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Americans take note: In World Cup, a ‘flop’ is often a hit

Portugal’s Pepe, left, head-butts Germany’s flopping Thomas Mueller during a match Monday.
Portugal’s Pepe, left, head-butts Germany’s flopping Thomas Mueller during a match Monday.Bernat Armangue/AP

Americans may finally be embracing soccer, as this year’s World Cup draws unprecedented interest, and sports shows that usually shift from the NBA finals to Major League Baseball this time of year are pausing to discuss the play of Team USA. But, as The New York Times pointed out, one aspect of the game that’s perplexing for fans and challenging for American players is the global phenomenon of flopping — that is, halting play with a showy display of pain after being kicked or tripped.

In edging out nemesis Ghana 2-1 in the World Cup opener, team USA could not be accused of faking its way to victory. Clint Dempsey, who scored the Yanks' first goal, suffered a broken nose from a knee to the face. Jozy Altidore suffered a hamstring injury running down a ball at full speed. That was a far cry from Germany's 4-0 victory over Portugal, which was marred by a moment in which German star Thomas Mueller flailed to the ground like a two-year-old in a tantrum after a slight collision with Portugal's Pepe. The Portuguese player was so angered at Mueller's theater, he stood over Mueller and stupidly head-butted him, earning a red-card ejection. Meanwhile, Brazil's go-ahead goal in its opening victory against Croatia came after Brazilian forward Fred flopped like a mortally wounded animal, thus persuading an official to call a highly disputed penalty. Such antics are less practiced by the Americans, coming from a country where flopping in pro basketball results in $5,000 fines. US assistant coach Tab Ramos told the Times that flopping runs against the American nature "to try and make everything fair, to try and be fair to the game."

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Ramos is being a little generous to his countrymen. American sports has its own forms of shenanigans, with spitballs and pine tar in baseball and defensive players faking injuries to slow down high-paced offenses in college football. And indeed, some members of the US team suggest they should become better actors lest, to borrow from Hamlet, conscience makes losers of them all. That sounds about right. If the United States is destined to be a big-time player in global soccer, its players should adapt to global norms.