The so-called World Football Challenge brings with it some intriguing positive factors, along with a couple of decidedly negative aspects.
Whatever may be the level of the soccer played, however many may have been the youngsters and the substitutes pouring on to the fields, the crowds have been exceptional.
On the whole, they have not been disappointed. The main problem with these out-of-season (out of European season, that is) exhibition tours is motivation. Will the games be truly competitive, or will we see players going through the motions?
In that sense, the more youngsters and reserves who play the better -- they are the ones seeking to impress. But they are not the ones whom the crowd pays to see. The best we can hope for is that the stars show up, that they get on the field, and that they give us at least glimpses of their talents.
The WFC has done well on all those counts. The games have been full of atmosphere with plenty of attractive soccer -- mostly from Chelsea and Club America. The huge crowds show once again the potential for the sport in this country -- just as they, once again, must cause much furrowing of brows at MLS.
After all, 81,000 plus at the Rose bowl? Who are all these people, and why cannot they mobilized to support the local MLS teams, the Galaxy and Chivas USA?
Unfortunately, most of these fans no doubt come under the heading of Eurosnobs, though the involvement of a Mexican team spreads the snobbery geographically wider. I suppose these are elitist fans.
Sad to say, the snobbery and the elitism -- which clearly have an anti-MLS, anti-USA flavor to them -- are encouraged by the WFC organizers.
That stupid title, for a start. Why does the word football have to be used? This is the USA, and the word used here for this sport is soccer. What is wrong with World Soccer Challenge? I would suggest only one thing: it sounds too American, and the organizers are scared of that. They want to be seen as sophisticated people who use the word football -- that's what the "rest of the world" calls the sport, we are constantly being told.
That happens to be not true -- and it is particularly not true of the teams in this tournament. Two of them are from Italy, where the sport is called calcio, while the Mexicans use the modified futbol. On being questioned about the use of the word football, the people involved -- from WFC and from ESPN -- offered utterly lame reasoning, all of which implied that the Americans must bow down to "the rest of the world".
So we have a tournament played in America, organized by Americans -- but which is ashamed to use American vocabulary. Worse -- which uses a word that the organizers know is the wrong word.
A point about the word soccer: there seems to be a widespread impression that the word is an American invention. It is not. It is pure English, almost as old as the sport itself. Maybe the WFC people, having understood that the word has sturdy Brit Eurosnob origins, will now be able to use it?
But the WFC guys are to be praised for doing something else that does have a strong American influence. I refer to the points scheme they are using. It is an adaptation of the system that was used by the North American Soccer League 30 years ago -- one that rewards goalscoring by awarding a point for each goal scored up to a maximum of three.
The problem NASL ran into was that a team losing a game by a score of 5-4 would end up with four points for the goals scored -- the same total that a team winning by 1-0 score would get. They got around that by awarding 6 points for a win, rather than three.
I felt the system worked well -- though it is always difficult to accurately measure the effect of such changes. Assessing the effect of the points system was also complicated by the NASL's simultaneous use of the 35-yard offside line, a unique rule-amendment that may or may not have had an effect on the scoring rate. Certainly, NASL was never accused of being a defense-minded league.
The use of 35-yard line was a rule change (eventually nixed by FIFA) that entailed an extra field marking and altered the way that teams played, tactically -- not a good idea for clubs that wish to compete internationally. But the tinkering with the points system is not a rule change -- its effect, if it has any, is to encourage teams to go looking for goals, to not be satisfied with a 1-0 lead.
The scoring rate in the WFC has not been that high - in six games it averaged only 2.3 goals per game. I find that interesting -- as it suggests that the low-scoring nature of soccer has now reached the point where inducements to score (and such inducements could, in the end, be financial) will probably not work. The sport has simply sunk too far into the grips of the defensive mentality for mere exhortation to pull it out. I fear only rule changes will bring back the goals.