Friday, June 27, 2014

World Cup Fever

Like most middle-class American white kids I grew up with my first organized sporting experience being youth soccer. I started when I was about seven and played until I was about 15, when I abruptly quit because my coach was a douche. I was also playing two years up, which would make it sound like I was pretty good when in fact we were the worst team in that age group. All that being said you think I would still have somewhat of an affinity for the "World`s Game" but in reality I don't... not even a little. But I like many other Americans have become something of a soccer fanatic over the past few weeks as I've become intrenched with the dramatic plays, and story lines of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. 

Because of this new phenomenon social media has been divided into three distinct groups. Group 1 is people who still hate soccer, because its not a sport that appeals to our American desires for Gladiatorial like entertainment, and these people hate I mean HATE all these new so-called soccer enthusiats. Then there's the flip side of the coin, the true soccer lovers, few and far between die hard fans who anxiously anticipate this moment every four years. They too hate these new American soccer lovers with the same passion hipsters hate when one of their favorite bands "you've probably never heard of" gains mainstream success. Which brings us finally to this third group, the outcasts if you will, except in this moment the VAST MAJORITY. We are the casual observers of soccer who once every four years goes ape shit bananas for the Stars and Stripes! If you had asked any of us a year ago to name one player of the USMNT we all would have said the same guy, and he didn't make the 23-man roster. Now I know atleast half a dozen of these guys by name and feel like I've been personally watching them for years. 

So that brings us to the elephant in the room, which group is right? I think honestly all groups have a valid opinion, if you hate soccer, you hate it, if you love it, same holds true, but why are we the newly crowned Super Fans ostracized for our new found love of the game? I've been thinking about this question a lot as I've been eagerly watching every second of the U.S. in their pursuit, even as I've found myself engulfed watching teams in different groups in extremely exciting matches of their own. Normally for about 3 years and 10 months out of ever 4 years, I don't care, it's not that I particulary hate soccer, I just don't care. There are dozens of European leagues with hundreds of players of which I can only name a few, each league with mulitple levels, a multitude of league championships, and salaries that make U.S. athletes look like slave laborers. With the way American sports are its hard for me and I'm sure most Americans to keep up, we like our sports with two leagues and one championship. We hate ties, and we can't stand the ideas that a draw or heaven forbid a loss can still be an acceptable outcome. All that being said, for two months every four years... I get it. The World Cup makes sense, in an AMERICAN way, and more importantly we get to root for someone we all know and love, it's not Altidore, or Bradley, or that white guy with the sweet dreads, it's Old Glory. And quite honestly as far as tournaments go the setup is actually pretty sweet, a round robin opener (College World Series Style), a Sweet-16 tournament (ala March Madness), and finally the most popular championship game in the world (The Super Bowl of Futbol if you you will). 

So to the haters out there I think the real question is, why do YOU like soccer the rest of the time? You're a ManU fan huh, why's that exactly, besides that they are the Dallas Cowboys of Futbol. Look people can like what they like, but soccer will never be America's Game. Its been the sport with the greatest increases in participation every year for the last 20 years, but how many of us can honestly said we watched the MLS Championship last year? I can honestly admit I don't even know when the MLS season takes place, and I really don't care. But what I do care about is that whether you like soccer or not, this World Cup has been two things for Americans, exciting, and hopeful. We hung in there with Germany, we have a great shot against Belgium, and while if we make it to Argentina, Messi may get the best of us but I'm content just to continue to piss the rest of the world off. That we are hanging in there with the big dogs and soccer isn't even a top-5 sport in our country. To be honest when the U.S. gets the boot my interest will decline dramatically. I'll still probably watch the semis and the final because I have become familiar with many of the stars, but what if the U.S. keeps winning, our odds are at 1% right now, but what if we keep going. At that point even the biggest soccer ney-sayers will be forced out of simple patriotism. And though I think the odds are bleak, and without wanting to jinx it, dare I say, what if WE WIN? Besides the collective minds of the rest of the nations in the world exploding simultaniously, I think a World Cup semi-finals, or finals appearance might help soccer achieve in America what it's been longing for, for decades... relavance. But probably not, at least not until 2018!