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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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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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What makes Zlatan happy?

Again, nomadic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced his uncertainty for the future. Having only arrived last summer, Zlatan may be on the move again. Leading Manchester United in goals, angling his unwieldy frame into unlikely scoring positions, outplaying players two-thirds his age: all of this bores Zlatan. Are we all Zlatan?

Zlatan pleases us, but what it is that pleases Zlatan?

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For the third consecutive summer, the Argentina national team made it to the final of a major international competition, only to lose by another impossibly thin margin. The greatest player in the world missed his penalty, and the Skip Bayless proxies on social media went to task, questioning the player’s and his team’s toughness as well as their lack of the clutch gene, that peculiar strand of DNA which allows select Homo sapiens the ability to complete tasks in children’s playground games under artificially important circumstances.

In the immediate aftermath of that loss, a 0-0 defeat to Chile in the Copa América Final at MetLife Stadium last Sunday chock-full of deplorable officiating, Lionel Messi announced his retirement from international football, only 29 years old and still in the midst of a white-hot prime. Whether the retirement ends up being permanent is likely in the hands of the Argentine Football Association, which has taken a number of crucial missteps while ostensibly advocating for one of its greatest generations of players. Even insofar as Messi is to blame for a single penalty miss, Messi is still not to blame, and he is still the greatest outfield player ever to knock a ball around a pitch. If that ends up being his last work in the light blue and white stripes, however, a hole nevertheless remains.

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Abby+Wambach in France v USA: FIFA Women's World Cup 2011 - Semi Final

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On Wednesday night, the city of New Orleans will host the final game in the illustrious career of the greatest American soccer player ever. If, despite the header image, you are still confused as to the antecedent of that phrase, here is another: the all-time highest goal scorer in international play for both men and women. No? This was the only soccer player listed on the TIME 100 list for 2015, and that was prior to the World Cup victory.

For over a decade, Abby Wambach has been the talisman of American soccer excellence, not unlike Serena Williams in tennis. While the men have had their moments of individual brilliance – Landon Donovan against Algeria in 2010, Tim Howard becoming the Secretary of Defense against Belgium in 2014 –  Wambach has sustained her knack for goal-scoring and competitiveness, finally seeing through her destiny in 2015 with a World Cup victory in Vancouver, the ultimate revenge against Japan, the country which had stifled a seemingly relentless American machine in 2011. Though the USWNT will continue without her, it would be unfair and callous to casually dismiss the contributions of Abby Wambach to her sport in this country.

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Tim+Howard+USA+v+Portugal+Group+G+2014+FIFA+iDqCtKEDtjcl 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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Jogi Loew and Jurgen Klinsmann, bruders

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

Thursday, June 26th

Time. That’s the only thing that was in the US Men’s National Team’s favor when facing Group G. The USMNT was given the ‘Group of Death’ with three titanic opponents that would crush any hopes the US had for, at the most, making it to the semi-finals. There was the unconquerable Ghana and the soccer stardom of one of the world’s best in Cristiano Ronaldo and, by proxy, Portugal. Then, there was the polished, mechanical, engineered-to-kill creation known as Germany. It was only a matter of months before all three would send the US packing back to a place where the MLS failed to attract a million viewers for its championship game. American ‘soccer’ has no place here, they seemed to mock. The United States was given 270 minutes before the vultures would come to pick the remains.

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