The greatest contribution of the US to soccer aka football is the bowdlerization of 'association football' to soccer. The US being the prime arbiter of popular culture soccer is now universally recognized as an interchangeable term for football. To sticklers across the pond, it signifies ignorance of the global game. But soccer serves a practical purpose of nomenclature distinguishing it from American football.
However, there is an even more insidious word creep taking place in soccer and this is assist. It got thrust into the international stage when David Beckham provided three assists in the LA Galaxy vs NY Red Bulls game. There it was flashing on FSC as Becks was being interviewed.
As far as I can see assist is purely a statistical term that is bandied about in the US but seems to be picking up steam through newswire agencies that keep match reports brief. It cuts short descriptions such as "Beckham's lovely swerving freekick curled up and across the human wall, that moved nary a muscle, as the ball moved from right to left, and settled gently on the forehead of Pavon who flicked it in effortlessly. Vintage Beckham " Or some such thing that the Guardian columnists can do better.
The word was highlighted in the LA Galaxy vs Red Bulls match but it has been in existence for a while in this country. Do you know that Landon Donovan is the all time assist leader in the national team with 23 breaking Cobi Jones record in April 2006? I have my doubts whether Beckham's statistics were recorded that closely when playing in England or Spain. But that is all about to change.
Is the term assist a measure of a meritocratic society or a national obsession with individual statistics? After all, it does make a difference as to who set up the goal and why their contributions shouldn't be recognized more fully. Or is it an effort to make a game more palatable to a larger audience?
A trip to the statistics zone at www.ussoccer.com is a revealing one. Compare that to the FA website, the world's oldest archive of player records, which is downright threadbare. The same set is used to describe greats like Stanley Matthews and contemporaries like Ashley Cole. It pretty much amounts to caps and goals scored. The entry on Landon Donovan is a veritable excel spreadsheet of numbers with categories on assists. There is a interestingly enough, a category on points scored which is an aggregate of goals and assists made.
Donovan leads with 21 (9 goals, 3 assists). Statistics like assists and points scored highlight how invaluable a player is to the national squad but it also suggests the ethos of an underlying individuality in US team sports, even one as soccer, with its unparalleled global connections. These categories are not anomalies. I think they are part of the US rubric. I can almost hear myself saying "Donovan is a good player" in a conversation and another person shooting back with " Do you have the numbers to back you up?"
The downside to descriptives like assists and points scored is that they make for convenient record keeping and newswire reports but they do not necessarily make for good soccer journalism. Which is why I think a Yank's commentary on a match is received with much more skepticism. After all what exactly is an assist in soccer? Its jargon.