This couldn’t come at a better time. A big slice of pie. A la mode. The Suns just got eliminated. (I know it still hurts.) The Stanley Cup Finals are wrapping up. And let’s face it, the D-backs season ended two months ago. Thank, whoever you thank, for HD television and the World Cup. Also thank ESPN for the fact someone in Bristol, Connecticut decided he wanted the United States to become a soccer country. And I am here to help them with that. They didn’t even come to me; I’m doing this as a favor to them.
(If you don’t think that ESPN has that much pull on what sports people in America enjoy or don’t; I’m pretty sure I saw a “World Series of Poker: 3rd World Countries” on ESPN2 the other day. Maybe not, but there is so much poker on now it is almost comical. Another powerful statement: ABC just aired the Scripts National Spelling Bee in prime time. There were two hours of prepubescent kids spelling words I’ve never heard of on broadcast television. And I watched every minute of it! It didn’t hurt Erin Andrews was doing the “Sideline Reporting”. ESPN can get 4 million people to watch spelling. That is power.)
If you noticed more soccer on your television in the last year it is because ESPN has been trying to grab the casual fan and get them excited about the FIFA World Cup. It is not an accident USA vs. England is at 11:30 PST on the first Saturday of the Cup. ESPN is smart, if you haven’t noticed. The 32 team tournament in South Africa comes at the right time for Americans to really sink their teeth into it. We’re in a nice NBA and Stanley Cup Finals hangover. (Shameless Plug: Want more on the Stanley Cup Playoffs? Listen to the Odd Man Rush podcast.) Baseball is still too far away from the end of the season for anyone to really be that tied into it. And most importantly the NFL is waiting for training camps to start and has settled into nice lull for a month. (Unless a certain QB announces he’s heading to the grocery store. Stop everything! Brett Favre is buying cheese! He’s coming back!) Aside from that announcement, (which we all know what the answer is) the World Cup has the biggest piece of the pie for a month.
This is your slice by slice guide on what to ingest from June 11th until July 11th: The greatest month in sport.
50% Slice: The Stars
This Tournament does not have a lack of star power. Lionel Messi (Argentina), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Wayne Rooney (England), Robinho (Brazil), Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast), Arjen Robben (Netherlands), Xavi (Spain) and Landon Donovan (USA). These are eight of the greatest players in the world. I am leaving out 10 or 12 other players that should be on this list, but if I start talking about all the stars my editors are going to go all soccer hooligan on me for writing 6,000 words again. But watch the individuals, they do amazing things and no team has ever won without their star stepping up. And these stars will get you off of your seat more than once in the coming month:
Ronaldo is the biggest star. Here is the annoying self esteem crushing proof. (My wife knows who he is. If my wife knows a soccer player other than David Beckham, they are a huge star. That is Drogba on the left of the cover with him.)
Rooney is the best story. An upper lower class upbringing. (I like upper lower class better than lower middle class. It is more positive. At least he’s in the top of something) He grew up a diehard Everton supporter and played his first game in the Premiership for Everton. Scoring the game winning goal over powerhouse Arsenal in the final minutes. He has since transferred to Manchester United, but is still a poor boy that made good for the country he loves in the sport they created. (He also will be feeling the weight of that country during this tournament, look to see how that affects him.)
Donovan has the most to gain. (More on this later in the week)
Also, watch this Nike commercial. It is amazing. (Note: Ronaldohino is featured in the commercial and was somewhat surprisingly left off the Brazilian roster. Fun little side note: Brazil only has nine of their 23 players listed with two names. In contrast the USA has all 23 players listed with two names. Brazil World Cups 5 – USA 0)
25% Slice: The Favorites
Underdogs rarely win the World Cup. Only seven teams have ever won the tournament. Only one on this list has never played in the Final. The teams that are normally there normally end up there.
Spain – The majority of soccer experts rank them as the best team in the world. I agree with all the people smarter than me (hey it got me through college I am sure it will work here). But they have notoriously underachieved in the Cup. It probably happens again since anything less than hoisting the Trophy will be a failure. Although they have a good shot to reach the Final for the first time.
Brazil – Having the most stars on their jerseys (Each star represents a World Cup Title) they have played in three of the last four finals, and won two of those. Also Brazil has won the World Cup on every continent it has been played on. (Europe: Sweden ’58, South America: Chile ’62, North/Central America: Mexico ’70 & USA ’94, Asia: Japan/Korea ’02) Their decision to go with team over stars isn’t going to hurt them a bit.
The Netherlands – The Dutch are arguably the best team never to win a World Cup. They’ve played in two finals, and are looking to take their strong qualifying run into their games in South Africa (They were the only team not to lose a qualifying match). Also, they are the only country besides the United States that has ‘the’ before their countries name. That is why they get my rooting vote after the Americans.
Argentina – Lionel Messi, he is the key. If he goes off, they will win their third World Cup. Sometimes it is that simple.
15% Slice: The Fans
If you think the Cameron Crazies (Duke Universities Basketball Fans) are crazy passionate. Just scan the crowd during any game of the World Cup. (Especially when these fans are there) The vuvuzela will dominate the noise. (There was even talk of banning the horn but nothing ever really materialized.) If there is a break from the horns you might get to hear the great songs the fans sing for the players of their favorite countries. Fans wait four years to head to this event and with every touch their hearts beat for their country. It is a site you rarely get to see in sport, so enjoy.
8% Slice – The Kit
The kit is what most people would call the uniform. But soccer is funny that way. Cleats are called “boots”, the field is called a “pitch”, jerseys and shorts are called “kits”, socks are called “Olivia’s” after Olivia Newton John in her Physical video. OK that might have been a long way to go for an Olivia Newton John joke but it was worth it. The jerseys in the World Cup are all new for this year. Are some of you surprised this is only eight percent of what to watch? They are all pretty good. Some stay with a classic look. (Argentina, England, and Spain) Some are calling back to times of past World Cup triumph. (USA. Which is a throw back to the 1950 team who shocked England 1-0.) Some have graffiti. (Honduras) and there are a lot of ghosted images like Honduras on jerseys from all manufactures this year. (Korea, South Africa, and Italy.) And yes those are supposed to look like muscles. I don’t get it either. Either way the jerseys are all unique and enjoyable to look at. I will be doing a ranking after the group stage is finished. (I want to see how the kits look put together and on the pitch before I officially judge them) Please check back for that.
2% Slice – The Security
It has been said a thousand times, but this is the hardest World Cup to ensure security from a logistical stand point. FIFA and the powers that be say that all will be handled and everything will be as safe as possible. My worry is that FIFA rushed a World Cup to Africa a little too soon, and at the wrong time in the way the world is at this time. I hope I’m wrong and there are no instances. But keep and eye on this, if anything does happen it will overshadow everything that happens on the field.
The things that happen on the field are the important events. They are why we watch. They are why we cheer. They are why we eat our pieces of pie.
Please send any comments or questions to email@example.com. Want more World Cup talk? Listen to myself and Kyndra de St. Aubin break down each group and the England v. USA game by