Like 25 million other people around the country, at 5 p.m. Sunday I was watching the U.S.-Portugal World Cup soccer match.
And like most of them, I’ve never been a soccer fan, even though it’s the most popular sport in the world.
Until this year, I had never even seen a soccer goal scored live. Every time I watched, the ball just went back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth, and then it was kicked wide or over the goal or some guy was bouncing it off his head.
It’s a good thing in their first game of the tournament the U.S. scored in just 29 seconds, because the average attention span of an American soccer fan is 30 seconds.
Speaking of time, when is a soccer game officially over?
The match is 90 minutes long, and when the U.S. scored a goal in the 81st minute I thought all they had to do was hang on for nine more minutes.
But then Portugal scored 14 minutes later to tie it.
Apparently even though the clock keeps running, the referee is keeping track of how long players lie on the grass after getting kicked in the shin or pulling their hamstring or cracking their skulls together while trying to head the ball.
Then he adds that time back and they keep playing. Nobody except him knows exactly when the game will end. Even though the referee officially added five minutes in Sunday’s game, it wound up going an extra 28 seconds beyond that.
And the U.S. coach even argued that the game should have gone on a little longer!
There is no Jerry-size TV screen in the stadium with a clock ticking down the final seconds. The referee just decides when it’s over.
Can you imagine that happening in the NFL or the NBA?
“RAY ALLEN CONNECTS ON A 3-POINTER AT THE BUZZER AND THE HEAT HAVE STUNNED THE SPURS AND FORCED GAME 7!
“No, wait, the referee has decided we’re going to play 30 more seconds because Dwyane Wade stopped to tie his shoe back in the first quarter.”
But if U.S. fans thought the timekeeping stunk, wait until we get a load of what might happen in the next game against Germany.
First off, of course, there’s the little matter of whether it would be better for the teams to get together and — wink-wink-nod-nod — decide to play to a tie, which would mean they both advance to the next round.
That happened before, in 1982, when Austria played West Germany. Both teams would advance as long as Germany didn’t win by more than two goals.
Germany took the lead and then both teams doodled around until the game was over (or when the ref said it was over).
Even though the coach of this year’s German team used to be the U.S. coach’s assistant and they are reportedly good friends, that won’t happen again.
But here’s the situation: If the U.S. loses to Germany 4-0 and Portugal beats Ghana 2-1, the team that moves on to the final round will be determined by a method totally unfamiliar to fans of other sports.
The first tie-breaker is goal differential. The second tiebreaker is goals scored. The third is head-to-head result.
And the fourth tiebreaker?
Rock, paper, scissors.
Not really, but just as stupid.
The drawing of lots.
They put both team names in a bowl and pick out the one who moves on to the next round.
Give me a four-hour baseball game any day.