For all its faults and the criticism it generates, the international break in soccer does, at the very least, afford us the opportunity to survey the first third of the European domestic leagues. A cursory look at the tables as they stand now reveal mostly what you’d expect with even a rudimentary knowledge of how these things tend to go: Barcelona leads in Spain, tracked closely by both Madrid squads; Bayern Munich is on top in Germany with the kind of goal differential that is reminiscent of a college student’s bank account (which is to say, impressive for the soccer team, and dire for the student); Paris Saint-Germain is looking to have the French title wrapped up by Christmas, when its focus turns to completing an undefeated domestic season; Inter and Roma are sharing some space with Fiorentina, which is awfully (suspiciously?) charitable of them; and the two Manchester clubs are firmly slotted in the top four in England, with Arsenal and Tottenham closely trailing.
Leading that latter group, however, is an unheralded and unexpected group, with a Jamaican international serving as captain, who are only two seasons removed from promotion. While not the most desolate of England’s clubs, Leicester City is not among its notable fat cats either. With an incendiary scorer, a host of heady midfielders, the keeper son of a keeper man and a well-traveled manager, however, King Power Stadium may yet see meaningful continental matches and, with more than a bit of luck, a trophy.
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.
Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press
Bow your heads. Let us take a moment to celebrate the relentless devotion that Winnipeg has for its hockey team, and lament the fact that none of us will ever love anything nearly so much as that city loves the Jets.
On Wednesday, FC Porto, last year’s third-place Portuguese club who only made it into the UEFA Champions League by virtue of the Play-off round, beat reigning Bundesliga kings Bayern Munich, with noted machinist Pep Guardiola at the managerial helm. The German giants had lost only three games all season coming into the match, depending on when you started counting, and looked poised to similarly dismantle the ostensibly outmatched Porto. But a funny thing happened on the way to the semi-final.
Reuters, July 4, 2014
Consider for a moment, if you will, the cumbersome plight of being the world’s best goalkeeper.
A magnificently threaded through-ball eludes four nearby defenders to find, all alone in the opposing box, the world’s best soccer player, who dances with his mistress for a moment long enough to attract the attention of an entire defense, along with the world. A shot on goal ricochets under the goalkeeper, whose effort provided only the briefest moment of respite preceding the inevitable. A trailing teammate, a regular on the B squad, tracks the ball and slots it into the back of an empty net, winning the game for his dominant side at an abnormally late time.
This was the scene in Sunday’s match between FC Barcelona and Villarreal. For the Catalans, these moments are a dime a dozen. With Lionel Messi, all is possible except for failure, which is a distinct and unacceptable impossibility. My adulation for him, at this point, goes without saying. In this case, the focus belongs to the other two players involved in the movement, Brazil’s fallen hero Neymar, the catalyst, and the Barça B wunderkind Sandro Ramírez, who scored the goal, his first ever for the senior side and in his first La Liga appearance. At just 22 and nineteen years of age, respectively, these two (literally, at times) have the world at their feet, leaving the rest of us to admire immortality and ponder its antithesis.
Think, if you will for a moment, of your country’s wildest sporting dream. For Canadians, a gold medal in hockey might be just the accessory to go with all that maple syrup. In Australia, winning the Rugby World Cup over rivals New Zealand and South Africa is a source of pride for locals. The people of the United States find it best to rest laurels on domestic competitions, only really getting involved externally if their nation happens to be exerting dominance as a sort of athletic manifest destiny. Regardless of the means, people love putting stock in competition because they believe the payoff far outweighs potential letdowns. It is fun to concoct scenarios, however unlikely, in which your team defies all the odds to win. Be careful what you wish for, however. Living vicariously means dying vicariously, and the only resting place for most is a grave on the world’s most visible stage – the FIFA World Cup.
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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The alarm went off.
You woke up. Maybe you were fully awake with the adrenaline of anticipation by the time it started; maybe you were still half-asleep and in a daze of obligation. Friends congregated around a television – you could have been one of them – or you just kept your phone charged to ensure you got the texts as they rolled in. You had cereal, or you started in on the drinking. Grease was standing by as a coping mechanism. You were decked out in the attire of a country you’ve never visited and don’t know anyone from, or just your pajamas. Your Twitter feed was open. All the quips from strangers you’ll never know rolled in. And you remember where you were when David Luiz scored after 18 minutes. The knockout rounds had truly begun. The day was just beginning.
For you, anyway. Somewhere else, I was already in the process of interviewing the first of four candidates for a position at my radio station. I had already traveled an hour north from my apartment by the time of Luiz’s goal. My cereal was long gone. I wasn’t watching. I had been up since 4am. I had already seen genius again.
“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