The United States kicks off against Ghana on Monday at 3 p.m.
Next week, a number of the bars in town will have a vastly different look about their clientele. They'll wear scarves in the middle of summer, scream and shout at the TV when theres no baseball being played and have a tenancy to structure their entire day – or weekend – around the sporting event theyve come to watch.
Dont let the strange appearance and behavior fool you. No, theyre not European transplants; theyre your fellow Americans, and they come out of the woodwork every four years for one of the greatest international sporting spectacles on television.
The World Cup begins this week: thats soccer, for those who dont follow it, and the United States mens team begins their uphill battle on Monday, June 16 against Ghana.
Many Americans who see soccer on television quickly switch to something less boring, something with more scoring, less drama and tougher players (the ones that wear padding and get to stop for a breather every 15 seconds) and will find it easy to tune out. You might have flipped on the World Cup four years ago, seen that it was still tied at 0 at halftime and figured there were better things to be doing.
But Id bet anything you watched it at home.
The World Cup, and soccer in general, isnt something to take in by yourself on the sofa. Its a community sport, meant to be watched in a throng, gathered around a big screen at a sports bar. Thats when each dangerous cross (thats a pass in front of the goal) becomes a heart-stopper. Every shot brings the onlookers half out of their seat, and a score sends the American fans – regardless of whether its their first game or their 100th – into a wild frenzy unlike anything youd see in any of the major American sports.
Its like Damian Lillards buzzer-beater in the playoffs against Houston, except it happens several times every game. Hugging random strangers, yelling at the top of your lungs regardless of whether youre the only one in the bar and having your entire day hang on the final score? Thats the World Cup.
When you only catch a minute or two of passing the ball uselessly around the midfield, its easy to understand a jump back to NASCAR where they drive endlessly in circles.
Thats not really a knock on racing, thats just to say that the laps in the middle of the race mean a whole lot more when youve watched from the beginning. All of the sudden, that pass in the 231st lap is a really big deal. Hes been working for the last 60 laps to make that pass, and you as a viewer have more of an emotional investment.
Soccer is the same way. Watch from the opening kick. Order food so it comes at halftime and you can finish it before the second half starts. Continue for the final 45 minutes with your eyes glued to the screen. Take pride in the tens of thousands flying American flags and cheer when the Yanks knock home a goal.
Its an emotional game. Its a community game. But most of all, its a sporting event that touches each and every one of us. Its the chills you get when sitting back and listening to a crowd roar as one – thats soccer.
You dont have to go out and spend 60 bucks on a jersey (they call them kits), and you dont have to purchase a ticket to Brazil to watch the match live in order to be a fan. Just show up, go out and expect to take in the experience with your fellow countrymen.
Well see you on Monday at 3 p.m.