A 30-something guy we know has a variety of interests. He’s into tech, fashion and food. Not sports.
Sometimes we tease him by asking if he knows who is playing in an upcoming big game. Spoiler alert: He doesn’t.
But the other day he mentioned he is checking out the World Cup.
“To see what hairstyles we will be wearing for the next four years,” he said.
It seemed the Cup influenced everything. A friend said he’d get up in the morning “and my wife is already downstairs, watching soccer and yelling at the TV.”
I saw the England-Croatia semifinal at the Irish Bank in the Financial District. Any doubt about the fervor of the SRO crowd was dispelled when they sang “God Save the Queen” at the start.
I think I watched at least one game every day of the Cup. But I’d have been happy with just a live camera on Diego Maradona. At various moments the former Argentinian superstar was passed out, kissing a seatmate, flipping off the crowd and being wheeled off to the hospital after collapsing.
So clearly we can forget what used to be the knee-jerk debate of the sport: Will soccer ever come to America?
That’s over. Americans get soccer. The English Premier League is a fixture on Fox. It’s routine to see someone on the street wearing a Barcelona jersey. The World Cup is just more proof.
Why not? It’s a perfect spectator sport. There are grand vistas of grass, a big easy-to-follow ball and athletes who are neither freakishly muscled nor 7 feet tall.
And they have mad skills. When French sensation Kylian Mbappe pulled off a double backheel, my first thought was, that was amazing. And my second was, I can’t believe I know what a backheel is.
Which brings us to the real question: Not will soccer come to America, but will Americans come to international soccer?
’Cause right now we’re kind of an embarrassment. Just before the Cup, a couple of us were talking to an Irish soccer fan who knew the betting line on all the teams.
“And what are the odds on the Americans?” I said.
He looked at me with a mixture of pity and incredulity. Is it possible I didn’t know?
“You didn’t make it,” he said gravely.
Yup. Just kidding. We know. The USA was eliminated from the World Cup after losing to — and it still seems incomprehensible to read these words — Trinidad and Tobago.
That’s why this is actually the international-audition-for-USA-coach Cup. Make no mistake. The U.S. is hiring.
National boundaries mean nothing. The Belgian coach is Spanish. The coach of the surprising Nigerian Super Eagles is German. We’ll take anybody who can get this going.
The last bold choice was Jurgen Klinsmann, who was billed as an eccentric genius.
And he was. If you strike the “genius” part. A legendary German striker, Klinsmann became known for quirky, last-second formation changes, head-shaking position swaps and telling unhappy American fans that they didn’t understand the game.
I’ll tell you what we understood. Klinsmann promised a team of quick, crisp passes, individual ball skills and German-like precision.