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Mike Johnson '11: Why we should care about the World Cup

Depending on where you're reading this issue of The Herald, the event could be called the "Coupe du Monde," "Il Mondiale," "Dunya Kupasi," "Wereldkampioenschap voetbal," or even just plain old "El Mundial." Regardless of what it's called, everyone in the world watches it. Everyone. If you didn't watch even a single match last month, it must have been because your television is broken, you were at work and the television there was broken, or you lived under a rock for the second half of June and the first half of July.

Thirty-two national teams compete in the event, but pretty much every nation that can scrounge up 11 men willing to not kill each other on the pitch fields a squad (and even this is pushing it, sometimes). The result is an international display that, every four years, rivals the viewership of the Olympics — though NBC has still neglected to try to snatch up the exclusive rights.

It dwarfs the Super Bowl in scope, the World Series in actually involving the world and the Stanley Cup in, well, not actually having a cup as a trophy. In most nations, the men who compete in the World Cup are heroes. Where we have Jeter, Ortiz and Grienke; they have Henry, Rooney and Messi. To the rest of the world, Maradona did not sing "Like a Virgin," the "Hand of God" is not what drives capitalism and Pele is not a typo of what you do to a potato.

Why, then, are we hopelessly ignorant when it comes to the beautiful game? Some claim that it's the low final scores. Others claim that it's the non-stop play, which prohibits commercials. (What, if Coors isn't telling me to grab a brew every three minutes, then I'm not watching?) Still others claim that it's a game for "fairies," citing the fact that there is little physical contact.

But in reality, the reason is just that we just haven't been any good at it. For decades, Americans tried to play the sport and failed miserably. But there have been flashes of brilliance. This year's anticipated redux of the 1950 "Miracle on Grass" turned out to be anticlimactic, but the U.S. forged the greatest comeback in World Cup history to come back from a 2-0 halftime deficit against Slovenia, only to have it knocked down to a draw by poor officiating. Landon Donovan hammered home the winner against Algeria to rightfully place the nation among the top 16.

Our lack of continued success, in true American fashion, has led to apathy. Before you discount this as "blame America first, left-wing, hippie nonsense," take a peek at the very large chip on the American population's collective shoulder. In American culture, soccer is often derided as "lame," "stupid" or "boring." In actuality, it's those arguments that are "lame," "stupid" and "boring." Soccer is a wonderful game, an exhilarating experience. The Slovenia game had me expecting to see an invasion of Mali the next morning, with Americans everywhere, from Alexi Lalas to Andy Roddick, crying foul. The Algeria game had my heart pounding so fast that I nearly jumped through the roof in stoppage time.

The World Cup is one of the only times that soccer is put on display in America, and, well, we are pretty good. While we still tend to lay an egg sometimes, that's no reason to discount soccer in the U.S. While I shudder to stoop to the level of those who will only watch when we win, I hope they've woken up — we're winning now.

American-style soccer is different from the European or South American styles. We play more of a team-oriented, speed-based game, doubling up on the ball carrier and striking back hard when threatened. Donovan's stoppage-time goal was on a 120-yard counterattack, and his comeback-sparking goal was simply "I'm going to kick it as hard as I can at the keeper's face because I'm so infuriated right now." Nothing is more American than that.

For one month, this nation took notice of a little white ball bouncing around South Africa. We watched as France imploded; we watched as Donovan grew up; we watched as Ronaldo spit at the camera; we watched Wayne Rooney fall all the way back to his own penalty area in frustration trying to get the ball. This World Cup was not the year of the star player — Muller won the Golden Boot, for crying out loud — and that's all right for this nation. (How do you make Christiano Ronaldo bad at soccer? Hand him a Portugal uniform.) Without a true "star player," the red, white and blue reached the top 16 and was disappointed.

So yes, we should care about soccer, because World Cup 2014 is right around the corner, and soccer in this country isn't going away. We're good at it now, and the world is taking notice. Shouldn't you?

Mike Johnson '11 thinks Steven Weber should play Diego Forlan in the World Cup 2010 movie.


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