Soccer doesn’t need instant replay

Lee West Contributor
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Last Saturday was miserable. The day marked the end of the United States’ World Cup run.  But what a run it was, right?  It was at times fortuitous (England), maddening (Slovenia), and went from dishearteningly crushing to euphoric in 30 seconds (Algeria).  And the performance from the Men’s National Team on Saturday against Ghana was just plain frustrating. Nothing seemed to go our way.

Despite this, the sport grabbed us – a nation that seemingly doesn’t care for soccer. 19.4 million Americans tuned in on Saturday. We actually cared about soccer, if only for a fleeting moment. As the realization that the US had lost took root, a friend of mine reflected, “Well…dang.  I guess I don’t need to care about soccer for another four years.”

I wish I were so flippant.  Saturday was miserable.

The sport is certain to lose my friend’s eyes. He likes sport. This is sport. He likes the United States, too. The sport is certain to lose his eyes, though. Soccer isn’t a priority of his. I’m uncertain whether he cared four years ago when the United States failed to move past the group stage, but he did acknowledge that he would care about it again in four years. That’s progress I suppose, but my friend wasn’t the only one watching.

This World Cup run by the National Team exposed many more American eyes to the beautiful game.  Some, like me, have already been swept by the beauty.  For many others, the sport remained an enigma.  “What is off-sides?  What is a yellow card?  Why does the clock count up? Why didn’t the half stop when the clock hit 45:00?” But starting with the disallowed goal in the Slovenia game, many Americans began asking why isn’t there instant replay in soccer. Finally, a good question.  “I don’t know,” I uttered without thinking, “but there should be.”

I’ve thought about it now, and even after England’s Frank Lampard scored the goal that wasn’t, I don’t think the sport needs instant replay. It could stand to have two additional officials at either goal line, but not instant replay. Soccer is not made for instant replay.  Aside from injuries, substitutions, and goals, the game doesn’t stop but twice: half-time and the end of the game. That’s it. There aren’t the timeouts and commercial breaks that we’re so accustomed to with other sports. Think about these points. The average football play will last for seven, maybe eight seconds, and then the game stops. Baseball stops for every top and bottom half of an inning and for pitching changes. Basketball stops less frequently than these other sports. Well, that is until the last minute of a close game.

And yet soccer is lamented as a sport where nothing happens…

I’ve digressed, but my point here is that replay can and does work for these other sports.  The games are full of disruption and breaks. Soccer, however, doesn’t stop. And because it doesn’t stop, the sport can be fortuitous for those who don’t relent and take chances. Because it doesn’t stop, the game can be maddening for those who have been wronged without remedy. Because the game doesn’t stop, one can be staring down the barrel of a dishearteningly crushing result and only 30 seconds later be launched into euphoric elation. The game is beautiful because of the passion it elicits in the hearts of man. We don’t want to disrupt the beating – the rhythm of that heart.

I’ll remember Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria forever. The disallowed goal against Slovenia will be relegated to “Oh yeah, I remember that” status.  In hindsight, I’m glad it was disallowed and not overturned by replay. It would have remedied the disgust, but it would have stolen the passion from the moment. Worse, it would have denied us the passion of the next.

Lee West was born and raised in the Nashville suburbs but now calls the District of Columbia home.  He enjoys playing adult kickball, waxing philosophic, watching sports and deconstructing the logic of well-paid op-ed columnists. He especially likes happy hours and dive bars.