The biggest sporting event on this orb gets started tomorrow morning in South Africa. If you look to your left and to your right at this moment while reading this you will see first-hand a representative sampling of the at least two thirds of the population in this country who care neither a feather to a farthing about The Beautiful Game. Don't waste any time feeling sorry for them-more for us.
When I was young and foolish (one of which I still am; make your joke then resume regular reading. You realize your lips move, right?), I could NOT for the life of me understand why these United States didn't embrace Futbol, Foosball, Football-or as we call it in our Splendid Isolation, 'soccer' (because we call our mutant variation of rugby 'football', which makes us clever by a half). I still don't get why we don't get it, but my sense of outraged bewilderment has been dialed down to befuddlement.
I'm jaded now. In '94 I really thought soccer would catch on when we hosted the World Cup (imagine that stupid TM symbol alongside and above the 'p'; I hate that copyright protection stuff) and bought in on all the hype about Major League Soccer and we all know how well that turned out. Four World Cups after the USA was to be ablaze with Soccermania, MLS struggles to draw a TV audience rivaling an NHL regular season hockey game. While the stadiums are 'reasonably' full of paying customers, thousands of seats are embargoed and kept from being sold because of 'obstructed views' (i. e., TV cameras HATE seas of empty chairs on the wide shots of the stands).
So what can TEAM USA hope to accomplish on the biggest stage of the world's sport in which so few of us have an abiding interest? In light of some previous misadventures at these tourneys, please let us not be shut out in the first round of Group C play (I set the bar low). If we were to get to the quarter finals, I would wear a happy hat visible from space for a year or more, but to do that, the USA has to finish first or second in a group with two European teams and one African team, all of whom are well-regarded. It's not the Group of Death, but it's not a vacation.
I want us to beat England Saturday afternoon (at 1430 EDT, but you already know that, right?) so bad my hair hurts just thinking about it (and in light of the bald spot, we're talking sacrifice here). In a way, the rivalry is like a Red Sox/Yankees relationship-'if we do nothing else, we gotta beat dese guys!' Remembering that 'fan' is actually short for fanatic, I hope you live or are part of a household with soccer fans-I share a home with a woman who professes to NOT care if her homeland's team, Germany, wins-but I know first hand just how much she really does care when it matters most.
You don't have to root for the USA-what a boring world this would be if we all did that, right? There will be spectacular soccer every day and night for the next month, with the finals slated for Sunday, 11 July. It is the most simple of games, the most primal and the most breathtaking when played well--all at the same time. And when you place the best thirty-two teams in the world on the pitch to have at one another, all that happens is magic-even if we in the Land of the Round Doorknobs don't quite get it. In many respects, it is the most fun you can have with your clothes on, or off, I suppose, which would do wonders for the TV ratings.
As Anthony Burgess, Mr. Clockwork Orange, offered, "Five days shalt thou labour, as the Bible says. The seventh day is the Lord thy God's. The sixth day is for football." Can I get an Amen and is that seat on the couch free?