How to Make Soccer More Interesting

Ever since Peru beat Ecuador in Quito, the country’s gone mad for the possibility that the national selection might qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1982. The big game came last night against Argentina. My children’s daycare told everyone to dress in Peru shirts, and everyone in the neighborhood did. It was all anybody talked about, and I’ll say that one advantage international soccer has over American sports is the vibe. The players aren’t from somewhere else. They’re all Peruvian, and they’re fighting for glory.

Then I watched two-and-a-half hours of a fucking scoreless tie. The Peruvian announced exclaimed, “¡Celebramos el empate!”

And like always, I felt cheated, disappointed. And again I ask myself, “Why the fuck am I watching soccer?”

What’s the problem?

There are two main difficulties for heterosexual men to watch soccer: (1) lack of action and (2) dudes falling down and writhing in pain when they weren’t hit.

The biggest problem with soccer is the lack of action. Compared to America’s major sports, soccer is by far the longest with 90 minutes of playing time. Meanwhile, it has the least scoring, also by far. I understand the attraction of a slow buildup and the enhanced thrill of finally scoring, but many games have no goals at all (like last night), or just one goal in 90 minutes.

So the most important proposals to improve soccer look to increase the action and reduce the dullness. But some proposals are needed to address the flopping problem. It is well documented; even The Economist has weighed in.

It’s one thing to sit through 90 minutes of little action, but soccer adds insult to injury by constantly featuring players falling to the ground and writhing in agony. Many times the replay shows they weren’t even touched, and for whatever reason the fans of soccer worldwide don’t mind. It’s so common you don’t need to search Google or YouTube for examples. It’s in every game. Just tune in to whoever is playing tonight, you’ll see it.


Soccer is the world’s most popular sport and its management, given all the money they’re making, could probably care less what an ugly American like I think of it. But tastes in sport change and there’s nothing to say it will always be the most popular. Basketball is exploding in Europe and Latin America. American football is growing in Brazil. Baseball certainly has a foothold in Latin America and hockey, well, you need natural ice if you’re going to compete with Canada. Of the commonwealth sports, rugby is getting very popular in America and beyond. If soccer is going to maintain its position, it may want to think about the kind of sports fan who isn’t accustomed to watching games designed for women and children.

So here are my proposals to make soccer a little better.

No Goalies

The large field and relatively slow-moving players (they can’t really sprint if they can’t pick up the ball) make for a game with few shots on goal. But the other constraint which keeps scoring low is that each team has a player who is allowed to defend the goal with his hands. And these goalies usually get one or two balls which would have gone in otherwise.

So I say take away the hands privilege. Basketball has a rule preventing goaltending. One criticism of basketball is that there is too much scoring, but soccer doesn’t have to worry about that.

Without goalies, teams may keep a player back to defend the goal. We don’t know how the game would adjust, but attackers will certainly take more shots, more wild shots from afar, and of course there will certainly be more goals.

No Ties

The current CONMEBOL standings show that, of the 85 World Cup qualifier games played in FIFA’s South American division, there have been 20 ties (TWENTY!). That’s 24% of games ending with no winner or loser. And of course I’d bet that more than half if not two thirds of those ties were 0-0 or 1-1. According to the site I ripped the pic from, between 5% and 10% of soccer games end in scoreless ties.

I know soccer games sometimes go to a shootout, but I’m calling for ALL of them to go to a shootout or some kind tiebreaker. No more ties.

Power-Play Tiebreakers

In the event of a game not allowing a tie, the penalty-kick shootout is dramatic but the action is pretty low. The one goalie doesn’t really have a chance to stop a kick going into the huge goal behind him. For most shootouts, you’re basically watching to see which team WON’T score on a shot. And that’s almost always determined by the player missing the goal entirely, because the goalie almost never stops a shot on goal.

Instead of penalty kicks, soccer should implement hockey-style, high-pressure power plays where one team plays with a strong advantage over the other. But taking away one soccer player isn’t enough. That happens with every red card and I wouldn’t call what follows a “power play.”

In hockey, losing a player is 20% of your skating team. So maybe 10 on eight, but I think you have to clear out all those people in front of the goal to increase scoring chances. I would think six on five or seven on six for three or four minutes, but whatever dynamic makes it an extremely dangerous situation for the shorthanded team, but not impossible to defend. Each team takes turns on the power play for one full round. Repeat as many (or as few) rounds as needed until one team wins.

Mandatory Injury Substitutions

Now it’s time to check the general pussy-ness of soccer, and the aggravating scenes of players falling down and crying in agony. Obviously the refs need to call fouls when they’re faking, but the problem is so bad that wouldn’t be enough. The incentives are very skewed toward drawing calls, so let’s address the incentives.

I propose a limit to how long a player can be on ground. If he’s lying down or rolling around for more than five seconds (0:05), he has to go sit down. Maybe change the rules to allow players to come back after being subbed out, but if they run the risk of sitting until the next available sub time I bet they’ll be hopping up as quick as they fall down.


If you’re not going to force players off when they act hurt, then they’ll be falling all over the place anyway. Why not make soccer a full-contact sport? Maybe a rule should prohibit no hands but allow shoulder-to-shoulder and hip checks to add some action and grit to the game, and reduce the flopping. Of course anything goes with the legs, but direct kicking shouldn’t be allowed.


If body-checking is allowed, as in hockey, you’re going to have to allow fighting too. Hockey’s finesse players who excel at scoring would become targets for injury for the bigger, stronger defensemen if each team didn’t have “enforcers” whose only job on the ice is to physically intimidate those big, strong defensemen by checking them and, if necessary, dropping their gloves and initiating a fist fight.

Fighting comes with a five-minute penalty in hockey. Nothing to say that wouldn’t work in soccer.

All of the Above

No goalies, no ties, power-play tiebreakers, mandatory substitutions, body checking and fighting – that would be bad ass!

Last Disclaimer

For all the shit I talk about soccer, my hometown is actually a hotbed in the United States. The local Jesuit school won 10 college championships from 1959 to 1973. I actually thought soccer was a respectable sport before moving to Latin America, and from an athletics standpoint I still do. I had friends on my college team.

But as I explain to Americans, down here soccer is baseball, football, basketball and hockey combined. It’s on everywhere, all the time. There is nothing else. And there are always scoreless ties and flopping. So maybe I’m a little sore, since I can’t escape it. Since then I’ve written the following pieces:

How Soccer Harms Functional Fitness

Is Soccer a Gay Sport?




  1. Just after writing this piece, Peru tied in a game against Colombia which was a do-or-die event for both teams hoping to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. A scandal ensued when it was revealed that players on both teams agreed not to attack in the final minutes of the game after getting news that Chile had lost by three goals to Brazil. With that result, a tie would send Colombia to the World Cup and Peru would play New Zealand for a wild-card berth. Given FIFA ranks New Zealand 113th in the world, somewhere between Nicaragua and Guatemala, Peru is certain to qualify. So after the 1-1 tie between Peru and Colombia, both teams celebrated excitedly. Celebramos el empate!

    La imagen de las Eliminatorias es de @PasoaPaso: Falcao convenciendo uno x uno a los peruanos de arreglar el empate en el final del partido.— Lucas Beltramo (@LucasBeltramo) October 11, 2017



  2. I’ve begun watching one of our local teams at home here (the older one of the two with less money). Second Division. Couple of seasons in, this is how I see things.

    The long term fans (Barristas) are amazing. Last match I attended they had a 4 piece drum orchestra playing non stop.

    When the big Callao team Sport Boys (all in pink) played here their fans spread out among the locals; first disturbance, the police (great guys) herded them all into a closely guarded corner of the main stand. For the duration.

    The fast food ambulantes are always in evidence. Sorry, I never tried any yet, due to non native risk analysis.

    The players don’t fall down much and they always get straight up again. Medics attending injuries are rare and stretchers-off even rarer, maybe one match in 3 or 4.

    There’s nothing boring about the action: even with results like 4-0 and 4-1 they don’t stop running till the final whistle. Most offences are given a play on. And real aggressive fouls tend to be rare, except when the score is looking desperate.

    I guess 2nd div Peruvian players are tougher!


  3. So you prefer a “60 minute” game of futbol Americano disguised as a 4 hour infomercial for beer, Viagra and cars?

    Where one play averages a few seconds and the “60 minute” game is really only about 10 minutes of actual game action?
    A “60 minute” game where there are numerous timeouts to check replays along with numerous penalties that stop the game?
    Personally, I’m channel surfing after a few minutes of “action” unless it’s a close game with a couple of minutes left which will take about a half hour.

    But to answer your question about how to open up the game of futbol soccer, I’d do away with offside calls.
    I think that would lead to more scoring.


  4. “Street Legal” — Excellent comment and a very fair criticism of American football.

    In fact, to be completely honest I have been to exactly two professional games. For one I was by myself (ONE free ticket from work), and I split before the end of the second quarter. And I fell asleep during the other one!

    In its defense however, and specifically in regards to the long breaks, American football is a sport of anaerobic effort. As opposed to the more aerobic rugby, football reaches greater speeds and harder hits precisely because the players are resting. So American football is a very special sport for peak athleticism. Only in hockey, where they’re on skates, do you see faster speeds and harder hits. I definitely respect rugby, but if you’re not resting then the body simply can’t reach the peak speeds or make the maximum-effort hits. Not to mention with no pads on. Rugby is obviously painful, but probably safer than American football since the lack of pads and especially helmets restrain the players from doing what they do in American football.

    Re: offsides — as I understand from hockey, if there were no offsides then the defensemen would never cross center ice or the middle line of the field. Offsides ensures that team strategies don’t get too conservative and boring.

    I say no goalies!


  5. I too have tried to work out how to make soccer more interesting. I have followed English football a long time though I live in New Zealand. I agree with no ties but would settle for penalties to do this. I would not have power plays but just have less players 10 a side first half and then 9 a side second half. I would allow all 7 substitutes to take the field. Why pay pro soccer players 50-200k a week to sit on the bench? I would have 4 x 20 min quarters to
    break the game up and reduce the game time by 10 minutes although extra subs and 3 breaks will still mean a 2 hour event plus tie breaker time but if your a fan your committed for the afternoon or evening. Limiting the number of players allowed in the final third or in the penalty area would help also.


  6. Lack of scoring is precisely why the game is great. A gem is only a gem because it is a rarity. Goal saturation would take away from the exuberance seen in scoring it. Even the ones that dribble slowly across the line or a goalie screws up on are joyous occasions. Also, during the times when there are an abundance of goals you can really feel the impact of it, especially internationally. When Brazil got rocked 7-1 or Mexico losing 7-0 to Chile I was absolutely giddy when reviewing fan disappointment online. I loved the anger and tears on display. For the times between goals, it’s up to you to learn to enjoy quality possession, or awesome threw balls, or great saves. Congrats on 10 years Colin, awesome stuff!


  7. @ Andrew – I have felt that joy in watching the buildup of a goal, and there is something to say about it (low meter). But it’s still pretty boring. That’s why basketball is making huge gains down here in LatAm, and the Venezuelans fanning out across the region is spreading baseball everywhere. You’re going to see the rest of the world, as they grow less poverty-stricken, become less focused on soccer. But that’s speculating…


  8. My thoughts are to make a rule that two attackers cannot pass the midline to defend so that every possession past the midline is a “power play”.

    The attacking team would always have a numbers advantage. The attackers would also stay fresher throughout the match creating another advantage for offense.

    If the scoring gets out of hand, make the goals slightly smaller. In my opinion (and I’m no expert), it’s the shots on goal that are so exciting regardless of outcome.

    Also penalty kicks should be 30 seconds of 2 attackers vs 2 defenders and a goalie… That would be exciting!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s