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Low Scoring and Narrative Convenience
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June 30, 2010, 03:54 PM
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A reader comments:

"Consider the excitement of the USA`s 1-0 victory over Algeria last week. For 90 minutes, the USA were going to tie and fail to make it out of the group stage. The USA had a goal disallowed on a bogus offside call in the 1st half. The tension builds, and builds, and builds, as the USA attacks and attacks and attacks the Algeria goal but fails to score. Finally, in the last possible moment, on a play from one box to the other, the full length of the field, from GK Howard to Donovan to (IIRC?) Altidore to Dempsey to a rebound to Landon Donovan who scores and the USA wins the group."

Well said.

And that illustrates the final point I made in my Taki`s Magazine article on why low-scoring soccer is, despite American incredulity, such a popular game: it`s easier to remember a stirring yet comprehensive narrative description of a 1-0 soccer game than of a well-executed (i.e., high-scoring) NFL game simply because the soccer game is simpler in outline.

Compare that 1-0 game to the 2009 Super Bowl won 27-23 by Pittsburgh over Arizona that was immediately acclaimed as a highly entertaining game, with tremendous ebb and flow. There were four scores in the fourth quarter alone, twice the total scoring in the typical 2010 group stage World Cup overall game. (The scores in today`s World Cup quarterfinals: 1-0 and 0-0.)

Yet, because the two NFL teams scored a total of nine times in the game (six touchdowns, two field goals, and a safety), it`s very hard to remember a coherent narrative of the game. News stories the day after typically mentioned the final touchdown pass, then quickly went into statistics (Kurt Warner 31-43 for 377 yards, Ben Roethlisberger 21-30 for 256 yards) to give readers a summary flavor of the complex action.

Personally, I like statistics (these days, for instance, I like NBA and baseball statistics more than I like watching the NBA or MLB), but they aren`t of first order appeal to most human beings. Consider a competition that people have remembered for 3,000 years:

Final Score:
David 1
Goliath 0

That`s the kind of thing people are good at remembering.