We all are fully aware of what happened last week. The USMNT was eliminated from World Cup 2018 in Russia in a rather stunning loss to Trinidad and Tobago. Well, I say stunning even though it was the culmination of mistakes and mismanagement that started well before the whistle for that match sounded.
We have already gone over much of what went wrong during the match, and opined on the need for drastic changes within the structure of U.S. Soccer, but that is not what I am here to write about. I am going to try to convince you that World Cup 2018 in Russia is something that you should still watch, even though it will be without the USMNT.
We could go on for days about how to go about picking an alternate team to cheer on during the tournament in Russia next year. You could get a DNA test, you could pick three random colors from the big box of crayons on your kid’s desk, and you could throw a dart at a map. Regardless of who you choose to root for, and some suggestions have already been made, or who you choose to root against, this is the most watched sporting event in the world for reasons that go beyond just watching another football match.
First and foremost — and I will recap just a bit in case you have just returned from isolation in the forest from the past few years — this World Cup is the first of two being hosted after numerous calls of impropriety. Bribery, collusion, refusals to be interviewed during the investigation, indictments, the list goes on and on. Russia is scrambling to meet FIFA regulations for some of the venues that will be used to host matches.
MUST SEE: Stadium in Russia, in order to be compliant for the 2018 World Cup, has, um, added more seats. pic.twitter.com/7aT69bU3rP— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) October 4, 2017
It all boils down to starting off Russia 2018 under the scrutiny of the world football community’s eyes as every aspect of this WC. From team hotels, to transportation, to training facilities, fan zones, stadium amenities, pitch conditions, food and beverage for players and fans alike, it will all be picked apart by every media outlet in the world and broadcast for all of our enjoyment. And now let’s get to the real reason to watch: soccer.
My first memories of the spectacle that is World Cup play was in 1990 during World Cup Italia. If you remember, I was living in West Germany, at Ramstein Air Force Base, and had been playing soccer there, both for my high school team and some youth leagues off base. I had been to numerous Bundesliga matches across that region of West Germany, mostly for FC Kaiserslautern matches, and was easily infected by the World Cup bug that was spreading throughout West Germany.
Yes, the United States qualified for this tournament, the first WC it had qualified for since 1950, but due to living in West Germany, and watching the vast majority of the qualifying matches with West Germans, in Germany, I was drawn into the fever for Die Mannschaft (The Team). It was truly an experience that I can point to that solidified my love for the game, and not just my love for soccer — but my love for German soccer, a very physical version of the sport that was played very technically with little of the fancy flair common with South American play, or any of that flopping around like said South American or Italian soccer at the time. When I say physical, I mean a very physical style of play, which ironically enough got me in a lot of trouble when I moved back to the U.S. in 1991 and tried to play at my local high school, but that is a story for another time.
I have witnessed every World Cup since, with a deep passion for watching the now-unified German squad, but also paying more and more attention to those Yanks as soccer began to bloom in the U.S., including the current exponential explosion in popularity of what we all know has always been The Beautiful Game. i have also found myself scouring the qualification tables looking for “The Giant Killer,” that one team that will find a way to take a perennial giant for a ride in the group stages and has that ripple effect throughout the next round, or possibly even knocks a bigger country out of the tournament (think Ghana vs. the USMNT). I became fascinated by the play of South Korea and Turkey during the 2002 World Cup held between Japan and South Korea. Who could forget the pitches on wheels from that tourney. Sometimes it is getting infatuated by a country’s fans. I mean, who doesn’t love the Orange Army of the Netherlands?
The drama is always something that will leave you awestruck. The headbutt heard around the world?
The Hand of God?
Jaws attacks a defender?
The rabbit hole of videos available to watch and relive all of the unforgettable, and sometimes forgettable, moments from past World Cups is hours upon hours of content. The World Cup is nothing short of the one tournament guaranteed to bring you the greatest drama possible from around the sports world simply because the tournament is that big. The closest we in America can get to the spectacle that is worldwide sporting phenomenon, the Super Bowl, pales in comparison to the majesty and wonder that is World Cup soccer.
Just to give you an idea, the last World Cup final — played in 2014 between Germany and Argentina — was watched by over a billion people. Yes, that is billion with a b, worldwide. The Super Bowl in 2015, between the Patriots and Seahawks, was watched by around 300 million people worldwide. Let’s also be honest, if the Super Bowl did not include all those amazing commercials every year, how might that change the viewing numbers?
What I am trying to say here is the World Cup is much more than following your national team through training, qualifying, group stages, and then hopefully the knockout rounds and finally glory. It is a worldwide phenomenon, where for a summer every four years the world comes together to celebrate The Beautiful Game, where so many things that divide us are forgotten at the sound of that referee’s whistle, and we all become one. We become fans of what I believe is one of the greatest games on Earth.
I am as upset as you all are that the Yanks are not booking a flight to Russia 2018. I was there with you all in Orlando to see those boys give Panama a 4-0 drubbing. I watched on TV with all of you as our hopes faded, slowly, on that bumpy pitch in Trinidad. The Ghost Goal did not kick us out of the tournament, although it certainly was the final nail in the coffin — the USMNT did not get the job done.
Regardless, as a soccer fan, I will still be watching as many matches as possible next year. I will be seriously considering altering my work schedule depending on certain match schedules and group draws. It is a global event not to be missed simply because the Red, White & Blue will not be playing. Does this mean you all need to betray the national team and switch your allegiance to someone new? Of course not, but by watching, I guarantee you will learn something.
You will see something that will stick with you for a long time, and you will learn something that you did not know before about this little game we call soccer. I had no idea what the hell a vuvuzela was, did you?