Why Americans Don’t Play Soccer, and Everyone Else Does Part III


Richard Hershberger

Richard Hershberger is a paralegal working in Maryland. When he isn't doing whatever it is that paralegals do, or taking his daughters to Girl Scouts, he is dedicated to the collection and analysis of useless and unremunerative information.

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16 Responses

  1. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Basically, a random match between Harvard and McGill caused the United States to develop the unique game of American football. But for this, we would be playing actual football and our athletes would have entirely different muscle builds.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

      Yep: That’s about it. But it was even more random than that. The McGill game was contingent upon Boston having an unusual carrying game, rather than the much more common kicking game. This only resulted in American football because Harvard is Harvard, and therefore had the enhanced self esteem, reluctantly acknowledged by all those lesser institutions, to push through its wishes. To put it another way, had it been central New Jersey with the oddball carrying game, you don’t suppose Princeton could have persuaded Harvard, do you?Report

  2. Avatar Murali says:

    Notice that the build of a rugby player is somewhat in between of a soccer player and an american football player. Why is that so?Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain says:

      What is the build of an American football player? That of a wide receiver? A running back? An offensive lineman?Report

      • Avatar Guy says:

        The stereotypical build is probably that of a linemen, since they’re the most numerous players. American football is weird for, among other things, having highly specialized positions that prefer different body types; people who don’t think about the sport frequently are liable to forget that.Report

    • Avatar El Muneco says:

      In American football, you can be a useful part of the front seven (requirements have changed somewhat since loosened substitution rules allowed coaches to swap in an entire new set of players when possession switches from offense to defense) with physical strength alone. Conversely, you can’t be part of the front seven at all without some measure of physical strength. This is dictated by the rules regarding restarting play at the line of scrimmage and what is and isn’t allowed when “blocking” – physically impeding a player who doesn’t have the ball.

      In soccer, on the other hand, physical strength is mostly useless, limited mostly to players who are targets of long, high passes, crosses from open play, and free kicks. And even then, height alone can be largely sufficient, c.f. beanpole Peter Crouch. Yes, hand-fighting and shoulder-charging are things, but somewhat avoidable, and with scoring lower than any other football code, fouls caused by overexuberant physical play are far more potentially damaging, providing a mitigating downside to the mugging of wingers and forwards.

      Rugby and Australian football both have tackling (of the same basic kind as the American game, grabbing a ball-carrier between shoulder and knee and dragging him down) as a central skill, but blocking (in open play) isn’t quite as important as in America, where it characterizes scrimmage play. Australians compete far more physically for long balls than soccer players, but their restarts are open, and overall characterized by one-on-one duels rather than massed power. Massed power like the rugby scrum, which is the Trope Namer for a strength-vs-strength competition between multiple men working together.

      So, you’d expect soccer players to be relatively lightly built with a few tall towers playing near one goal or the other. Australians to be a little stouter, but with a few waterbugs built entirely for speed, even the strongest players cut rather than muscle-bound, and no one with an ounce of fat on them. Rugby players to have some truly powerful physical specimens with more power than ball skills, and even the dynamic players having a baseline level of strength. And American football to be well on its way to Arachnidae-level dimorphism between linemen (San Francisco’s right offensive tackle yesterday was 6’8″ and 360 pounds, and while he had a gut on him, he could still move) and skill players (while a good number of important skill players on the opposing side lined up at 5’10”, 190-205, and there are a few around the league more like 5’8″, 180).

      And this is exactly what we do see. A continuum based on the rules regarding how many players are allowed and/or required to trade off endurance for physical strength.Report

  3. Avatar Guy says:

    Briefly, before I finish: your first blockquote has a typo, refering to “Kissam, of ’60” up near the top.Report

  4. Avatar Guy says:

    And now for a real comment:

    If I’m correctly interpreting the rules given for the “kicking game” above, the standard play field was about seven feet wide. For reference, that’s about half the width of a curling sheet, and curling has only three players near each other at any given time. That makes for a pretty narrow field!

    As you can see above, I was so intent on finding side bounds for the field that I assumed those were the “goal lines”, running perpendicular to the actual goals rather than in parallel. Did the kicking game just not have side boundaries?Report

    • A bunch of us used to play soccer after work on a field in a nearby park. We’d lay out goal and goal lines using traffic cones, but the only side boundaries were practical ones, like San Francisco Bay.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

      This is a description of a pretty informal version. I suspect that, like in Mike’s games, the side boundaries were practical rather than defined. Also, keep in mind that this is a premodern version. Premodern sports by definition are very localized in how they are played. We cannot assume that some other group of boys playing football in a different neighborhood played it the same way.Report

    • Avatar El Muneco says:

      All the lines are optional, even the goal lines (if you allow play behind the goal, it will look like lacrosse, but I’d say it’s legitimate as an ad-hoc variant). Later in the game’s development, and once school pride is on the line, and then professionalism and eventually the pools becoming part of the working week – then you have to get more formal.

      But IIRC even things like requiring a true crossbar on the goal came surprisingly late.Report