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Thursday, June 12, 2014

The 2014 World Cup: Why You Should Watch

The 2014 FIFA World Cup begins this week.  For the next month, the eyes of the international sporting community will be focused squarely on twelve stadiums in Brazil.  Although soccer's popularity in America has grown exponentially in the last twenty years, many of the biggest sports fans in this country will barely give the tournament a passing glance.  I'm here to tell you why all Americans should pay attention to what's happening on the pitch in Brazil during the 2014 World Cup.

1.  Excellence is Excellent.  Whether you are a sports fan or not, there is something inherently noble about human beings doing an activity at a world class level.  I am not an expert in music, but I can appreciate an evening with the New York Symphony at the Lincoln Center.  I am certainly no art critic, but my trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art was one of my most memorable field trips.  The World Cup presents a similar display of excellence.  During the World Cup, we have an opportunity to watch the world's greatest players compete in the world's most popular sport.

Banshee and sister at Lincoln Center
2.  Cultural Awareness.  If you are one of those people who feels the need to post something on Facebook every day about America's inferiority to other cultures, then the World Cup is must see TV. This is a month-long celebration of a game that is dominated by nations that do not win world wars.  If you are one of those people who finishes every Facebook post with a pic of an eagle carrying a gun and the words "cause it's 'Merica" then you need to pay attention, too.  Aside from the Olympics, this is one of the rare occasions when chanting "USA-USA-USA" is actually relevant.  If, however, you are part of the vast majority of people who fall somewhere in between these extremes, then you should pay attention because the World Cup a big world event.  Imagine if the SEC only played college football once every four years.  Well, that's what the World Cup is for the rest of the world.  If something is this important to the rest of the world then it is certainly worthy of at least casual attention from the American sporting public.

3.  U.S. on the Rise.  Despite head coach Jurgen Klinsmann's attempts to keep expectations down, there is reason for American optimism heading into the 2014 World Cup.  Heading into the 2006 World Cup, the United States was ranked #31 in the world.  In 2010, the U.S. was ranked #18 and made it into the knockout portion of the tournament.  This year, the United States heads into the World Cup with a very respectable ranking of #13 in the world.  The U.S. has a tough draw in the group stage.  Only the top two teams in each group advance to the knockout portion of the tournament.  Unfortunately for the United States, Germany and Portugal, both top five teams in the world, are in the same group as the Americans.  The fourth team in the group is Ghana.  Ghana is not ranked in the top thirty worldwide, but Ghana is the team that eliminated the U.S. from the 2010 World Cup.  Nonetheless, we are Americans.  If FIFA ranked the armies heading into the American Revolution, the colonial army would have been ranked far worse than #13 in the world, and that turned out pretty well.

4.  Football Season is Three Months Away.  I know the dedicated soccer fans reading this are thinking, "Here comes the typical American chauvinist who needs to take a swipe at the beautiful game."  I am a chauvinist American, but I mean this in the most respectful sense.  There are only so many hours in a day.  During American football season, I spend no less than eighteen hours per week watching football.  I also have a full time job.  If the World Cup was in the fall, I would be hard pressed to carve out time to watch futbol, but the tournament is happening in the middle of the summer.  If you love competition, then the World Cup is a fabulous place for you to focus your attention during June and July.

5.  Countries Playing Countries.  There are very few things in sports that are more intriguing than countries competing against other countries.  I love golf, but the Ryder Cup is the best event because I get to watch my favorite players drape themselves in the American flag as they take to the links.  And, when the Winter Olympics roll around, I will watch hours of curling.  I do not watch curling because I understand the strategy of sweeping.  I watch it because there are flags next to the scores.  The World Cup is far more exciting than Olympic curling.  Anyone who watched Landon Donovan defeat Algeria in 2010 with last-minute heroics can attest to that.  Like hockey, due to the nature of the scoring, most of the games are close at the end.  Raw emotion is on display amongst the players and the fans when nations compete on the pitch.  It is riveting theater.

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