The World Cup is coming this week starting on Thursday, and soon the full focus of planet Earth will fall upon Brazil. Chances are, if you’re like most Americans, you have only the most rudimentary knowledge and passing interest in the sport of soccer. So why should you care? Well here’s five reasons why you should watch the World Cup.
1) Off the Pitch Issues
The world has had its eye on this year’s host nation for some time now. News of corruption, protest and excessive expenditures have been leaking out of the country since Brazil placed the winning bid to host the Cup. Such is the cost of hosting an international spectacle. If Brazil is lucky, they’ll soon be able to distract us from any budget inflation or human rights violation with fireworks and all other manner of shiny things, just as Russia inadvertently used a faulty electronic snowflake to steal our attention.
The people of Brazil may have not asked for the World Cup, but it’s coming either way. This is not to say that the people of Brazil are opposed to the World Cup. On the contraire, Brazil lives for the World Cup. The protest lies not in the event so much as the exorbitant cost it brings with it – the billons of dollars spent on cavernous stadiums and hastily built infrastructure that will soon go to waste once visitors vacate their confines.
Will the protests continue through the tournament? Only time will tell, but it’s worth keeping an eye on as kickoff approaches. In a strange twist of irony, soccer may be able to play both the hero and the villain in this story if the Brazilian national team is able to capture the World Cup title on their home soil. That just might be what it takes to pull this divided country back together.
2) You Don’t Have to Stay Up Late
For the first time since Los Angeles hosted in 1994, the World Cup will be played in the Western Hemisphere. Two of the twelve cities hosting matches (Manaus and Cuiaba) lie in the Eastern Time Zone. The rest are just another hour ahead, meaning that the majority of the games will occur just two hours ahead of local Central Standard Time-far more ideal than the seven hour delay in 2010’s South African games. Another advantage this year’s games has- no vuvuzelas.
3) What are the Yanks Going to Look Like without Donovan?
This year’s American team failed to include the one soccer player that the average American has even heard of, Landon Donovan. This in turn led to a public outcry on Twitter, as things often do in the era we live in. The brunt of this fell upon manager Jurgen Klinsmann, who made the final call to leave Landon Donovan off the final 23-man roster. Klinsmann later claimed the decision wasn’t against Donovan as much as it was for fellow forwards Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Chris Wondolowski and Aron Johannssan. Landon, the consummate professional that he his, handled the decision more graciously than the Twitterverse, stating that he was disappointed but respected the decision.
Donovan has always been Team USA’s most visible presence for a reason. He is its all time leader in international games played and goals scored. His game-winning goal in the 91st minute against Algeria in 2010 advanced the US to the knockout rounds and captured the heart of the entire country. It still stands as one of the most significant goals ever scored by the Yanks. If you don’t believe me, just watch this video of people all over the world reacting to the goal and try not to chant “U-S-A” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbn3rOPmR9w#t=306. Donovan’s 5 goals in 12 World Cup games is another US Men’s National Team record. His presence will be missed in Brazil by both fans and teammates alike. His absence marks the end of an era.
So who will become the new face of American soccer? Will it be one of the wily old veterans? Or is it perhaps one of the baby-faced newcomers? A new chapter is dawning in American soccer and it’ll be interesting to see who picks up the torch.
4) You’re an American
This is your team. You may not have voted for them and you might not know a single one of them by name, but for the next month they will be your representatives to the rest of the world. You should take pride in them in the same way that they take pride in earning a chance to represent you in the greatest sports spectacle ever known to man. That might sound like grotesque hyperbole, but anywhere else it’s an accepted fact. There’s nothing like the World Cup. It’s like the Super Bowl had a baby with the Olympics and then only let everyone look at it once every four years.
Keeping in tune with our nation’s immigrant roots, this year’s 23 includes a diverse group of athletes and dreamers. They hail from twelve different states, ranging from Seattle, Washington all the way down to Boca Raton, Florida. Three members, John Brooks (Berlin), Timothy Chandler (Frankfurt), Fabian Johnson (Munich), were born in Germany. Midfielder Mix Diskerud, was born in Oslo, Norway to a Norwegian father and Arizonan mother. He spent his summers growing up in Phoenix. Forward Aron Johannsson was born in Mobile, Alabama before his family returned to their native Iceland when he was three years old. The youngest member of the team, 19-year old Julian Green, was born one month before TLC topped the charts with “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls.” The number one song when goalkeeper Tim Howard, the team’s elder statesman, was born in 1979 was the disco anthem “I Will Survive.”
If you’re looking for someone a little more local, you need not look any further than Nacogdoches native Clint Dempsey. Dempsey is the captain of the US squad and the only American who has even come close to rivaling Landon Donovan in terms of popularity over the past decade. Dempsey, who currently plays for the MLS Seattle Sounders, spent the bulk of his career playing for Fulham in the English Premier League. He is the club’s leader in career goals and became the first American to ever score a hat trick in Premier League in 2012. The team also features Dallas native and former MLS Rookie of the Year, Omar Gonzalez.
5) We’re Underdogs, and You Love Underdogs
Pop quiz: what does Rocky Balboa, Luke Skywalker, and Babe the pig have in common with Team USA? If you read the header, you can probably piece it together. Jurgen Klinsmann has already stated publicly that the Yanks cannot win this year’s Cup. He’s right. We don’t stand a chance. You may have heard the national team’s draw been referred to as the “Group of Death.” The term is both ominous and appropriate. Group G features two legitimate contenders in Germany and Portugal (Number 2 and 4 in the official FIFA rankings) and the team that eliminated the US in South Africa, Ghana. On top of that, the Americans also drew the longest travel schedule, which will force them to log upwards of 9,000 miles during the initial group play.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can’t make some noise. Just because the odds are stacked against us doesn’t mean that all is lost. What would have happened if Rocky Balboa had listened to all the detractors who said he wouldn’t last a single round against Apollo? What would have become of Babe if he had listened to all the foolish humans who claimed that a pig had no place herding sheep? This US team is no slouch (ranked 13th in the world, respectively), and they have a strong veteran presence lead by Howard, Dempsey and midfielder Michael Bradley. They won’t be easily intimidated, even if they are outmatched on the pitch.
We are an eternally optimistic nation. We started out that way when in 1775 we decided to tackle the greatest military power in the world with a few farmers and a handful of muskets. While it is true that we probably won’t advance past group play, expect the US to draw some attention. America rarely does anything quietly.