Ask soccer haters in America about their grudge, and they'll say something like, "Nothing happens. It's boring." But most Americans haven't watched much soccer; consequently they don't understand it, and anything someone doesn't understand is boring. If you don't understand baseball it's mostly two men throwing a ball back and forth to each other.
To me the more interesting question is: Even as soccer grows in popularity here, why do so many still refuse to watch it? To at least give it a try? Americans will cite the lack of scoring, but I think that doesn't quite strike the heart. American sports aficionados trumpet defense and the beauty of the well-pitched or well-goaltended game as much as a flashing scoreboard.
I think what Americans truly resist about soccer isn't the lack of scoring, but a symptom of the lack of scoring: draws. Americans can't stand a competition without a winner. A recorded tie isn't possible in baseball or basketball. In American professional football ties are possible but occur only once every few years; college football has stamped them out completely. The National Hockey League recently abolished ties in favor of a shootout which many fans think is a travesty even though it's about nine times fairer than the penalty kicks soccer resorts to when a winner is necessary. I'll never forget a dear, departed friend mocking me for praising a draw in a soccer match as a good result. "A tie isn't a result! It's a non-result! If no one wins, why play?"
Without saying so, I used to agree. I used to merely tolerate draws in soccer as an unfortunate by-product of the sophistication of the rest of the sport. But I've come to appreciate a draw as a fairer outcome than declaring a victor when the difference between teams on a given day is indiscernible and judgment turns on what may as well be a coin flip. Just as I've come to understand, as I've grown older, that much in life isn't (pardon the expression in the context of this site) black and white.
Today, though, as a Newcastle United fan, I'm turning back into an American on ties. I don't want a "result" against Chelsea. I don't want a draw. I want a victory. And if I can't have that, I want the purifying sear of a loss.
Newcastle has the rare advantage Saturday of relatively low expectation despite being above the opponent on the table and playing before a huge, mental crowd at home. Chelsea is still the "bigger" club. Thanks to one whistle last weekend, Newcastle still hasn't managed a final score to make most commentators or fans outside Newcastle believe. Newcastle still will be missing important players at important places, thanks to nagging injury and a less-commented-upon whistle from last weekend.
With a victory against Chelsea, Newcastle United would enter a new reality, both perceived and real. Despite patches in the lineup, Newcastle would have played the hardest stretch of the season schedule at even money, 1-1-1. Playing the rest of the schedule at even money, 8-8-8, after a victory Saturday would put the club at 61 points, enough in a typical season to contend for Europe. And the rest of the schedule would no longer look harder than what's past. The doubts, including whichever may remain inside the club, would wither.
A loss, on the contrary, would trigger a measure of sobriety that could be equally useful entering a phase of the schedule in which Newcastle will be a consistent favorite - not to mention a critical transfer window in which the owner will be asked to fill dangerous gaps in the team while withstanding absurd offers for players who are worth the price only to a contender.
The only negative result against Chelsea, to my eyes, would be a draw. Aside from a measly home point on the table, a draw would generate nothing. It would bring neither faith nor urgency. It would merely prolong the tiresome and increasingly unproductive debate about whether Newcastle United is living a dream, or stuck in one.