I don’t follow soccer very closely, but I do love the World Cup. I love it for the same reason I love the hockey tournament in the Olympics. Something about seeing players compete for their countries ever four years (because if it was more frequently than that, it would be overkill) is really cool. The United States is not exactly know for their prowess in men’s soccer, but it’s still a really fun tournament. It seems, though, that the United States Soccer Federation is making a mistake very similar to the one I called USA Hockey out on before the start of the Olympics.
Much the way USA Hockey decided to leave Bobby Ryan, one of the most talented American-born players in the NHL, off the Olympic roster, the soccer people have decided to leave Landon Donovan off the World Cup Roster. Really? We’re doing this again? We’re going into another international tournament without the most talented roster possible. When USA Hockey decided to go without Ryan, I criticized them because the United States seemed to forget in that moment that they’re not Canada or Sweden, or Finland. They don’t have more superstar talent than they know what to do with. In soccer, the United States has grown and developed as a soccer country, but we’re still not Brazil, or Italy, or England, or Spain, or any of the half-dozen other countries that would be favored ahead of the United States in an international soccer tournament.
Maybe this means I know nothing about soccer, but Landon Donovan is the only American-born player I can name off the top of my head. The 32 year old Donovan has been one of the names that you hear all the time without even following their sport all that closely, like Tiger Woods, or Manny Pacquiao, or Roger Federer. I’ve heard him referred to as the Steve Nash of soccer, which sounds like a really exciting thing that you’d be crazy to not want on your team provided he’s healthy and still in his prime.
I don’t know if it’s a matter of ego, or a matter of trying to get cute by playing a specific brand of soccer that Donovan does not fit into, but Bobby Ryan and USA Hockey are a cautionary tale. The US Olympic hockey team in 2014 had a lot of promise, but could not put the puck in the net against Canada in the semi-final round, and were stonewalled again by Tuukka Rask against Finland in the Bronze Medal Game. Bobby Ryan could have helped the team score. If you leave elite talent on the table, like American teams seem to be in the habit of doing, you’ll spend the next four years wondering what might have been.
I’m not going to lie. I’m more than a little intrigued by the commercials for Barclays Premier League soccer on NBC and the NBC Sports Network. I played one year of recreational soccer in first grade, and I’ll casually watch the World Cup every four years, but soccer has never been a sport I know a lot about. Major League Soccer in the United States is by no means the most elite professional soccer league in the world and that it part of the problem. I might not be the passionate fan of the four major sports if I didn’t have such easy access to the NFL, NHL, NBA, or MLB, four leagues that have the world’s best players in their respective sports. Now that the Premier League will be on regular American television, I might find myself giving it a shot without any real effort on my part.
It appears that NBC is attempting to become the masters of niche sports with intense fanbases as they try to compete with ESPN for viewers. They already had the NHL, the Olympics, horse racing, golf, tennis, and Notre Dame football to go along with the Sunday night NFL game that keeps them in the rotation to broadcast the Super Bowl every three years. While their decisions with regard to scripted TV shows continues to be baffling and frustrating, I really like what NBC is doing when it comes to sports.
The extent of my knowledge of Premier League soccer comes from Monty Python and the episode of Community in which Professor Duncan (John Oliver) hangs out with Jeff so he’ll have a big screen TV at his disposal to watch Liverpool play against Manchester United, so I have almost as much to learn as the American football coach in London.
This might be a good way to understand the World Cup the next time it rolls around. If I watch more soccer, I might actually know who some of the players are, and I might have a better understanding of the rules. It should be fun. Based on my uncanny ability to watch any sporting event that is on TV if I have nothing better to do, I just might become a die hard soccer fan. This might not be the last soccer post on this blog if I get hooked.