Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Sports Talk: 10 Reasons to watch the World Cup

As a correspondent sports writer for The Casey County News, I write an weekly editorial column for the publication. Published June 4 , 2014.  
I know we're a basketball-centric state and county, but guess what the rest of the sports world is getting pumped about right now--and I mean WORLD--THE WORLD CUP.
I admit, this was not always something I paid much mind to; however, 2010, the last World Cup, two things opened my eyes to what an event it truly is. First, I started dating my now husband in 2010 and he is a life-long soccer player. Obviously he cared and had me tuned in. Second, I visited Brazil the week leading up to pool play. I'll go into further detail on that later, but let's just say, I REALLY learned how much he rest of the world cares about the World Cup.

So, why should you care? Here are my top 10 reasons to tune in:

1. No other sport is more universal throughout the world. You know how learning to dribble a basketball is like learning to walk? In other countries, learning to dribble and kick a soccer ball is the same way. And what's more is that even the poorest of the poor countries and cultures have soccer, because it is SO extremely simple to set up and play. If you have a ball... you can mark off a goal and play just about anywhere. 

2. It's easy to understand. Yes, the field is HUGE, but the rules are simple and you can catch on in no time if you're watching. (Except maybe the offsides penalty... That one is kind of odd and took my husband drawing a diagram for me to understand, but otherwise, you're in the clear.)

3. These are some of the best athletes in any professional sport out there. Yes, you might compare basketball athletes, BUT when considering the make-up of a top-notch athlete (not specific skills in a particular sport) there three key differences in soccer and basketball: (a) The playing field is over 17x LARGER in soccer; (b) Soccer has 90 minutes of playing time, basketball has 40-50, depending on the league. (c) There are no timeouts in soccer. With that in mind... your soccer athletes need EVERYTHING when it comes to what makes up an athlete: speed, endurance, agility, creativity, coordination. If you aren't advanced in any one of hose, you won't be on the field. Watch the World Cup and you'll be watching incredible athletes.

4. Aside from the Olypmics, you cannot really compare any other international stage of competition to the World Cup. If anything, the US is the oddball who does NOT tune in to the degree of the rest of the world.

5. You'll get to watch the best of the best soccer. If you've never been into the sport or watched it before, this is where to start because it doesn't get any better than this.

6. All teams come in equal. There is no seeding in the World Cup. After the qualifying games, 32 teams are put into eight pools at complete random draws, and then two teams from each pool advance to the tournament (16 teams). USA is in a pool with Ghana, Germany and Portugal. (Tune into the pool play if you want to watch the US, friends...We drew a tough, tough pool.)

7. You can plan your schedule around watching a game...at least to some degree, compared to something like basketball or baseball. Without timeouts, a close game cannot be extended on and on--and on--like we see in basketball sometimes. While stoppage time is added to the clock to see that the ball is in play a full 90 minutes, athletes and coaches cannot control the time so easily.

8. You might miss something crazy like a Zidane Headbutt. Never heard of it? You know all of the crazy incidents you've watched over and over from your favorite sport? Yeah, soccer has those too... Just go Google "Zidane Headbutt"...

9. Watch for your kids. Casey County has never been a big soccer county. Finally, we have a girls' high school team. If your kids have interest in the sport--especially if they are young--encourage it. Don't shove them into another sport just because it's one you know. The World Cup is a great chance for you to learn and get excited about soccer and be happy your kid might want to play. Plus, you don't want them growing up thinking soccer is as obscure of a sport as curling.

10. Brazil is hosting. OK, so I don't know that watching on TV from Kentucky will give you the effect of what this means. As mentioned, I was in Brazil the week leading up to pool play in 2010 and my WORD! If you thought Kentucky got crazy during March Madness, you haven't seen anything. And Brazil wasn't even hosting that year! Their McDonald's actually created about 20 different sandwiches in honor of different countries competing in the world cup. Every other person you saw was sporting a yellow and green soccer jersey or waving a flag. If I could have managed a trip to visit my friend, Gui Buso (CCHS exchange student in 2003), this summer, I would have. (A baby and home construction got in the way... Maybe we can hope for the Rio Olympics in 2016...) Just imagine Kentucky hosting the Final Four... Brazil IS soccer.

Pool play starts on June 12. USA's first game is on Sunday, June 15 against Ghana. See the full schedule here.