s a nice little crowd but it’s what you’d expect at a Class A non-conference football game.

    If you have to learn to appreciate the minutiae of the game in order to enjoy it I’m afraid it’s going to be hard to develop a ‘casual’ fan base.

  11. Tsao – I actually read all of that! I agree that the game doesn’t need to be changed…

    Here’s the thing… You clearly didn’t read Andy’s piece as often or as clearly as you stated. If you had you could have saved the time it took you to write half of that post. You just went off on a rebuttal that has ZERO to do with his argument. His 2 main points are:
    1) the goals have been the same size for hundreds of years (?),but the size and athleticism of people have changed
    2) the less talented side too often gets a positive result, and he doesn’t like seeing a mediocre team consistently rewarded for mediocre play.

    He thinks that a SLIGHT change in the size of the goals will do 2 things:
    1) increase scoring SLIGHTLY – more games with scores like 4-2. Not 13-12….
    2) the better side will win more often

    Not once in his thesis did he say it had anything to do with entertainment value. In fact he expressly said he enjoyed with intricacies of the game and isn’t looking to change style.

    You decided to make huge assumptions and go off on a 30 paragraph rant that had nothing to do with anything… But at least it wasn’t “yo mamma” jokes.

  12. The goals are plenty big. 8 ft high by 8 yds wide. You should play futsal. The goals are so much smaller in that.

  13. Geoff, you’re wrong (again). What he wanted to say was: they tried making the goals bigger (much, much bigger) in Argentina, and then Boca went on to sign Tsao’s momma as a goalie. No space left (on the field, let alone the goal) and the other teams complained, they gave up. So that’s the story he was trying to tell. His momma is 300+ years old.


    Yo momma so greasy she uses bacon as a band-aid.

    Yo momma so greasy Texaco buys oil from her.

    She’s so ugly she looked out the window and she was arrested for mooning.

    She’s so stupid she put paper on her TV and called it paper view.

    She’s so stupid every morning she tries to arrange her M&M’s in alphabetical order.

    Your momma’s so fat she went to the movies and sat next to everyone.

    That’s your momma: Lardo-Suet Gonzalez.

  14. coachv- the offsides rule is the equivalent of 3 seconds in the lane. Its purpose, given the 120 yard field, is to rule out the possibility that players seek advantage by parking by the goal and staying there. If applied well and the ref determines the off-side position (the linesman marks the position-with the flag) created no-advantage (did not influence the play), he can wave off the application.

    However, some very, very smart coaches will actually mmove their defenders into positions that are off-sides and, most attackers being not too smart,can be victimized by good defense. Sort of like blocking an offensive player under the basket so that he can not move out in three seconds and gets caught by the ref. It’s called defense.

    The fact you don’t like it means it’s a great rule coachv. It’s meant to frustrate. It gets pretty funny when the fastest player on the field keeps running himself off-sides and starts talking to himself.

    See what a pretty, entertaining game it is. (I don’t like hockey…the puck moves too fast for me and have yet to figure out what’s the fun of the fist fights. But, I do admit the players have incredible skills skating and handling).

    By the way, did you know that James Naimsmith, the inventor of basketball, invented the game in a Massachussetts YMCS as a ‘training game’ for his soccer players during the winter months?

  15. Futboler- absolutely enjoy futsal. That is the indoor version of soccer, player on a basketball court (or similar size space)with sidelines and a smaller goal in a smaller pennalty area where the goalie is allowed to handle the ball. The ball used however is not inflated, it is heavier and smaller so it stays down. That means the players can do everything they do on the field including throw ins but in a reduced form and with fewer players.

    The game of futsal is a great training game for serious soccer players and a tremendous way for teaching fundamentals and skills like dribbling, shooting, etc. What we call indoor soccer here, however, is not since the walls around the floor turn the game into human pinball and soccer skills are barely recognizable. Indoor soccer, however, did become a very clever way to get a lot of families to spend money for a somewhat sophisticated baby-sitting service.

    Futboler, you are right. I do believe that if you want a kid to learn how to play good soccer, skip the indoor game all together and play futsal (it can even be played 1 v 1 in a hallway).

  16. ^ Incorrect. He was charged with creating a new game that would keep “track athletes” (not soccer player, not even your momma) in shape during winter months:

    At Springfield YMCA, Naismith struggled with a rowdy class which was confined to indoor games throughout the harsh New England winter and thus was perpetually short-tempered. Under orders from Dr. Luther Gulick, head of Springfield YMCA Physical Education, Naismith was given 14 days to create an indoor game that would provide an “athletic distraction”: Gulick demanded that it would not take up much room, could help its track athletes to keep in shape and explicitly emphasized to “make it fair for all players and not too rough.”

    So you’re off base again. Sad you. No wonder…, actually.

  17. FireCrean2013…not sure about that. Don’t know your source. I do know mine; though your version or both could be true. It does give me pause (in the interest of accuracy) and at some point I’ll check it out. Not really an existential issue other than there is an obvious connect between the two games. Don’t wet your pants. (Believe it or not, I enjoy finding out if I’m wrong. Every time I learn something completely new-to me. So I’ll accept the possibility my source was wrong and am grateful for the opportunity to learn something.)

  18. Not that its the end-all-be-all, but Wiki states that he created it to keep his soccer players in shape during the off-season…

  19. tt

    i know what the offsides rule is. i don’t need you to explain it to me. if a player wants to park himself next to the goal, the other team will have to mark him with a defender. like basketball. thus, more man to man defense and a more open, exciting game where players could really show off their skill.

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