The FIFA World Cup is such a big event that it is even able to distract attention from the Yankee Universe…and by Yankee, I mean the United States, not our beloved Bronx Bombers.
Although we Americans hate to accept it, the world doesn’t always revolve around us. As successful as we have been exporting our culture (and our sports) around the world, soccer (known as football just about everywhere else) has persevered as the most popular sport on the planet. So, for the next month, life in 31 of the participating nations will grind to an absolute halt. Meanwhile, in the United States, the interest in the World Cup will likely be much more casual, with regular season baseball, the NBA Finals and even NFL summer camps drawing more attention.
Undoubtedly, part of the reason our country has failed to embrace soccer is because we didn’t invent it. Brushing aside the influences of Europe has been an American pastime since the days of the founding fathers, so there really is no way the United States will ever fully accept the sport, regardless of how explosive growth in youth soccer becomes. Still, there is something to be said for winning at someone else’s game, and when looked at in that light, maybe it’s time for our country to increase its stake in this most cherished global competition.
As luck would have it, the United States opening match on Saturday is against England, the country that gave birth to “the Beautiful Game”. Of course, England is also the home of the most arrogant and rowdy fans on the planet (in comparison, Yankees fans come off as incredibly modest wallflowers); if you weren’t aware of the prowess of English football, there are millions of Brits more than happy to provide a history lesson. So, despite not winning the World Cup since 1960, England still brings with it the expectations of a tournament favorite. As a result, you can bet the haughty English are looking straight past the lowly U.S. team to the knockout round. Maybe someone should remind them about the perils of overlooking a band of upstart Yanks?
Beating England wont be easy, to say the least. The bluster of their supporters aside, they do have a terrific team as well as one of the world’s best players in Wayne Rooney. History is also on their side. In head-to-head matchups between the two nations, England has a 7-2 record, including a 35-8 goal advantage. Then again, in the two nations’ lone matchup in the 1950 World Cup, it was the United States that came out on top by shocking the English with 1-0 victory in Brazil. Most Americans have probably never heard of that result, but Walter Bahr, the U.S. midfielder who scored that game’s only goal, is as infamous in England as Bucky Dent is in Boston.
In some ways, facing England in the World Cup is just like the United States’ epic battle against Canada in this year’s Olympic Gold Medal Final in that it is another rare opportunity for the United States to play the role of underdog against a powerhouse that also happened to invent the sport. This game is even more compelling, however, because unlike U.S. hockey, which is legitimately a world power, the soccer team still remains a “mid major”. Beating England would not only stun the Brits, but possibly represent a new milestone in the progress of American soccer, even if not many people back home are watching.
So, if you have some free time on Saturday, it might be worthwhile to tune in. It’s not often the Yankees are underdogs with an entire nation to support them.