Barrooms will be filled to the brim on Sunday as the US national team plays Portugal in a key game that could define whether the Red, White and Blue have what it takes to move to the next round of the World Cup.
Every four years Americans break out of their sports provincialism – baseball, football, basketball and hockey – and start to pay occasional attention to the world’s most celebrated sporting event, the World Cup, this year staged in Brazil.
While the rest of the world has been prepping for this 32 team event that will culmiate with the final game on July 13th in Rio, Americans still show only a faint interest in the sport that creates such passion around the globe.
Sure there is some interest in our version of futbol, soccer here in the States, especially during the elementary, middle and high school years. Kids push the ball down the field while parents cart out their folding chairs on weekends to cheer their sons and daughters. But once in college and beyond, the interest fades as youthful Americans return to our sports staples.
Our unwillingness to join the rest of the sporting world is in many ways unfortunate. Futbol is a beautiful game played by highly conditioned athletes who control the ball with their feet and head and often make unbelievable passes to get the ball past the goalie. Moreover, in futbol it is 90 minutes of uninterrupted movement – no commericals, no instant replays, no TV timeouts after a touchdown, just unrelenting pressure on the goalies as the players rush up and down the field.
But to many Americans there is much to criticize about futbol. We are a people who thrive on offense and can’t seem to appreciate the defensive nature of futbol. Sports pundits claim the goal net is too small thus further limiting scoring. There is always complaints about ” flopping” – those 30 second fake injuries of players as they writhe in pain only to miraculously get up and play with no pain. And finally there is the referee, a lone figure who often causes controversy by either calling penalities that benefit the favorite team or worse yet get accused of being paid off.
It would be nice of the United States joined the rest of the world and embraced futbol and consistently paid attention to this world-class game, but once the celebrations in one country after the championship game are over we will anxiously await the start of football, get ready for the basketball and hockey seasons and cheer on the Red Sox. Most of the world will just scratch their heads and wonder why we don’t join them in loving futbol. Beats me.