Don’t really understand soccer, but rooting for the Americans

By Jeremy Wallace

June 15, 2014

Well, I guess it snuck up on me while I wasn’t paying attention.

It’s World Cup time again.

The World Cup finals started last week in Brazil. This is just about the biggest thing that happens in this world that isn’t a world war. Supposedly, last time around half of all the people in the world tuned in to at least one of the games. I guess that makes me part of the wrong half.

Ever since I was a kid — and that was a long time ago — people have talked about how soccer is the next big thing in this country. Bazillions of little kids play soccer all across the country. By the time they get to high school, most of them are doing something else.

I admit soccer is a lot bigger than it used to be — when I went to Troy High School there wasn’t even a soccer team. My brother lives on the East Coast and soccer is a much bigger thing there than it is here. And with more and more parents worried about football’s violence (American football, that is), I think you’ll see fewer and fewer young boys playing that game, which means more will be playing soccer or lacrosse or some other sport.

But I’ve never been able to get into soccer. Lots of running around and falling down and acting like you’re hurt. A goal maybe once every month or so.

I know, I know, the whole world can’t be wrong. It must be a great game. So I did a little research.

Here’s what really interesting about soccer. First of all, the crowd that runs it appears to be about as corrupt as the Olympic Committee or the NCAA or any other big sporting group. There’s a lot of backroom skullduggery in soccer, including apparently a huge payout from Qatar to stage the World Cup there in 2022. There’s no evidence of this, mind you — certainly it makes sense that they would put the world’s biggest sporting event in a tiny country that has never made it to the World Cup Finals and that has an average high temperature of above 100 degrees in June. I’m assuming they’ll have to crank up the air conditioning there in 2022.

This year, the games are where they belong, in Brazil, where there are scads of people who are soccer crazed. Only a lot of people in Brazil are unhappy the games are there, because billions and billions of dollars have been spent on them while 16 percent of the country lives below poverty level and other parts of the country seem to be falling apart. FIFA (the Fédération Internationale de Football Association) will be making a lot of money (but not as much as it will with that Qatar deal) and I’m sure the Brazilian fat cats are getting their share, but it isn’t playing so well with the rank and file. Wait until the Olympics show up in 2016 in Rio. You’ll really hear some complaining then.

I guess all that proves is that soccer is pretty much like any other professional sport, only bigger. It’s hard for someone from a country that stages Super Bowls and where mediocre NBA teams sell for $2 billion to be critical.

As for the game itself — well, I really don’t understand only letting two guys on the field use their hands. But other than that, I’m sure there’s a certain attraction. It’s a great sport to watch if you just want to catch the highlights.

Yes, I’ll be rooting for the Americans, even though I couldn’t tell you who is on the team and even though the coach is from Germany. The U.S. is in the “Group of Death,” which means it is in a really tough preliminary group of four teams. The other really good teams are Germany, which I get, and Portugal and Ghana, which I don’t get. But I like it. Here’s a sport where little countries like Portugal can be really good. If the U.S. can’t win, I’ll be rooting for one of those little guys. My current favorites are Bosnia-Herzegovenia (try to get that name on a jersey), Côte d’Ivoire (very cool French name and about as small as you can get) and maybe Costa Rica. None of them have a chance of winning, but I’ll bet they’re happy to be there and I’m happy to root for them.

I’m sure true soccer fans and anyone who doesn’t live in the U.S. looks on me with contempt. But I’m trying to get it. I just can’t figure out what all the excitement is about. I’ll keep trying.

In the meantime, throw out some good vibes to Bosnia-Herzegovenia. They’ve had a rough time of things in the last couple centuries and could use something to cheer them up.