In the work of literature to which I return most frequently, Eduardo Galeano writes, “There is nothing less empty than an empty stadium. There is nothing less mute than the stands bereft of people.”
He goes on to describe the sounds of games past, the echoes of Wembley from ’66 or the Camp Nou at any time when you’re unfortunate enough to miss Messi’s magic in real time, but he could have just as easily been describing any of the myriad pickup games that my oldest, not older, brother and I saw happening in Lima on and around Christmas, the holiday season be damned for anything but an occasion on which to kick around. People certainly invoke God enough to demand some time, after all.
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
Sixteen years of disappointment, heartbreak and anticlimax led to this moment. For every commercial featuring Brandi Chastain, the weight of the world pushing her to the ground at the very moment it lifted, there was a rumble about Abby Wambach’s training regimen, Carli Lloyd’s inconsistency or Hope Solo’s extracurricular activities. Not having won a World Cup since 1999, despite a trio of Olympic gold medals, wore on this team. They grew tired of heeding to the Germanys and Japans of the world in its most important tournament, and a shaky start did not bode well for the Americans.
When they needed to get it together in a time of dire need, however, where they so often had misstepped on the biggest stage, the U.S. women delivered a barrage of cannonading blows, exorcising demons and returning their country to a once and present glory.
And just like that, another American dream ends painfully at the feet of Belgium. Years of preparation and tough decisions, not without controversy, went into the U.S. Men’s National Team’s run into the knockout stages, an arduous and heart-pounding journey from the depths of the Group of Death and through the Amazonian rain forest. Landon Donovan was nowhere to be found. Jozy Altidore became an ineffectual cheerleader, for all intents and purposes. Michael Bradley commanded the midfield with the force of a dead battery and held possession in a way which undoubtedly made several Spaniards blush, but who were they to judge?
Tim Howard was brilliant. Clint Dempsey embodied the American ethos, playing through a broken nose and exhaustion. Jermaine Jones struck every ball with passion and unparalleled intensity. Matt Besler fearlessly stood tall against some of the world’s best strikers. This team, for all its follies and missed opportunities, represented its country perhaps more closely than any other at this World Cup. This was truly an American team, despite (or because of, depending on your disposition) all the talk of German-Americans and under-the-table deals preceding Jurgen Klinsmann’s first major tournament on a world stage. Victory again eluded the U.S., but that wasn’t really the goal anyway.
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“Politics will eventually be replaced by imagery.
The politician will be only too happy to abdicate in favor of his image,
because the image will be much more powerful than he could ever be.”
– Marshall McLuhan
The Sum of All Fears
The 2014 FIFA World Cup is here, and I have a novice’s degree of knowledge as to what’s happening, as well as a small amount of sentimentality for the event. This is me traversing through work, drunken weekends, and Spotify with the World Cup either in the fore or background
Saturday, June 21st
I woke up on Saturday morning on the uncomfortable, green couch in my apartment. My throat was killing me and my head was heavy. I looked around the living room and two of my friends were both curled up in fetal positions on the floor. On the coffee table were three empty bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon, an open bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, a barren pack of Camel Blues and the controller to my roommate’s Playstation 3. I lifted myself off of the couch then stared at the mess that lay in front of me. I thought it best to settle into this hangover by playing Grand Theft Auto V because, of course.
On Thursday, the 2014 FIFA World Cup begins in Brazil. While many eyes will be on the home team, which is the nominal favorite to capture its record-extending sixth World Cup title, thirty-one other teams will be vying to bring the glory of the beautiful game’s most hallowed prize to their homelands. Many of these sides have legendary players in various stages of their primes. Some seem simply to be along for the experience of playing on a senior international level as a sort of deposit for the future (See: Green, Julian). For all the acclaim of Brazil’s joga bonito, Italy’s azzurri and Die Mannschaft of Germany, two individual players are carrying the weight of their countries perhaps more heavily than anyone else, with the outcome of the tournament potentially dictating their places among the game’s all-time greatest.
I am, of course, talking about Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina’s Lionel Messi.
“And when good soccer happens, I give thanks for the miracle and I don’t give a damn which team or country performs it.” – Eduardo Galeano, Soccer in Sun and Shadow
With less than two weeks to go before the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, club competitions are wrapping up, and international managers are hoping no injuries hit their key men. As it was in 2010 with Spain’s pronouncement of dominance, this year’s edition promises to be captivating, with many story lines in play. Will Brazil be fit and ready to host in time? (Spoiler alert: Probably not). Is this the major tournament when Spain, the world #1, finally relinquishes its throne? Is Germany set to finally claim it for the perceived golden generation? Can either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, the twin peaks of this footballing epoch, lead their respective countries to the promised land? Can the United States do anything worthwhile?