World Cup Love Letter

I didn’t think I was going to be excited about this year’s World Cup.  The United States failed to qualify for the tournament in a heartbreaking loss to Trinidad and Tobago on an unfortunately unforgettable October evening. Add to that the controversy around Russia winning the rights to host this tournament and the controversy around Russia being Russia and you get a tournament that is tailor-made for Americans to ignore.

And I’m hyped as hell for this thing.

I absolutely love the World Cup. I never quite feel like a global citizen as I do during the World Cup tournament. It’s the one time the entire world’s focus is pointed in the same direction for an entire month. It connects such far-flung communities together in a way the literally nothing else can.

Watching John Brooks's goal against Ghana in the 2014 World Cup was one of my favorite soccer memories

Watching John Brooks's goal against Ghana in the 2014 World Cup was one of my favorite soccer memories

Fine, I’ll be the one to say it, unlike the Olympics these are athletes and this a sport people care about, deeply, at all times of every year. There is a novelty to the Olympics which is great, but there is this extra layer of prestige that comes with a World Cup that the Olympics can only hope to mimic.

Day in and day out people of different cultures, languages, and backgrounds are engaging with each other, following and discussing the fates of players and teams all over the world because of soccer. The World Cup gives the perfect crescendo to those conversations. Countries and nationalities mixing and celebrating lets you pretend, for just a moment, that world peace is possible and that if we put our minds to it we can all come together to achieve greatness. Or maybe that’s just my naive Utopian idealism revealing itself.

I haven't stopped buzzing about our 3rd place finish in 1930

I haven't stopped buzzing about our 3rd place finish in 1930

It’s a tournament that draws out incredible story-lines that blend culture, history, success, and failure. There are villains and there are heroes in every story, in every game. Each day is another chapter in a story that the world has been telling, collectively, for 88 years. Every person on the field has the chance to achieve immortality in a single moment of individual brilliance. Careers on their last legs and careers taking their very first steps will be on the field together, combining to create something for billions of people to enjoy. During the MLS bidding process here in Cincinnati, I tried to explain to as many people as I could the truly global nature of soccer.  The World Cup is that idea to the maximum.

The World Cup is a tournament that involves every country on the planet earth.  Everyone has a chance at it. And while the final stage with thirty-two teams tends to get all of the attention, this is actually the end of a three-year-long tournament.  From remote islands in the Pacific and European micro-nations to global superpowers and soccer powerhouses, it all comes together in this wonderful finale.

This year is the year of the GOAT.  I hope. 

This year is the year of the GOAT.  I hope. 

There are so many story-lines to keep track of in this World Cup, these are going to be the ones I am most excited about:

  • Messi’s last chance to drag Argentina to glory. His home country doesn’t recognize him as the greatest of all time, that title belongs to Diego Maradona until Messi can deliver the World Cup.  And this is the last time we’ll see the GOAT at his peak. Sadly, this is also the most inconsistent team he has probably ever had.

  • England redeems themselves. After a horrific European Championship saw them crash out to Iceland, England has finally fallen back in love with their national team. Thanks to an influx of innovative foreign coaching in the Premier League, this England side has developed a system that players can be plugged into.

  • Africa’s year. Africa has never had a team make it past the quarterfinals, but this year they will have a lot of different chances of breaking that streak. Egypt, Morocco, and Nigeria could all easily get out of their groups and with the attacking talent on all three teams, they’ll pose a challenge for even the favorites of the tournament. While there have definitely been better teams from Africa in the World Cup before, this is a solid group of multiple teams that could pose a serious threat. Tunisia and Senegal could play spoiler as well.

  • France finally puts it all together.  You could make a World Cup winning squad out of the players France DIDN’T take to Russia this year.  But despite being one of the most talented teams in the world, they never seem to get out of their own way.  2002 and 2010 saw France enter as possible favorites and saw them unable to get out of the group. Now with two of the three most expensive players in the world, they can finally show what they are capable of and dominate a tournament.

  • Mexico’s 5th game. Mexico has been stuck in a Sisyphean nightmare, losing in the round of 16 in tournament after tournament. And while they are our rivals, I hope they finally do make it to the quarterfinals. They’re in a tough spot to pull it off, they’re in a group with the reigning champions Germany and finishing second in the group likely sets up a date with Brazil in the round of 16. But if any team is capable of beating Brazil this year, it’s Mexico. And I fully expect "Chucky" Lozano to be the breakout player of the tournament.

If you haven't already, join the Pride's FotMob tournament predictor challenge.  And let's enjoy this tournament for what it is: the biggest spectacle in the world. Everyone following along with the game we love.  Sitting out and ignoring the tournament just because the USA didn't qualify is to deny yourself the joy of watching a pressure free tournament. 

Let's rejoice in the beautiful game!