I don’t mean to be that guy, the U.S. sports fan who watches the World Cup faithfully out of blind nationalism while wracked with guilt that he’s being un-American by taking an interest in the foreign game.
But I am that guy, so here’s your I’m-not-interested-but-really-I-kind-of-am ambivalent open thread. If true-conservative-in-chief Ted Cruz can hop on the bandwagon, there must be room for us RINOs, no?
4 p.m. ET on ESPN, U.S. versus Belgium in the Round of 16. If Team USA loses, they’re done. If they win, they’ll advance for the second time in team history to the quarterfinals, where they’ll be dismantled by Lionel Messi and Argentina. The stakes, clearly, are high. Belgium is slightly favored, but if I’m not mistaken the U.S. has been the underdog in all three of its matches so far. Results: They beat Ghana on a late goal, very nearly beat Portugal before another late goal left them with a draw, and then lost 1-0 to Germany. One of their key strikers, Jozy Altidore, is available for today’s match after being injured in the opener. He might play or might not. At a minimum, I assume, he’ll be subbed in during the second half if the U.S. is behind.
Given the amount of Latino interest in the Cup and the inevitability of demographic change, it’s a cinch that soccer really will become more popular in the U.S. — gradually. If we’re destined to play a bigger role in the sport, though, can I float my half-assed once-every-four-years recommendation for how to make it a tad more America-friendly? Dump the stupid penalty kicks shootout at the end and play the game the way John Wayne would play it, with the two sides running themselves to the point of puke-inducing exhaustion in extra time until somebody scores. Watching Brazil and Chile shoot it out the other day was like watching the Heat and Thunder go to overtime in game seven of the finals and then having LeBron and Durant play “horse” to decide the championship. Exciting! — and almost completely disconnected from everything that’s gone before it. If international fans insist on some stupid competition of set-pieces to settle the match, at least make it a battle of corner kicks instead of penalty kicks. The corner kick is a facet of the game itself and involves the entire team, so it better reflects the side’s overall skill set. If the defense clears the ball over the midfield line then they get to try a corner kick, and if they don’t score the other team gets another crack. Continue that way, one and one, until one side scores and the other doesn’t. Not as good as sudden death but better than penalty kicks, no?
You’ll know soccer has made it in America when the tackles have gotten hard enough to force guys to wear helmets and a goal from 25 yards out counts for two points. USA! USA!