Are you not entertained?
Be it casual observer, mainstream sports fan, die-hard hooligan or simply supportive American, anyone who has tuned into the opening two weeks of this summer’s FIFA World Cup will have found it impossible not to be.
The quadrennial event, hosted in soccer-mad Brazil this year, has provided quality matches, high scoring affairs and unprecedented attention from both sports media, social media, illustrious news outlets and cultural channels. Skepticism still abounds.
Sure, it has always been a second-class citizen in America’s sporting landscape. It’s a fine game for our children to run around, make a few friends and tire themselves out before they’re inevitably pushed to baseball, basketball, football or drift away from the playing field altogether.
Despite extraordinary television ratings and viewership spanning every medium available to us (Sports Illustrated, among others, estimated upwards of 30 million people watched the United States play Portugal last Sunday), the world’s most popular game will never surpass football here. We’re still devoted to games we invented and the majority of top soccer talent plays for powerful and wealthy European clubs or stays home in South America.
The detractors are many and they are staunch.
“Why should I care?” they ask.
No doubt your children, who were perhaps introduced to the game by your own doing and then immersed in FIFA video games, do. ESPN’s mission to broadcast every match combined with methodically changing demographics of this country have empowered soccer to become, by some estimates, the most-watched sport in this country after football in younger audiences. The youth immediately retreat to the confines of social media sites and their circles of friends to recap every goal and every match.
“It’s so boring,” some might say.
Fair enough, but still a flawed belief. The game is played non-stop for two fast-paced 45-minute halves at the professional level. Pro football games last over three hours and we might see 15 minutes of actual football. High definition has capitalized on modernization of rules and naturally improved athleticism across all brands of soccer to provide a truly exciting product. Fortunately, the grandest stage in sport is taking place in the friendly time zones of Brazil.
Regardless of one’s interest level in the sport, one thing is to be certain.
Americans love theater. We crave drama. Page-turning or channel-changing stories and “Wow!” moments that transcend sport practically hypnotize us.
The World Cup is oozing with them and excuses to ignore the games, which like football are appointment viewing, are falling fainter every day.
Traditional powers have both flexed their muscles and faltered in the past two weeks. While Germany and the Dutch roll on, defending World Cup champion Spain saw its decade-long dynasty crumble.
The superstars have shown up. Brazil’s Neymar, Argentina’s Lionel Messi, Germany’s Thomas Muller and Holland’s Arjen Robben are scoring wonder-goals at unprecedented pace.
Mexican coach Miguel Herrera’s sideline histrionics are unlike anything we see from coaches and managers in this country. Goal celebrations and memorable calls from the likes of the lyrical Brit Ian Darke are seared in our memories.
Some dude (Uruguayan star Luis Suarez) bit a guy!
Well then how about your national team? Or its newfound celebrities?
The Americans are one of the most interesting stories in the tournament and have given us two of its most exciting games.
Texan Clint Dempsey scored one of the fastest goals in World Cup history in the opening win over Ghana, was literally kicked in the face moments later, and recovered to nearly give his team an unlikely game two win over Portugal before a literally last-second equalizer.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard has re-established himself as one of the world’s best with one great save after another.
Formerly unknown German-American John Brooks scored the game-winner over Ghana, then embraced our colorful, yet masterful German-born coach Jurgen Klinsmann. The coach’s background as German coach and star player will only add to the drama.
Today’s final group match with world power Germany looks to be a watershed moment in U.S. soccer. Once again, eyes and ears across this country will be locked in.
If you’ve not been convinced to tune in or even give the beautiful game a second thought, that’s fine.
Then again, today’s kickoff is at noon. And if there’s one thing Americans love as much as theater and drama, it’s an extended lunch hour.