The World Cup is Back!
ABC6 Stormtracker Chief Meteorologist is the resident soccer fanatic in the newsroom. His passion for the game extends from just being a fan to playing and coaching on the weekends. Fred will continue to provide regular updates on his view of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
When I was younger, it seemed like the World Cup was played every eight years instead of every four. The wait was grueling between Cups. Now, as I get a bit older, it seems like it hasn't even been four years since the last World Cup – not that I'm complaining about that.
This World Cup has sneaked up on me a bit. Maybe it's the fact that the Celtics are on another great playoff run, or maybe it's just that my life is busier than ever at work and at home with three kids. But, in any event, I'm psyched that the best month of sports starts tomorrow. Some would argue that the playoffs in the NFL, MLB, NBA, or NHL are better. Others would say that the Olympics are the best, but for me the World Cup trumps them all. Like the Olympics, the athletes are playing for their countries, and the event happens once every four years. Soccer is undoubtedly the world's most popular sport. Sure, it's probably in the bottom half of the top ten sports in the U.S., but in almost every other country it ranks in the top three – and in most it is the national pastime.
Soccer is more than a sport in many countries. It is a way of life. Winning the World Cup matters to most countries like the Red Sox winning the World Series in 2004 mattered to New England. Victory in the World Cup unites a country. Defeat can lead to a collective depression.
Odds are, this year, there will be that “collective depression” among the members of Sam's Army – the hardcore US Soccer fans. After a strong showing in 2002, the 2006 World Cup was a big disappoint for the Yanks. This year's team features a great mix of veterans and exciting newcomers.
The core of the team does not play in the MLS, but rather in the more established and higher quality leagues in Europe. There are some household names on the team: Dempsey, Donovan, Howard, Bocanegra, and Onyewu. Others, like Altidore, Specter, Holden, Edu, Buddle, and Clark are going to have to step up big time for the Americans to make it out of the group round.
The loss of Charlie Davies due to a near-fatal car crash last year is going to be tough for the US to overcome. Davies had world-class speed, and was a great compliment to Altidore up front. His replacement will most likely be Edson Buddle – an MLS vet who has taken his game to a new level this spring. His rise from obscurity to the spotlight has been impressive, but it is one thing to dominate on the MLS level, it's a whole other story to do it on the world stage. I'm not overly confident in Buddle's prospects against the world's best defenders.
Thankfully, the US has what is perceived to be a relatively soft draw in the group round. Their group, which has England, Slovenia, and Algeria was dubbed the “Group of Life” by the English press – which is the opposite of the notorious “Group of Death” that invariably seems to pop up in every World Cup. Most agree that this year's “Group of Death” features Brazil, Portugal, and Ivory Coast. It is rounded out by a weak N. Korea squad, but only the top two teams advance.
Should the US be able to advance out of Group C into the elimination rounds? Yes. The bottom two teams in the group are not complete dogs, but they are not soccer superpowers either. If the US can get a draw or a result (win) against England on Saturday, they will be in great shape to emerge from the group round. Thankfully, a loss to England would not be devastating, since many think England will be the team to win the group, and getting results against Algeria and Slovenia would most likely put the US through.
Emerging from the group stage would be a minor success for the Americans, but I think they need at least a trip to the quarterfinals for this year's World Cup to be viewed as anything near a success. I give them a fair shot at making it that far. This team surprised many by advancing to the finals against Brazil in the Confederations Cup last year. They shocked top-ranked Spain along the way, before inexplicably blowing a two-goal lead in the second half against the ultra-talented Brazilians.
One of the great things about the World Cup is it's unpredictability. It's a slightly different kind of unpredictability than the NCAA tournament. Sure there is a Cinderella story most years, but the final almost always features two of the top five teams in the world. I don't think the US is quite to that level yet, and I would be delightfully shocked if they made it to the finals. My forecast is for a quarterfinal run for the Americans in South Africa.
I have many more thoughts to offer on this year's World Cup – heck, I may even pick my favorite to win it all. I hope to weigh in on the popularity of the sport in the US, and what I think will help it grow. I'm also concerned about the injuries prior to this year's Cup. It seems like a slew of the world's top players are going to be relegated to cheerleading. Check back often for long, rambling updates on the greatest sporting event in the world.
Also, if you made it this far – good for you. I encourage you to join the conversation by entering your thoughts in the comment section below. Don't like what I'm saying? Feel free to rip me apart – just keep it clean. Don't like my forecast? Please don't say anything. I'm kind of sensitive that way.