The Science of Soccer

By Chris Mooney | June 23, 2010 8:30 am

60736432Just kidding with the title.

I don’t have anything particularly insightful to say about the physics of the game.

Rather, this post is just to say, I’m off to watch the USA (and England).

I won’t be blogging this am at least until that is over and done with.

But I’m sure people have opinions about the team, so this is a place to leave them, and discuss the game….


Comments (11)

  1. Glad to see Americans beginning to love “The Beautiful Game”

  2. Chris Mooney

    It is especially beautiful when your team does not fake fouls, act, and roll around on the ground when nothing happened to you…

  3. Actually there is an scientific reason why this is one of the most exciting games mankind has ever developed: It is the small number of scored goals in a game. The more points the less exciting a game becomes because the same person/team always wins (like in Tennis – Boris Becker and Steffi Graf or now Roger Federer win all the time – how boring). The fewer points you have in a game the more the outcomes resemble a Poisson distribution, which is a distribution of rare events.

    Every game is full of suspense and there is always the chance that the underdog wins! My forecast is that the popularity in the States will rise significantly – you guys just love the idea of underdogs beating the champ (we Europeans do, too! :-)

  4. Well, I’m sure you’ll find very beautiful your last-minute goal. Congratulations!

  5. Marion Delgado

    There’s tons of science in soccer – what was the issue this year with the balls being too round, too light, whatever?

  6. Chris Mooney

    Beautiful. Let’s face it, the US should have won the group by 2 more points, and 2 more goals, and only ridiculous referees prevented that. Is England really “better” than the US?

  7. Yeah, the science of chaos I’d say. What an awful ball.

  8. Georg

    Former (50ties) Germanys National team coach Sepp Herberger onnce said,
    when he was pressed hard by journalists to say something on a match to come:
    “The leather is round, the match will last for 90 minutes”
    So much on science and probabilities in soccer :=)

  9. Squeaky Woo Woo

    >>Actually there is an scientific reason why this is one of the most exciting games mankind has ever developed: It is the small number of scored goals in a game.<<

    I actually think the complete opposite of this. I was brought up in England on a firm diet of football. All my mates loved football, I loved football, I went to games, I'd watch them on TV, I'd buy the magazines and the sticker books when I was a kid. I loved it. But the lack of goals caused a voice at the back of my mind to keep nagging that "This isn't the most exciting sport in the world, however popular it may be." I've sat through two goalless draws in person, as well as seen countless such games on TV thinking that the game needs some way of increasing the chances of goals being scored, like a bigger goal mouth or not being offside if you pass the ball inside the opposition goal area.

    Since living in Australia, I've been watching Aussie Rules, which has an average of around 15 goals per team per game and is brilliant to watch. Teams are quite capable of pulling off surprise victories and because of the rate at which goals can be scored, it's a sport that requires you to play full steam for the entire game. You can't just sit back in the last 10 minutes or you'll get crushed. After spending a year watching this, it was hard to go back to watching football at the World Cup. Football just doesn't have the pace and the excitement of some other sports. None the less: come on England! Though I'm a bit miffed we've got Germany next rather than Ghana, thanks Donovan.

  10. One of the problems with soccer being such a low-scoring game is that it’s very, very, very hard for a team that’s behind to mount a successful comeback. I read an article years ago addressing this; it maintained that one of the essences of exciting sport is that the fans can hope their team (or the individual athlete they are rooting for) has a chance to win even late into a competition. By that standard, tennis is remarkably good; there have been some epic and courageous comebacks by men down two sets to none, or women down by a set. Baseball has a history of stunning rallies. There have been basketball games when one team scored 10 or 15 points in one or two minutes. (Villanova vs. Georgetown leaps to mind.) American football also has this as part of its repertoire; the “Hail Mary” pass sometimes connects, and Cleveland will never forget John Elway and “The Drive”.

    Can’t think of quite the same comeback tradition for hockey, but hockey seems to have about the right amount of scoring for games with a goal and an object intended to go into it. Lacrosse has more, basketball obviously a LOT more, and then there’s soccer, where a two-goal lead must mean a win 90% of the time.

    I think one of the theses of this particular article was that soccer was a game that appealed to masochists. After suffering through 90 minutes of the U.S.A. vs. Algeria game, that opinion certainly has some merit.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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