What a thrill it was to watch the United States soccer team pull out a win yesterday in the final minutes of their match against Algeria. Now it’s on to the field of sixteen and a chance at destiny. However, the team’s success in the World Cup thus far has not been without controversy. In their game against Slovenia last week, they were robbed of a victory by a referee who inexplicably disallowed what should have been the team’s third goal. And in yesterday’s game the U.S. team was ripped off again through a phantom off-sides call.
For a long time I’ve been critical of the game of soccer, at least as regards how its design and rules make scoring so difficult. Now, to be clear, I do not favor higher scores in soccer just for the sake of fan satisfaction. Rather, the problem is that where there is so little scoring this amplifies the effect of bad officiating. One blown call can easily decide an outcome of a close soccer match, as we saw last week and as would have happened again yesterday were it not for Landon Donavan’s winning goal in the 91st minute.
Of course, in all sports a game can turn on a bad call by an official. And even historic accomplishments can be nullified, as was Armando Galaragga’s perfect game three weeks ago. But the point is that soccer rules and design make this far too common, much more so than in any other sport.
The saddest thing of all is that the problem could be easily solved with a simple rule change (e.g. legalize off-sides) or design change (e.g., slightly increase the goal size). But, alas, I don’t expect we’ll ever see such adjustments made, even though it would dramatically improve the sport. Not only would it make the game more interesting for viewers but it would make the game, well, more just. Sporting events should be decided by the players’ performances, not officials’ misjudgments. And until the game of soccer is somehow altered to correct for the frequency of the latter, it will remain a significantly flawed game.