I feel confident in saying I am as big a soccer fan as anyone in my age cohort who was born and raised in the United States.
Came to the game late, got involved as a self-taught AYSO coach, volunteered to cover the U.S. national team, saw Paul Caligiuri’s Shot Heard Round the World, went on a 12-year ride with the USMNT and covered four World Cups.
Later, came six-plus years in the UAE, which is all about football (English, Spanish, Emirati or otherwise), in which I saw (over my shoulder at the office) three or four or five Premier League matches per week and managed to make a pilgrimage to Camp Nou to see Barca and Real Madrid finish 2-2 with Messi and Ronaldo scoring all the goals.
As soon as we got TV in the south of France, I paid for the package that would give me the English Premier League, which I can (and do) watch for six or seven hours a pop on Saturdays and three or four more on Sundays.
Even given all that, I still feel like soccer is a flawed game, and that flaw is right out there for everyone to see.
There isn’t enough scoring.
I’ve heard the “you don’t appreciate all the skill that has nothing to do with goals” and I feel like I can dismiss that as hogwash because the 2016-17 season ain’t my first rodeo.
Soccer fans, 99 percent of them, would love to have a 4-3 final score in their favorite league every week.
Few of them get it.
It’s just too hard to score in most of the elite leagues.
Putting the ball in the net is a high art, made even more difficult by skilled defenses and lunging goalkeepers and too many coaches whose top priority is keeping the other team from scoring.
Over the past two weekends, the Premier League coughed up two games that showed how much fun soccer can be. When 0-0 is not an option. When 1-0 is a lead to sit on. When a penalty is the only goal in sight.
Previous weekend, we had Swansea City 5, Crystal Palace 4. Yes, the game was a bit of a mess, pitting two weak teams, but it was compelling: 1-0 Palace, 3-1 Swansea, 4-3 Palace, 5-4 Swansea with a goal in added time.
It got even better this weekend. Unless you are a Liverpool fan.
Jurgen Klopp’s title-contending side traveled down to Bournemouth to play the little guys there (who had never won a match against Liverpool), and it was fast-paced from the start, with Liverpool nearly overrunning the hosts.
It was 2-0 Liverpool at the half, 2-1 after a Bournemouth penalty, 3-1 in the 64th minute, and still 3-1 in the 75th minute.
Then Bournemouth came forward and Liverpool’s defense turned to Jell-O. A kid named Ryan Fraser scored in the 76th minute, and it was 3-2, and the crowd got back into the match. Steve Cook scored two minutes later, and the stadium became a madhouse.
In the third minute of added time, Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius could not hang on to a heavy shot, and the ball dribbled away to defender Nathan Ake, who had come forward into the box and put away the opportunity that unfolded before him.
The BBC called the match “sensational” and many English newspapers said much the same, and I would agree.
It was exhilarating. It was great theater, with marvelous athletes and high-speed running, delirious fans and lots of goals.
That is, it was what 95 percent of soccer games are not.
If the sport did not so often reward negative, safety-first tactics … if you could promise fans a 4-3 match every week … everyone would watch as many games as possible, to make sure they did not miss the 4-3 — or the 5-4.
I enjoy the game. I follow it fairly closely. It is a great sport.
But it could be better. Greater. If goals could be counted on, not merely hoped for.