As Phantom mentioned, and it's when I made the post, the 2nd half of that USA-Wales game was pathetic in this regard. The refs lost control. Thee players knew the refs could be "played" and it lead to some ridiculous faking of injuries and horrible officiating. The two times the refs stopped play when a player went down faking an injury while their opponent controlled the ball isn't the way the game is supposed to be reffed. It was terrible and the game became borderline unwatchable. 11 minutes of extra time....my god.....most due to completely fake injuries.
I love the game of soccer but the gamesmanship when it comes to contact and "injury" is pathetic at the top levels of the game. The flopping and faking of injuries makes it unenjoyable to watch at times.
It's a major reason I rarely watch soccer.
I hear you...it's the single thing I hated, and still hate, about soccer (and basketball too). I think everyone including the referee knows its theater and gamesmanship but they play their part. When a player goes down the ref blows the whistle to stop play, or the team in possession (if it's them that want a break in play) will kick the ball out and for sportsmanship reasons the other team will give it back to them when play resumes. The US did it a number of times against Wales, Pulisic or Yusah would go down, the Americans would kick it out, everyone would get a breather and Wales would throw it back to the keeper to resume play. It's all part of the "unwritten rules", same as in baseball. The Welsh did it a lot during stoppage time as well to kill any momentum the US was trying to build.
In fact it was much worse before 1994, but they tried fixing it in the WC, I remember a game at the US WC where some player went down faking injury and instead of a lengthly stoppage the stretchers were sent right on and the player was put on in and taken off, you could see his surprise when he was put on the stretcher but he couldn't make it obvious that he was faking injury, he wasn't even lying on the stretcher, he was sitting on it...so they carried him off the field, he got off when they got to the sideline and he had to wait for the next break in play to come back on
To be fair also a lot of times players, especially good ones, get kicked all the time and if they shrug it off the defender doesn't get penalized. And unfortunately in a game where one penalty can make all the difference, there's all the incentive in the world to do it. And I feel that in many parts of the world flopping, or diving as they call it, is seen as an essential skill in the game. Alexi Lalas had this to say in a Vox article about diving and the cost/benefit of it:
“I look at it as a skill,” former US Soccer phenom Alexi Lalas told the Associated Press. “There are good dives and bad dives, and the act of embellishing an action, I don’t see as an insult to the game or the person.”
Despite the (feigned) drama, there is a cold logic behind these actions. Soccer’s rules tend to favor deception, and behavioral economists have discovered just how artfully players use it to their advantage. The pros have refined diving into an artful tactic that can yield a critical edge in a highly physical contest, even when the eyes of the world are upon them.
I think fans from places like the US and Australia, where we have other contact sports and a tradition of trying to have honest competition, the concept of trying to fool a referee by faking something to win an advantage is not seen as admirable. Just see how someone like Smartacus is hated for his success in drawing fouls from contact (i.e. flopping). But in Europe and Latin America it's really seen as a skill, as long as you can get away with it. Germany's Jurgen Klinsmann perfected the art of going down like he had been shot on any contact. The fact that he had long blond hair made it really obvious too
This one, from Brazil's Rivaldo in South Korea in 2002, was the absolute worst for me though:https://youtu.be/VxysjEIZKa4
He's getting ready to take a corner, Turkey's Hakan Unsal kicks the ball to him, he gets hit on the knee and crumples to the ground clutching his face like he's been hit on the nose with a mallet. Then to make things worse the South Korean referee Kim Young-Joo, let down by his linesman who had a clear view of it, sends Hakan off!
Rivaldo was later fined a thousand pounds for "play acting".