By Randy Vogt
One of my friends, living in New York but originally from Croatia, is a big fan of European soccer but of MLS, not so much. He remarked to me about the Herbalife World Football Challenge, "Why are these teams playing in baseball stadiums? The fields don't even have the same width as games in soccer or football stadiums."
I replied that teams such as Chelsea, Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain and Roma playing in baseball stadiums is a novelty that they will not be doing should the novelty wear off in a few years. And then they will go back to playing in football and soccer stadiums completely, with the possible exception of Liverpool as the Reds have the same owner as the Boston Red Sox, John Henry.
The three baseball stadiums used by soccer teams this summer were Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field. Yankee Stadium hosts the Pinstripe Bowl college football game every year and Wrigley Field has hosted college football of late too. The NHL’s Winter Classic outdoor hockey game has also been played at Fenway and Wrigley. Although there are very nice ballparks in other cities, those three stand out in terms of history and that’s why they are hosting soccer, college football and hockey instead of many other stadiums.
Speaking of novelty, this summer I have refereed two unusual events -- a 3v3 tournament plus a beach tournament. 3v3 soccer plus 5v5 on a beach are essentially pick-up games transformed into an organized event so that somebody could make money. As long as they are keeping costs down for the teams, that’s OK. I received money too but certainly did not become rich by refereeing these tournaments. More importantly, they were a lot of fun as, just like the soccer games played in famous baseball stadiums, they were a nice change of pace.
As the 3v3 tourney did not have goalkeepers, many of the rules changed to account for a lack of keepers. It seemed like Paul Gardner’s wildest fantasy -- soccer without keepers. Possession is very important and any team that loses possession, especially in its defensive half, needs to put a defender on the attacker with the ball immediately -- otherwise, there will be a shot on an open goal. (Goals cannot be scored without a touch in the offensive half of the field in the tourney that I refereed.)
As a developmental tool, 3v3 soccer pales in comparison to small-sided games with keepers as the latter is closer to 11v11 soccer. Which brings me to 5v5 played barefoot on a beach with keepers, which was interesting. But the ball did not move as much as on a grass field and it often took some weird bounces in the sand. Keepers learned quickly to try and get their entire body behind the ball because if they didn’t, the ball could wind up in the net. As a referee, I was not allowed to blow my whistle as it could interfere with the lifeguards, the only people at the beach allowed to use them. So I simply yelled “Foul!” But I had to remember that the delay in bringing the whistle to my mouth in games outside the beach helps me play the advantage clause so I waited to say “Foul” until I was relatively sure an advantage situation would not develop. Since how hard I blow the whistle depends on the severity of the foul, that aspect of my game control was lacking that day.
A better developmental tool for players and even refs is futsal as the ball runs true as it is played on a flat surface. Players learn how to control and play the ball in tight areas and referees develop too partly because of the greater speed of play than outdoor soccer. Futsal originated in 1930 in Uruguay and has a history of the rules evolving over the past eight decades. Top soccer-playing countries such as Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina and Spain have all enthusiastically embraced futsal.
Partly because of no offside rule in 3v3, beach soccer or futsal, there are many more goals scored in those competitions than in outdoor soccer. So there is less pressure on the ref as one important decision resulting in a goal (or a disallowed goal) rarely affects who won or lost as there are many more goals scored than a total of three per game on average in outdoor soccer.
(Randy Vogt has officiated over 8,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to 6-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In "Preventive Officiating," he shares his wisdom gleaned from thousands of games and hundreds of clinics to help referees not only survive but thrive on the soccer field. You can visit the book’s website at http://www.preventiveofficiating.com/)