The World Cup kicked off last Friday. I’ve been champing at the bit for this for several years – it take about a year for the euphoria of the whole thing to wear off (slightly less if you’re a USA fan), then you start counting down until the next one. ESPN is broadcasting three games a day in the opening rounds – 0700, 0930 and 1430 every day. It’s been the most glorious time to work from home in my professional experience. But there’s something different and fun about this World Cup: if you aren’t a fan, you’re finally in the minority.
It’s been decades that the “experts” have been predicting that the US is finally going to start converting to ***futbol. For a long time, I’ve heard people speculate how incredible we could be on the world stage if our nation’s best athletes played soccer instead of basketball, football, baseball, etc. That’s never going to happen and we’re going to have to hope that we get enough talent into the sport to hold the interest it’s finally seized. But win or lose, there’s been a sea change. A buddy from college went the other way on Facebook just recently:
So…soccer for the next month eh? Great. Just awesome.
That, followed by this a few days later:
So I just heard an ESPN announcer say “I can’t believe I have to cover this…soccer sucks”. OK he didn’t really say it, but I’m an expert at reading body language.
This particular friend of mine is a prince and and a gentleman, someone I care for very much. But I think he’s probably experiencing letdown from the NHL playoffs and anticipating the end of the NBA for the year, much more than really caring that we’ve finally caught fire over soccer. What I’m loving is that the few people that are speaking out against the fever sound like the heretics – we’re Americans, and we’re soccer fans. If you have a problem with that, you finally sound like what you’ve always been: a cranky curmudgeon who can’t recognize that we should be good at the sport that the rest of the world cares more about than their own GDP. I’ve posted various status updates to Facebook and I routinely get comments quickly from everyone else glued to these games. Some of them are people that I never even knew were soccer fans. Congratulations to them on their conversion. For God’s sake, my FATHER is finally watching soccer.
The games this year have been pretty good. Goals are at a premium – it’s been 20 years since an opening round was so low-scoring this far into it. There have been great matchups so far with a series of them getting stretched with aggressive play, and red cards have made a couple of match-ups really interesting. And the US team this year looks like we could get out of the opening round with decent performances against Slovenia tomorrow and Algeria next week. I’m knocking wood (read: my forehead) furiously as I type that.
Besides, if you’ve never seen the expressions and body language among the players defending a free kick from just outside the penalty box, you’ve completely missed the comedy possible in sport. If you’re a fan of endless effort and international competition, you’d be insane not to give this a real try over the next month.