Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Football vs. Soccer

The Great Divide between the American and European cultures is the sport of football. As a sports enthusiast, I believe both variations are great. The two variations have familiar roots yet seem to be unrelated based on the intricate rules and style of play differences that are now present. These differences have fans occupied with this ubiquitous debate: Which football is better?

As a hamburger-eating American, I will do the unheard-of and defend soccer as the better of the two sports.

The first point of disagreement is scoring. The average football team usually scores between 10 and 17 points in a game while the average soccer team scores one or two goals. Yes the numbers are far apart but football awards six points for a conversion (and usually one for a point after attempt, thus allotting to a total of seven points) while soccer only awards one point for a goal. Essentially, both sports average the same number of successful scores per game. The only difference is the football awards three points for a field goal. Basically, teams are awarded three point for coming close. American football is the only major sports that awards credit for coming close.

Next is the possession game. Football and soccer are primarily based on possession time, where teams try to move the ball and create an opportunity. In American football, this possession game is done through possessions and punts while in soccer, this is done by passing and tackling in the midfield third of the field. Additionally, the possession game for American football permits tons of stoppages in time such as challenges, penalties, and play-calling which permit time for commercials and in-game advertisement. Soccer does have stoppages in play for occasional fouls, but play is immediately resumed. Also, no time is given for commercials so soccer is forty-five-plus continuous minutes of game-time until halftime while football is composed of commercial after commercial.

The next difference is style and development of plays. American football is entirely planned through play-calling (even changes in plays - audibles - are still planned). Most of soccer is impromptu. Occasionally, plays are called in soccer and set-pieces are placed during free kicks, but all of the decisions are made on the field. This improvisational style allows for exciting and chaotic play which tends to result in tons of cheer and remorse. The style of the two games also contributes to the excitement of scoring. In football great plays are mostly situational. Whereas, if the play was executed at a meaningless time then a great catch or great run would not be as memorable or not memorable at all. In soccer, there are situational goals, but there can still be a brilliant goal that everyone will talk about at the end of a blowout. Both sports also have jukes which are quite the pleasure to watch.

Football does have soccer beaten in terms of danger and hitting. While soccer has slide tackles and headbutts (a little shout-out to Zidane) which can be troubling, football has frequent hard-hits and cut-blocks which have the potential to end a career on the spot. Additionally, football players both on the professional and amateur levels are about three times more likely to sustain an injury.

Another alteration is how games are settled in score is tied a regulation. Football has only one method. Teams play an overtime where the first team that scores wins. This method leaves the fate of the game to a coin-flip since a team only has to score a field goal in order to win. Soccer has various ways of ending a game. First, games can simply end as a draw (regular season football games that end tied after two overtimes are also settled as draws). Second, games can be decided in the golden goal method where the first team to score wins. Third, is the classic goal method, where teams play two additional fifteen-minute overtime periods, and which ever team has the lead at the end will win. This method allows a team to give up a goal, but still remain and possibly tie a game. Fourth, there is penalty shoot-outs where teams go through the agonizing rotation of taking shots on the opposing goal at a spot just inside the twenty yard box. Not only is a soccer game not decided by a coin-flip, but there are various ways a game can end which ultimately change how teams play in regulation; thus, spicing up the game.

The final and most important difference is global competition. Football is revered in only the U.S.; on the other hand, soccer is the most beloved sport in the world. It is universally played from the upper-class athletes of Europe to the shoe-less individuals in Africa. Soccer has the power to unite any two individuals that play. Also, since soccer is a global game, the competition is higher around the world and there are higher levels of championship. The peak of professional football is the NFL Superbowl, while soccer has first division championships which parallel the Superbowl in determining a national champion in addition to National Competition (FIFA World Cup) and other Cup challenges to name the best club teams across the continents.

What is your take?


  1. I've been thinking about this and here is my take on why many Americans such as myself truly love football over soccer:

    I first want to correct Joey's mistake on scoring. The average football team scores about 22 points a game and most games do not deviate far from this. You will find few 7-0 or 10-3 football games while you will find many 1-0 soccer games with a few outlier high-scoring games that knock the average soccer score up. More scoring is generally more exciting but also allows better analysis of superiority. More scoring is much like having a more finely marked ruler. If a game is 2-1 in soccer it is hard to tell if one team is far superior or just edged out another team. Football, with more scoring, shows quite accurately which teams are superior and by what degree.

    Football is slower paced; I think this is not neccessarily bad. Each play is self contained and allows discussion from the watchers as well as enjoyment not dependant on total concentration. Football also is more predictable in regards to scoring while in soccer the ball might get within 20 feet of a goal 20 times before an actual point is adduced. In football a team generally marches down the field play after play. Soccer fans may like it their way, they seem to be a bit more hardcore than football fans as shown by soccer riots and murders. American football spirits can run high but we won't actually stab someone next to us.

    Related to the above is strategy vs. spontaneity. Football is more dependant on planned strategy while soccer is more dependant on the latter. This, like how much attention is needed to enjoy the game, is subjective: some people like spontaneity, some people like to see strategies collide.

    Another issue is player diversity. I am a large person and I can find people to cheer in football that are somewhat representative of me. Brute force (as well as lithe speed and agility) have their place in football. In soccer, a large and powerful but slow or low-endurance player is of no use. Every soccer player I see is the same body-shape: lean, fast, high-endurance. Football has several different positions all with specific body sizes required.

  2. Thanks for the feedback John S.

    First, I'd like to address you correction. You did not provide any citation for your average point value for football. Through my research I was unable to find a specific value, but a range of 10 to 17 is the most accepted value for an average football game for pundits.

    Second, your assumption about deviation is incorrect. Even based on your value for the average game, you will find a wide range of data that shows teams score between 0 and 40 points depending on the style of play including outliers such as the New Orleans and Texas Tech offenses. Whereas in soccer you will rarely see a game in which neither team scores 0, 1, 2 or 3 goals. There are very few occurrences of a team scoring 4 or more goals on a consistent basis.

    Third, I respect your preference for a strictly strategic based game and a game with multiple body types, but you surely did not mean the word diversity in the context that you used it. Soccer has the most diverse set of players and fans in the world. There is not debating that since fans range from Latin America, to Africa, to Western Europe, to Eastern Europe, to the Middle East, to East Asia, to Oceania and the Pacific.
    I am just curious why would you condemn soccer for supporting peak physique in participants while commending the unhealthy physiques of offensive linemen in football?

  3. Soccer is way better than football end of story. You don't even need to be in shape to play football and football is so corrupt just like the players that play the game. In soccer you get one break and play for 45 straight minute periods and you and your team must create strategy while playing and keeping control of the game. In football you get time to huddle together and figure out how to handle the game and must listen to the coach and other advisors. Soccer is more of a quick reflex, intelligence game, while football is more of the its-all-about-the-power type of game that relys purely on skill rather than ability to control yourself.

  4. I happen to love both American Football and soccer.
    I have played soccer for 25 years, and are now in my 30s. As an adult soccer is still very fun to play. You are active, and have responsibilities through 90 minutes of play. I hate being on the bench/sideline, (just like Allan Iverson in basketball) and it is much more fun when you are involved.
    Soccer is a lot about skill and endurance, and very team-oriented just like football.
    I am also very much into football, so I will try to explain some similarities, and some insights into the mechanisms of soccer.
    In soccer teamwork is necessary in order to move the ball and set up a teammate, who is in a better position than you. No running back can out speed 11 defenders for a TD, but if his teammates blocks well it might happen.
    Star players impact on the game. Messi (the best individual player in the game) can be double-teamed and closed down for most of the match. However, if his teammates are also skillful and can get into a good position with the ball on their own, then the opponent is in trouble. Just like basketball/football's it is a matter of "picking your poison".
    Skills with your feet and understanding of the game (what I call “soccer IQ”) is required for all 11 players, otherwise you will lose the ball to the opponent way too quickly. This is a problem because, it is much more enduring to play defense than offense, particularly against teams with very gifted players. When the opponent has many gifted players (like the Spanish national team), then your team needs to run much more and cover a lot of ground in order to protect being exploited by the opposition. After 60 minutes of running around chasing the ball you will leave more and more space and time to your opponents for them to set up a goal.
    This is why controlling and passing skills are very important, because it is better to keep possession in order to give your defense and midfield an occasional break. This is very similar to football, where you don't want your offense to go 3-and-outs, because it can eventually expose your defense when it gets tired.
    Turnovers are not just turnovers...
    It is far better to create a takeaway close to the opponent's goal rather than in your own zone. Doesn't this sound familiar to football.

    Soccer IQ is about understanding the dynamics of the game. Which teammate is in a suited position, and what situation do you need to create as a team to increase the chances of scoring, and diminish your opponent’s chances. Every soccer player has decisions to make when possessing the ball, just like the quarterback has to scan the field, and deliver on target.
    Collective soccer IQ is also like basketball, where anybody can take a shot at the ring from anywhere on the court, but where you would rather have Shaq take a shot near the basket, than setting him up for a 3-pointer, right. The same goes for soccer, where you want to set up your best players for creating a goal chance.

    A succesfull 90-yard-drive for a touchdown normally requires even a few running plays, and short passes for no gain. However, your team is "on a mission". The same goes for midfield play in soccer. When distributing the passes, and passing the ball around it is like waiting for the opponent to open up. Much like running the ball in football will make the defense play "honest" – and then you can throw deep.
    Yes, there are not that many goals in a soccer match (typically an average of 2,5/per game), but again in football you will often have a quarter with only a field goal or even scoreless, and maybe just 2 or 3 TDs in a game.
    Yet I love watching both football or soccer (on TV or at the stadium).
    Soccer is more joyful to watch, if you appreciate good ball handling skills, teamwork and climax (goals!).
    Football is more tactical (many in-game coaching decisions), more explosive (big collisions) and has more suspense/drama (lead-changes).
    Both sports can be highly unpredictable with deflected shots at goal, muffed punts, turnovers, you name it.

  5. continued....

    Many believe that soccer is just about running and kicking the ball around.
    But the margin of error is in fact very small, particularly if it occurs in the wrong parts of the field, or if the opponent is able to exploit it quickly. A defensive error from one player, or a missed chance in front of the goal can end up costing the entire game. This is a little like defensive or special teams scoring a touchdown – it can be game-breaking in football.
    You have "a window of oppertunities" in a soccer game, and you need to capitalize from it, in order to succeed. The more dominant you play your opponent the bigger the "window" gets.

    Which sport is more "manly". Football is definitely more physical, however in order to play soccer, you need to be able to run freely, and recklessly like a wide receiver or a cornerback. However the hits you do take in soccer game are fewer. But the hits you do take can be flying two-feet tackles, high-speed collisions with the opponent’s goalkeeper or brutal central backs, or jumping battles in heading situations, where elbows are flying high too. And this without any padding or other protection.
    After every 90-minute-match I have played in my career apart from being sore in my whole body from all the running and movements, I have always taken a few hits on my legs, head, rips etc. You need at least 2-3 days to recoup, but it is true that it takes even longer in football. Basketball, hockey etc. can be played on a day-to-day basis. This is definitely not possible in soccer. I guess that says it all about the toughness of the game.

    Soccer is not a sissy/gay sport as you can definitely intimidate your opponent with physical play, and deliberately end your opponent’s season with one dubious tackle.
    I hope this explanation have enhanced the chances for some of you who do not understand the fascination of soccer. But I still LOOOOVE watching football too.. :-)