It's Okay To Like Soccer for a Month

As Boilerdowd often points out, we're into the dog days of Purdue sports, as we fill the time between the end of basketball season and the start of football. As we often joke about here, this is when we watch Indy Car racing and baseball -- and then make fun of each others' interest in both.

But this summer there's another sporting event to watch that you may want to consider. World Cup soccer. Yes, yes, I know the arguments against it and, frankly, it's tired now. We've all heard there isn't enough scoring, etc., etc., and honestly, if you can't get into the World Cup, then that's fine. Be on your merry way -- I hope you find a shiny object to occupy your attention span.

For those willing to watch, though, this is a huge year in World Cup soccer. For one thing, there isn't a "sure thing" favorite to make a run at the title. Naturally, Brazil and Argentina will be strong -- they always are. Germany, Italy and Portugal are likely to advance some as well. And then there are the Americans.

The US soccer program was completely unrespected about 15 years ago. That's not scarcely respected -- that's not respected at all. Nobody thought US soccer was anything. Sure, part of that was global sneering at the United States trying to play the "world's game." But a lot of it, sadly, was justified. The US has never won the World Cup. Their best finish was third place -- 80 years ago. Yet, the US has the most kids playing soccer of any country in the world. Yes, a lot of that has to do with sheer population, but still -- how could we suck so badly?

After a good showing back in 1994, USA soccer fell to dead last at the 1998 World Cup. At that point, USA Soccer then began to develop a program they referred to as "Project 2010," named thus because they felt winning the World Cup in 2010 was a reasonable goal. The US began performing better in international competition and by the 2002 World Cup was a more serious player -- though not taken completely seriously worldwide. The USA managed to advance to the quarterfinals of the tournament that year, proving that they were indeed moving in the direction of being a legit soccer nation.

However, in a sport where sustained excellence is elusive, the US failed to get out of pool play in 2006. Coaching changes were made, the roster was overhauled and the US shocked nearly everyone by reaching the finals of the 2009 Confederations Cup last summer, which was basically a dress rehearsal for the 2010 World Cup. The US had lost 3-1 and 3-0 in their first two games, and it looked like another disappointment was coming. Yet somehow they squeaked out of pool play and then advanced all the way to the finals against Brazil, beating #1 in the world Spain along the way. And as many of you may remember, they actually took a 2-0 lead into halftime of that finals game. I watched and was sure we would win -- imagine that, beating Brazil to win a world tournament. Alas, apparently the players began thinking this, too, (or maybe Joe Tiller gave one of his famous halftime speeches while Arnette cooked the players some pasta) as they gave up three second-half goals to lose 3-2. It was still the most impressive performance by a US soccer team maybe ever.

Which brings us to World Cup 2010. Never has more been expected out of the United States. They are in a group with England, Algeria and Slovenia, with the top two advancing after pool play. There is no excuse for the US to not advance.

Their first game, if you needed more of a patriotic kick in the pants, is against England next Saturday, 6/12. So even if you don't find yourself drawn to watching Major League Soccer -- and I don't blame you -- you may want to check out the World Cup. It's the best of the best. If you're a marginal baseball or basketball fan who doesn't like the regular season but does enjoy the playoffs, well, this is kind of the same concept. There is no higher level of soccer and no tournament where the players will ever have a greater desire to win.

Plus, US success pisses off many other countries and that's always fun.

(Adding the Nike soccer commercial everyone seems to think is awesome.)







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