As you might have heard, the men’s United States National Team advanced to the knockout round of the World Cup on Thursday. By virtue of a 1-0 loss to world power Germany, the United States has found itself in the final 16 for the second straight World Cup. More surprisingly, though, was HOW they made it. When group play began, the U.S. were drawn into what many perceived to be the “Group of Death” with Germany, Portugal, and our executioners from the last two World Cups, Ghana. Not many gave the United States much of a chance to even sniff the knockout round, let alone be one of the last two teams standing in the group. In three of the more dramatic sporting events you could ever watch, the United States exorcised their demons against Ghana 2-1 on a late goal by substitute John Brooks, which was the first goal ever scored by a United States substitute in the World Cup. Next, the United States largely outplayed traditional power Portugal–who has arguably the best player in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo–and were seconds away from advancing to the next round, but conceded a last second equalizing goal to tie 2-2. Then, in a rainsoaked, swampy mess, the U.S. held on for dear life against the Germans, playing reasonably well to get the 1-0 result and benefiting from Portugal and Ronaldo’s 2-1 win over Ghana to advance. The United States had lost the battle, but had won the war.
After all, that’s why they play the game.
Every four years, the World Cup captures the world’s attention. As a result, every four years, the debate rages as to whether or not soccer has “arrived”. If you look at the TV ratings–the U.S.-Portugal match alone had 25 million viewers–it would suggest that it has. Social media has also done a great job in branding and making the event a communal experience. But still, soccer’s detractors would point to the fact that, once the World Cup is over, interest in soccer will once again die back down. But who cares? Can’t we just watch the games and enjoy them for the pure spectacle and athleticism?
I’m only a casual soccer fan. I watch maybe two to three matches a year and occasionally play FIFA on my Xbox. But I’ve watched almost every minute of every match of this World Cup. Moreover, the performance of the US team has exemplified everything that we love as sports fans. They overcame all the odds.
Of all the soccer disparagements I don’t understand, it’s the argument that soccer is boring. The tension and drama that build up during a match is just unbelievable. Scoring is at such a premium that every scoring opportunity carries with it the hopes and aspirations of an entire nation. Saturday’s Brazil-Chile matchup went into the penalty kick shootout, and you can’t tell me there is anything more compelling in sports. The anxiety on the faces of the players told the story. If we can take away anything from this, one of the most exciting World Cup’s in history, it’s this: the game’s detractor’s can no longer claim ignorance as a reason for disliking the sport. With the world watching, begrudgingly or passionately, soccer has shown us its best side. When the United States plays Belgium tonight at 4p.m., the entire country will be watching. And whether they want to admit it or not, they’ll probably enjoy it.
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