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Soccer

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Two years ago, my oldest, not older, brother brought up a point I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since[1]. He was thinking about patriotism, and how it presents a weird proposition when an American athlete does something extraordinary on a grand stage, and you aren’t especially proud of what your country has or is capable of accomplishing as you see it. Borders are troublesome in their very existence, and trying to adhere to them is a worry of people who can afford homes within their borders, or people who aspire to

In fairness, as someone who was born here and has no connection to my heritage other than the aspirational and that which is skin tone-related, I’ve been a lot more Republic of Ireland-forward than he has, but I think I get it, to some extent – the United States isn’t the greatest breeding ground for pride in anything you like unless a lot of people like yourself enjoy it, and even then, it can be a dogfight.

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Graphic by Brian Kraker

Another year down. Another year older, but perhaps none the wiser? Maybe that decision doesn’t belong to you alone. It felt like nothing did, most of the time. From Tide Pods to the Philly Special to countless acts of cruelty and many more of plain senselessness to the continued existence of the Golden State Warriors to having 12 years left to stop the sun to inexplicable blue lights over Astoria, everything that happened felt like it was going to happen anyway, sooner or later, and we were all left to bear it as best we could. Same as it ever was, but different.

Still: we would be equally bereft of sense to assume that darkness would drive out darkness. You may have heard that only light can do that. For all the bad and rot everywhere, urban, suburban and rural, at home and abroad, there were the moments in between that made everything we experience every day that kept us together, however briefly. If we experienced them together? All the better.

As Bootsy Collins said in 1972, “Balance is my thing/The snow, wind and rain must come.” With that, we delve into the year that was, with an eye toward the twelvemonth ahead.

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At any moment, we look upon the cultural objects not only as a reflection of our times but as a platform for expression. The musician yearns through her melodies and counter melodies; the novelist writes drunk, edits sober and broods regardless; the designer draws upon prevailing interests and toes the various lines of high, middle and low brow before settling in a space of his own. Always, it is a manifestation of the present moment, the beholder not bothering to look for beauty so much as to shoulder ugliness and make it something you can stand for more than a few seconds at a time.

In the twenty years since the 1998 FIFA World Cup, soccer, like this planet, has undergone monumental, identity-shifting changes that have placated the bored masses while at turns enthralling, inspiring and enraging the truly devout, left searching for hope amidst seas of anger and ultimately meaningless Arsenal Champions League berths. Both have inspired roughly the same number of divisive, cynical thoughts for the digital age, compressed and condensed for your basura attention span.

And yet, when the chickens come to roost, we know – or, at least, think we know – the name of the game, and whatever means we utilize to achieve our ends end up being enough to justify those ends. On Sunday, in plain sight of corrupt world dignitaries, oligarchs and protesters, as well as many millions of people who actually wanted to see the game play out for its own sake, France defeated Croatia 4-2 in the World Cup Final.

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Find this photographer/This is begging for a citation

“Soccer keeps people from thinking about more dangerous things.” – Vicente Calderón, longtime President of Atlético de Madrid

It was 2018. Nigeria, ever the underdog, was just under a quarter of an hour into a match against Argentina that would seal the fate of both sides. Nigeria was playing from a position of relative power; Argentina, as ever, was in a place of righteous indignation and suffering from internal ailments.

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Photo courtesy of Reuters

Quick, off the top of your head: who was the last player not named Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi to win the Ballon d’Or? It has literally been a decade, for starters. It’s a period of shared dominance so lengthy that the award itself has changed structure and name twice within that time, and yes, it is a truly enviable time to be watching soccer with these two creating magic week after week.

No matter if you didn’t come up with the answer quickly; the dichotomy of these two stars, whose orbits encapsulate seemingly the entire history of the game they have perfected in wholly contrasting styles, is so clear and sustained that you’d be forgiven for thinking the game hardly existed before them. But once upon a time, a Brazilian with flowing locks and a million-real smile was the best player in the world, sporting a combination of skill and native moxie that catapulted him to superstardom. This morning, Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, better known as Kaka and as the answer to that question until further notice, announced his retirement from soccer.

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Some things have a way of shocking you when they have no business doing so. A tyrannical figure of popular culture, bowing at the altar of truths unspoken for years, decades even, on his (always “his”) way out to pasture; an airline bumping your flight up two minutes, giving you reason to engage in cognitive dissonance between “What difference does that make?” and “Time in travel is everything”; a disgraced senator riding near-hilariously antiquated fantasies to a too-slim loss of his seat and, as far as everyone is concerned, his relevance.

While the mountains that moved to make some recent changes refused to rattle in the English Premier League to the extent that they once did for the likes of Claudio Ranieri and company, the stars keep dressing themselves up and shivering just enough for a once-beleaguered and tormented club. With its 4-0 win over Swansea City on Wednesday, Manchester City established a new record for consecutive league wins. At the center of this triumphant firestorm is one Pep Guardiola, the ex-“Next-Greatest Manager Ever” and a man of footy demons both external and internal.

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The moon hides the sun for about two hours. That’s basically what all this business about the solar eclipse comes down to – the 14 brands of sunglasses NASA’s approved for viewing, the hastily requested time-off notices, the paths of totality sounding like some phony spiritual journey, the 99 years of waiting. But some state Departments of Transportation are taking it seriously in an effort to work around what they see as being a potentially severe congestion problem along many of the country’s major trucking routes. From I-5 running parallel up Oregon’s coast to I-26 slicing through the heart of South Carolina, officials are considering limited deliveries and restricted wide loads.

It’s a stone of madness, really. The country’s major terra firma shipping arteries could be clogged by a bunch of us desperate to stare at our most blistering light in the anticipation that it gets hidden for a twelfth of our day. What new astrological insights are we hoping for from down here? What are we expecting to be different? What truth will freshly burned retinas bring us?

Plenty of cosmic rituals make absolutely no sense to me, but this one is its own reality.

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