Oh, Canada.

photo credit: wvs via photopin cc

photo credit: wvs via photopin cc

Fittingly, it was on July 4th, 1988 that FIFA awarded the hosting rights for the 1994 World Cup to the United States. Soccer has a longer, richer history in the U.S. than many would acknowledge, but at the very least this vote marks the beginning of its modern era. A year later the U.S. men’s national team qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 40 years. The 1994 World Cup still holds the record for largest attendance, and it undoubtedly served as a first exposure to professional soccer for untold millions of Americans. Major League Soccer, which was established as a condition for hosting the tournament, began play in 1996. In the two decades since, the game has seen slow but steady growth in the U.S.

Canadian soccer’s origin story isn’t nearly as neat. The men’s national team qualified for the 1986 World Cup, but hasn’t qualified since. They won the Gold Cup in 2000, but this didn’t lead to any further conquests. The women’s team has had much more success, but only an Olympic bronze medal to show for it. Toronto FC joined MLS in 2007, but Canada had pro teams before then. They’ve hosted FIFA tournaments, but all on the youth level, none even as big as next year’s Women’s World Cup.

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College Daze

photo credit: White & Blue Review via photopin cc

photo credit: White & Blue Review via photopin cc

At age 20, Lionel Messi scored 16 goals in 40 appearances for Barcelona. Wayne Rooney played 48 games and scored 19 times for Manchester United. At the same age, Clint Dempsey played college soccer. He played 19 games with unlimited substitutions and a countdown clock. Of the 23 members of the United States World Cup squad, 16 were developed in the U.S., and 11 of those played college soccer. I am willing to bet that they were the only 11 players in the entire tournament with college experience.

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XI: The Weekend of July 20th

photo credit: calciostreaming via photopin cc

photo credit: calciostreaming via photopin cc

-James Rodriguez appears to be on his way to Real Madrid for a silly amount of money. The 23-year old Colombian was the breakout star of the World Cup, claiming the golden boot, and now is on the verge of joining the European champions for a transfer fee of $120 million. That’s a lot of money to spend for a player who scored just nine goals in Ligue 1 last season, but that is also the Real Madrid way. Rodriguez isn’t needed; Real already has incredible amounts of attacking talent. But Madrid loves star power, and no one’s star is brighter right now than James Rodriguez.

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Soccer in Sun and Shadow by Eduardo Galeano

“I’ve finally learned to accept myself for who I am: a beggar for good soccer.”

Originally published in 1995, Eduardo Galeano’s Soccer in Sun and Shadow is, at its core, a love letter to the game. There are a lot of books that tell the history of the sport, from its roots to the modern day; this is one of them. But, unlike most others, this tells why that history matters. Soccer in Sun and Shadow conveys the joy of the game in its prose. In short, it is poetry.

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A Guide for new Soccer fans

So, the World Cup ended, and you’re craving for soccer. If you’re wondering “what’s next;” here’s a brief runthrough:

I want to watch something as soon as possible. Like, tonight, if possible. 

Major League Soccer is going on as we speak, with a full slate of games this upcoming weekend. MLS is our league, with many members of the U.S. national team, and worth paying attention to. There are 19 teams, 16 in the U.S. and three in Canada. Below MLS, there’s an assortment of minor league soccer, including the North American Soccer League and USL Pro. Between the three leagues, there is probably a team near you. Continue reading

Germany and Brazil, Unscripted

What can you say about a game like that? You could say that Germany beat Brazil 7-1, but can numbers possibly tell the story? Brazil capitulated, at the sport they love, on the world’s stage, in front of their own fans. To describe it as shocking would be a criminal understatement. I was reminded of the devastation felt when Liverpool gave up a 3-0 lead at Crystal Palace. But yesterday was on a wholly different magnitude. There is no adequate comparison.

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The Case for MLS

The World Cup is coming to a close, and for some less creative souls, so is soccer in the U.S. Of course, this isn’t true. The game thrives on a year-round basis in this country, you just have to know where to look. There are bars in every major city where you can walk in on a Saturday morning in the fall and find crowds gathered for the Premier League. But these are small signs, crumbs in the American soccer landscape. You want soccer in this country? Why not look at the stadiums that are packing in 19,000 fans every week for Major League Soccer? It’s time to stop passing over the obvious. No, the soccer on display is not of the highest quality. But allow me to evangelize, and convince you to start following MLS.

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Making it Count

photo credit: Mobilus In Mobili via photopin cc

photo credit: Mobilus In Mobili via photopin cc

21.6 million Americans watched the USMNT’s round of 16 loss to Belgium on Tuesday. That’s a lot of people, and it marks only the second most-watched match of this very World Cup. But there is the assumption, mostly correct, that when this World Cup ends, so will audiences of that size. Buoyed by a quartet of games featuring the U.S. ESPN and ABC have averaged 4.1 million viewers through the first 56 games of this World Cup. Not only is that larger than the 2010 World Cup, it’s three times larger than NBC’s largest Premier League audience, twice as large as the Champions League final. Even before getting into the Spanish-language numbers, the World Cup dwarfs all other soccer in this country.

It’s time for that to change.

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Acceptance

The U.S. ran into a better team yesterday. Belgium are better than the USMNT. This is not necessarily the Americans’ fault; Belgium has produced a remarkable generation of talent that has most countries envious. Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Vincent Kompany, etc. etc. These guys are stars, among the best at what they do in the world.

But we fought. We made it difficult for them. We dragged a much more talented team to extra time. Shot after shot was parried away by Tim Howard. Fabian Johnson went down, and DeAndre Yedlin was right there to perform admirably in his stead. And when the facade broke, and Belgium scored twice, the U.S. responded and made it a fight until the final whistle. They have nothing to be ashamed of.

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The Paradox of Expectations

One of the stellar things about this World Cup is the way in which everyone appears vulnerable. Other than France and Colombia, no team has been able to string together multiple impressive performances. The Dutch have four wins; three of those came from behind. Argentina relied heavily on Messi magic to bring them nine points from an easy group. Even hosts Brazil have struggled to reach the quarterfinals. Belgium, it could be argued, haven’t yet impressed at all. It took an hour for the Red Devils to wake up against Algeria, longer against Russia. When they scored against a lackluster South Korea side, it was only after going down to 10 men.

The point, of course, is that the USMNT has a chance today. Belgium are the favorites on paper, but they’ve given the U.S. no reason to fear them. A 4-2 friendly last summer in Cleveland now feels worlds away.

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