I've been watching a bit of World Cup this weekend. I know it's denigrated by many Americans, but I've come to enjoy the aesthetics of the game and I appreciate the athleticism involved. It helps, perhaps, that I coached my son's soccer teams for a couple of seasons.
One thing that I observe, possibly because of my ignorance, is the relative paucity of data in soccer. Sports like baseball, (American) football and basketball, in descending order, are discretizable into distinct units of play. And especially in baseball, each of those units have a very crisp set of data that can be collected regarding that event. Ice hockey is more like soccer insofar as it involves more continuous play, and less frequent scoring as compared to basketball. But play recommences with a faceoff each time, wich a measurable outcome, and the fact that there's much more scoring and many more shots on goal, and the relative frequency of power playes, means that there are many more data that allow us to analyze the effectiveness of players and teams. Soccer is different, I suspect. It's not as easy to quantify the effectiveness of particular players, and, indeed, the relatively large number of ties means that it may be more difficult to even quantify the effectiveness and potential of particular teams too. I believe that that makes it harder to predict success and failure as well. It would be interesting to compare the accuracy of expert predictions in sports like baseball and (american) football to the accuracy of soccer predictions. Does the alleged paucity of data cash itself out in terms of decreased insight into what will happen?
I wonder, though, if this characteristic of soccer helps to explain why it has never achieved the same level of popularity in the US. Appreciating soccer is more like appreciating art and Americans, well North Americans, have always been a little more Philistine-like in this regard.