It’s nice to root for the underdog, especially in sports. There was always the ability of seeing oneself in an underdog player/team that drives us to support the little guy/girl. There is always an endearing story that is often perpetuated by the media surrounding the team or star player and that further gets tossed into the beauty of it all.
Being in the middle of this summer of soccer, it’s an amazing opportunity to be able to see so many games in the span of a few months. We have the chance to witness world-class players as well as teams from smaller countries on the biggest stages.
However, there is a bit of a feeling of being conflicted when watching smaller teams take on more powerful opponents. Particularly, I know I’m not alone when I say that it is boring to watch a team park the bus. When one team has 10 players on their opponent’s side of the field attacking a double layer of defense… it’s ridiculous.
I’m of the state of mind that whilst some players are obviously better than others, you’re all pros at the end of the day and should approach the game in a balanced manner that emphasizes both offense and defense. That includes coaches too, coaches should devise strategies and employ formations that allow their teams to play their best and deal with their opponent. Not bunker down and hope for a draw.
Tuesday’s match between England and Slovakia was a particular example of this. England dominated all of the major statistical categories but the game ended 0-0 due to Slovakia literally playing every player on defense.
There is definitely an appeal to seeing a team park the bus one can argue. For some teams, they may not be able to employ a winning strategy with any hopes of success. Also, there is some excitement in whether or not a team can achieve a draw against a big fish as it were. Yet, nervy draws don’t make for entertaining soccer, nor does a team really improve by only playing defense.
What’s the solution? Wait it out. The good thing about tournaments like the Copa America Centenario and the expanded field is that smaller teams get to play against traditional powers. I feel that the more CONMEBOL invites teams from CONCACAF to participate in the Copa America (and vice versa) as well as the expansion of the field in the Euros will eventually lead to a deeper well of talent all over the world and a more enjoyable product overall.
This will all be due to the more constant exposure to better competition, development of interest in the sport at a national level (as in for each country individually), and the eventual higher level of coaching/development. Iceland, Albania, and Peru are all recent examples of national teams that have benefitted from the aforementioned steps. Who knows, maybe the USA will win and host the World Cup in 2026 after all?