It’s not that the game is low-scoring; fans of baseball were raving this month or last that a bad call cost a pitcher a perfect game, which is one in which quite literally nothing happens. People watch golf, and apparently have been known to be entertained by it. It’s also not that the game is terribly complicated or taxing for American brains. There are basically three rules, and one of them is that you can’t use your hands. We got this. Moreover, it’s not as though Americans have never heard of soccer. Among other things, it’s the middle class suburban pastime for children, largely because you don’t need much equipment, there are basically three rules, and anything that wears out the little rugrats so they sleep is welcomed.
What we don’t have in the U.S. is a large tradition of watching good soccer.
And this hurts soccer’s popularity during the World Cup, and I suspect more generally, because soccer is a game that is mostly about flow. A game that is about flow is a game where elegant control of the ball-like object leads to the creation of chances to achieve the goal in the game; the opposing team stops them by interrupting them, and taking over. Soccer, basketball, hockey, and were I in the mood for a challenge I’d argue NASCAR (um, minus the ball bit), are games like this. Games of flow can be contrasted with games of plays, where one team tries to do something to get points, and the other team is defending. Football and baseball are games like this.