Media Microscope: The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Writing A World Cup Article

Rules to follow.
The World Cup is now just a month away and here in the US of A, we’re gearing up for that glorious six to eight week stretch where soccer goes MAINSTREAM!  I’m not talking ESPN or Sports Illustrated mainstream here, oh no.  This is bigger.

This is Time Magazine.  This is your local daily periodical.  This is CNN and Fox News.  This is Mike Wallace, Dan Rather, Morley Safer and a commentary from Andy Rooney. Many professional writers will become amateur soccer pundits in the coming months.

Soccer’s going to be everywhere and everybody’s going to have an opinion.

While the intense cultural spotlight will be nice, for those of us who follow soccer 48 out of 48 months, reading uninformed drivel from those who follow it one out of 48 months can be frustrating, to say the least.

So, for those that may not be knowledgeable and/or those that can’t be bothered to care or look anything up, I’ve got your articles guidelines right here!  A handy list of rules to ensure a soccer piece will reach the widest audience, be informative, and maybe even pacify the soccer nuts too.

Rule #1: No xenophobia!

For many hacks, xenophobia is the tried-and-true method to convey their emotions about the invasion of soccer into the American public’s consciousness.  It sure is easy to label soccer as un-American when we didn’t invent it, we aren’t the best at it, and when in many countries across the globe- none of which are the United States- the sport is like a religion.

Here’s the thing, hacks: besides the fact that equating soccer with illegal immigration, hooliganism and communism makes you sound uninformed and kind of racist, WE ALL GET IT.  All of us: soccer lovers, haters, and everybody in-between.  Please come up with a new shtick, because a tie does not make a sport communist, and making fun of some Serbian player’s name just isn’t cutting it anymore.

Rule #2: Be realistic about the U.S.’s chances

Let’s be honest: The United States got a gift with their draw into Group C.  They play an England side from which they can reasonably steal a draw, and then face two of the weaker sides from Europe and Africa, respectively, in Slovenia and Algeria.  The United States should advance to the Round of 16.  Anything less will be a huge disappointment for a country that set 2010 as the year they’d win the World Cup not so long ago (see: Project 2010, circa 1998).

At the same time, let’s not go overboard and say the U.S. should be expected to go any further.  There is a definitive line in the sand for this World Cup: failure to advance from Group C would be crushing, but winning any matches past that should be seen as a bonus, not an expectation.

Rule #3: Avoid the “is soccer the next big thing?” question.

A topic that’s guaranteed to be mentioned ad nauseam is if soccer is ready to be the next “big thing” in America, or if we, the general populous, are ready to “finally embrace soccer.”  A myriad of these articles always seem to crop up right around the World Cup and as always, we are no closer to answering the question than we were four years ago.

The main problem with this topic is that it’s an impossible question disguised as a simple one.  Sure, we can point to numbers, like attendance or TV ratings, or anecdotal evidence, like many fans watching matches in bars or increased media coverage.  However, “Americans embracing soccer” will always mean different things to different people.  Is soccer the next big thing? Maybe you think it already is, while somebody else completely disagrees.  Please, I don’t want to hear about this anymore.  It’s boring.

Rule #4:
Don’t be too U.S.A.-centric.

Media coverage in the United States will be primarily focused on the American team, for obvious reasons.  The American media would be doing itself a disservice however, if it pigeonholes itself into covering only the Yanks.  There are plenty more intriguing stories out there, such as:

Can the Dutch and their merry band of orange-clad supporters finally achieve World Cup glory?  Can Italy repeat?  Will Raymond Domenech and/or Diego Maradona finally be declared legally insane?  Can Spain reach the pinnacle of the soccer world and be both the World Cup and Euro Cup holders?  And what on earth is going on with North Korea?  Nobody seems to know anything about this team.  Their coach defers all success to “the Great Leader,” most of their players come from the domestic league, which lists its 2008 and 2009 champions as “unknown,” and they’ve been known to change lineup numbers and squad shirts prior to taking the field.  It’s bizarre.  And interesting.

Rule #5: Use the correct terminology

First of all, and I know this might seem strange to some, but nothing sounds more amateur than when writers use the verb “kick” when referring to soccer.  A player strikes the ball, he shoots it, he passes it, he lobs it, he volleys it.  He does not, under any circumstances, kick the ball.  Second, it’s “offside,” not “off side” or “offsides.”  Third, it’s a “goalkeeper” or “keeper.” Goalies and goaltenders play hockey.  I’m sure there are dozens more that I’m missing. Also, using “field” and “shoes” instead of “pitch” and “boots” is acceptable.  We are in the United States, after all.  Speaking of which, avoid the common mistake of saying that the U.S. is the only country that calls the sport “soccer” instead of “football,” as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and even South Africa also use the term.

Rule #6: If you’re going to criticize, make it valid.

Some people just have to be negative.  Which is fine, but please, if negativity is your thing, direct it towards something that actually deserves to be criticized.  Such as:

Diving.  Diving is currently an inexpugnable stain on the game. No soccer fan can really defend it.  It’s manipulative, conniving, deceiving, and sadly, since it tends to work, it’s not going away anytime soon.  Until there is a better way to combat the scourge of diving, have at it.  I’ll be right there to join in.

The tournament’s location.  To be frank, this tournament probably should not have been held in South Africa, a country which still suffers from extreme inequality and poverty.  South Africa spent over five billion dollars on the tournament, and almost none of that money is going to the general population.  Tourists and foreign investors will reap the benefit of the majority of that spending, as unlicensed locals will be shut out from selling their goods to fans.  There is also almost no evidence of a proper contingency plan for usage of most of the stadiums after the tournament is over.  It’s an issue that isn’t really done justice by this one paragraph, but is certainly warrants further exploration and criticism.

So, there we have it.  As usual, I’ve rambled a bit and almost certainly missed more good pieces of advice.  If you have any more, let us know in the comments.

Seth Vertelney is a regular contributor to You can follow him on twitter.

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