Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The U.S. At The World Cup: Dreaming Of Four More Days Of Dreaming

So in a few more hours, the U.S. plays Belgium in a round of 16 game. If they win, they advance to meet the winner of Argentina vs. Switzerland, which is to say, another team that would be a clear favorite to beat them. If they somehow get past that round, there's still two more games against wildly superior opponents, all of whom would be thrilled to see the U.S. show up as a de facto bye late in the tournament.

They have, honestly, no realistic chance of winning this thing.

Teams that win the World Cup have already shown themselves as real contenders at this point. They've won multiple games in group stage. They have big differences in goal differential. They have strikers that put fear into the hearts of defenders, and midfielders who control the game every time out. They control the ball the majority of the time it's in play, sometimes by a strong majority.

None of this describes the U.S. team.

In another four years, the World Cup will be played in Russia. Russia's time zone differences mean that the games will happen in the middle of the night or pre-dawn to the mainland U.S., so even if the country goes on a huge winning streak and does well in that tournament, the ratings aren't going to be as good. There will be no boom in ratings for MLS in America, because MLS is already back from their WC break, and, well, there hasn't been a boom in interest yet, when there really should be one. Soccer will remain, as it has been since 1972, the game of the future in America. (Mostly because parents like their kids to play it because it's low on the injury scale, but if the kid has skills, he or she is moving on to another game with bigger monetary value later. Anyway, moving on.)

So what does the game with Belgium mean? Well, first off, it's winnable. Belgium is basically the same kind of team as Germany, but not as strong. The U.S. might get striker Jozy Altidore back, and while he's not exactly world-class, it's a lot better than not having him. Unlike the last game against Germany, the club isn't trying to bounce back after playing in the rain forest of Manaus. The best U.S. player is goaltender Tim Howard, and he might stand on his head. It's just one game; things happen.

And if they win? We all get four more days of dreaming, of watching WC games with a Well Maybe in your heart, and four more days of rubbing our continued survival in the noses of countries who well and truly care about this game. England, Italy, Spain, Russia, Portugal, Ghana, all gone, all jealous as hell. Four more days of enjoying a sport without commercial breaks, fantasy sports overtones (seriously, it's so refreshing to not have that hanging over everything), and droll English commentators taking this all too seriously. Honestly, I need Ian Darke yelling "(Team Name)'s Humiliation Is Complete!", the way he did when Spain got rolled in group play, because that was freaking awesome. Four more days of Clint Dempsey redefining what it's like to be cool and Texan.

And, well, I know FIFA are cartoon slimebags, and that this is all just a party, and parties have to end. The people who hate futbol and the people who think that we'll all start caring about baseball (um, no, never), or that we can't get enough coverage of football training camps or NBA free agency, are going to get their wish.

We are all going to go back to normal.

But, um, what's so good about normal?

And why can't you people just enjoy a party?

And if the U.S. gets past Belgium tomorrow, the party goes for four more days.



I believe that we will win...

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