With the 2018 FIFA World Cup kicking off (get it?) on Thursday, many people are feeling the need to vocalize how little they care about soccer. Like always, the same question has started to float around whenever soccer comes to the forefront of American sports media.
Why should I care?
Well, my cynical friend, let me tell you why!
It quite literally doesn’t get any bigger or better.
This is legitimately the greatest sporting spectacle in the world. Yes, there’s a handful of others that you might be drawing comparisons to here in America, such as the Super Bowl, the CFP National Championship, the NBA Finals, etc. But the fact of the matter is, this is the most popular sporting event in the world on a global scale. Purposefully ignoring it just because you don’t know what’s going on wouldn’t make much sense. Which leads me to my next point…
Soccer isn’t that complicated.
This seems to be the root of most people’s complacency when it comes to soccer; they just don’t understand what’s going on. All it really boils down to is putting the ball in the goal without using your hands.
It’s that simple.
Like most sports, though, it’s as complicated as you want to make it. Terms like “half-space”, “false 9”, and “skipper” might not make much sense to you, and they don’t have to. It all boils down to putting the ball in the goal more than the other team.
“But what about ties?!?! Ties are stupid! Ties are un-American! This sport is dumb!” you might be saying in the whiniest voice you can muster. The answer here is simple. Some games end in ties because there doesn’t have to be a declared winner in that particular game. So instead of wasting time and effort on trying to resolve a game that doesn’t have to have a winner, they’ll just finish the game and move on.
When the tournament reaches the knockout rounds, you will not see any games ending in ties, because they have to have a winner at that point. Not wasting time seems pretty American to me.
“But what about offsides?!?! That rule doesn’t make a lick of sense!”. Offsides is a simple rule. If you’re past midfield and involved in the play and closer to the goal than the second-to-last defender (with the goalkeeper being the last) when the ball is kicked, then you’re offsides. Bang. If that doesn’t make sense, whatever service you’re watching it on will probably project some lines on the field during the replay and show you exactly what that means.
It doesn’t matter if the USMNT is in it or not.
“If America ain’t in it, then I don’t care!”, you might be saying. While I respect your patriotism, it’s important to understand something.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the USMNT has been pretty bad recently compared to the top level national teams in the world. Mainly because they refuse to modernize their developmental system, but that’s a different conversation.
This is a dumb reason to not watch, though. Could you imagine only watching college football when the Vols play? Just because the particular team you cheer for isn’t playing in a game doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the sport. In fact, I have always found it’s the opposite. When I am watching a team I care about, I usually end up stressed out and angry. I’m sure most people reading this are the same. However, when you’re watching a game when you have no stake in who wins, you usually end up cheering for chaos and drama. The Fail Mary game back in 2012 in the NFL. Malice in the Palace between the Pacers and Pistons in 2004. The UCF vs. USF game this year in college football. The World Cup Final in 2006 when Zidane head-butted that guy and the game still went to penalty kicks. All of these are games that you probably didn’t have any stake in who won or not. But, if you were watching, you were probably loving every second of it just because what was happening was off the wall, batshit insane.
You can bet there’s going to be chaos and drama in the World Cup. There always is.
Beyond that, refusing to follow a sporting event just because your team isn’t involved kind of makes you a front-runner. That’s something Vandy fans do. Don’t be a Vandy fan.
Even if the USMNT isn’t in it, there’s still tons of other teams and storylines to follow that don’t need a ton of backstory to appreciate.
Love a scrappy underdog team that might have some success? Read up a little bit on Egypt, who has one of the hottest strikers in the world going into the tournament. Or Nigeria, who inexplicably has some of the highest selling jerseys in the world right now and has a chance of sneaking out of their group into the knockout rounds. Maybe Peru, who defied the odds and qualified over a strong Chile team.
Don’t forget about Iceland. With a population comparable to the entire city of Honolulu, Hawaii, Iceland is the smallest country to ever qualify for a World Cup. They’re also the originators of that badass Skol chant that everyone has been trying to imitate lately.
Can the host country, Russia, get out of their own group?
Can perennial favorite Spain get past losing their manager two days before the tournament starts?
Will the prodigious youngsters of France finally live up to their world-class reputations?
Can Brazil get their groove back after a humiliating exit as hosts during the 2014 World Cup?
Will England actually show up this go round?
There’s a million different storylines going in to this tournament. All it takes is a google and a little reading to find a storyline worth following.
However, for the people that don’t follow soccer regularly, perhaps the most interesting/easiest to follow storyline is…
Two of the best players ever are in this tournament.
And they both have a point to make about their legacy. Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo, names most of the planet knows, are both going in to what might be their last World Cup. Both have cemented their place as all-time greats. One of them has won the Ballon D’Or, the award for the best soccer player in the world, in each of the last 10 years. They are tied at five for the most Ballon D’Or awards wins ever. Beyond that, they have both shattered more records and won more trophies than maybe any other competing duo in soccer history. It’s hard to quantify just how dominant these two have been the past 10 years.
But as much as they’ve accomplished, neither of them has ever won a World Cup.
If you’re watching them play, you don’t have to be a soccer fan to appreciate how physically dominating Ronaldo can be. Or how quick Messi’s feet can move when he’s in a bind. And it’s always must-see tv when one of them is standing over a free kick.
Even in their aging state, both can turn a game on it’s head with just a couple touches on the ball. Do yourself a favor and watch these two as much as you can, because there may not be two players like this in the same tournament again for a very long time.
What else are you going to watch?
Baseball? In June??? If you think mid-season baseball is more entertaining than the penultimate soccer tournament in the world, then I can’t help you.
There are more reasons to follow the action in the World Cup than not. If you still think you’ve got a legitimate reason to not be interested in the World Cup, then you’re probably wrong. The biggest stage for the world’s most popular sport is tough to discredit. So do yourself a favor; pick a couple of teams or storylines to love or hate, and enjoy the ride.