When you're five, soccer is a religious activity. You don't understand the rules, per se; you just kick the ball in a general direction and hope your mom is watching.
Still, despite the unflagging support of five-year-olds, soccer is bombing on TV. It seems to give viewers the uneasy feeling that something better is on another channel.
If you don't follow soccer, the object is to chase a ball up and down the countryside until someone finally trips inside the "penalty box" and is awarded a free goal. Then there is some more running around and presumably a final whistle (I've never made it that far).
It's the same process in other parts of the world, only fans show up to watch. The Brits, for instance, start preparing for games (drinking dark lager) two days in advance and sing soccer carols in the stands until they find out the game is over, at which point they immediately riot.
Maybe they wouldn't need to riot if soccer had more scoring. The game is all foreplay and no penetration. Goals are so unexpected that when it actually, really happens, players often disrobe.
[Enter Welsh accent.] "The Newcastle squad takes a commanding 1-0 lead, and the players, in a fit of unbridled joy, doff their sweaters."
Female teams keep their jerseys on, which may be just as well: Some Eastern European games are officiated with high-pitched whistles that only the players can hear.
Here is an unedited quote from the British Premier League:
"A nice ball by Beckwith, cool as a cucumber. Sidwell poses a nasty challenge, but there's a comfortable take up the wing, clever as you please."
They should just have Chip 'n Dale do the commentary:
"Tingling good fun, isn't it, chap?"
"Indeed, old chum. Indubitably."
Soccer might also gain fans if players weren't always weeping. Some of these guys roll on the ground long enough to put out a full-body fire. During the World Cup, a player -- and by that I mean thespian -- stayed down so long that ESPN showed the trainer tending the injury IN SLOW-MOTION. Compare to hockey, where players routinely finish games before realizing that they have lost a limb. So it goes.
Fans say that soccer suffers in the Nielsen ratings only for want of commercial breaks. Why, then, don't networks just cut away during play? As if anyone would notice.
"Welcome back to this hotly contested 0-0 tie. While you were away, you missed 16 brilliant passes."
Or soccer could just follow basketball's lead and drop the ads in subliminally...
"That free-throw was brought to you by Gatorade. The IBM inbound pass goes to Johnson, who has graciously tattooed the Nike swoosh symbol into his forehead."
One thing is certain: Soccer needs to be saved. So I have devised for your review a few amendments. I may not get there with you, but we, as a people, will restore soccer to the glory it knew when we were five.
1. Soccer fields will be half as long, and goals will be added to either sideline so that the game plays more like Chinese Checkers.
Stick with me.
2. Games will be played to deafening rock music inside an electric cage and be referred to in the press as "smackdowns."
3. During play, bikini girls will circle the field for no reason at all.
4. Instead of free kicks, referees will issue free punches.
5. Games will be 40 minutes long, no overtime. If goalies hold the ball for more than five seconds, the ball will explode.
6. Goals will be worth 50 points each ("final score: Wizards 2,000 - Galaxy 550").
Or we could use the Grateful Dead model and drug everyone in attendance...
"Whoa, man. It's like a beautiful dance. Scoring would only upset the perfection."
Purists may consider these changes extreme, but if soccer is to compete with satellite TV, it will have to be through the customary channels of sex and violence. Then and only then will it enjoy a rebirth in the marketplace and someday, God willing, have Janet Jackson flash us during its halftime show. Indubitably.