YOSHONIS: World Cup a source of excitement, depression for US fans

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This has been a pretty depressing Fourth of July, sports-wise. For me, anyway.

Not just because the Tigers are in a long and deep losing funk, although that doesn’t help.

 Mostly, I was really, really hoping to see the same emergence of new fans of the USA soccer team at this World Cup as I did in previous ones in Lansing.

I watched as the “Nobody in America cares about soccer” crowd was proven completely and conclusively wrong, based on the enthusiasm wherever one cared to look for the US team in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014.

While that sort of widespread enthusiasm has not yet reached Manistee, I was hoping that, this year, we’d have seen the beginnings of the same sort of raucous watch parties at local bars for US games as I saw in previous years.

But no.

And I feel bad for those who have not watched this edition because the USA is not there (and for any other reason), because it’s been one of the best World Cups in history.

This year’s tournament has turned out to be the wildest, most wide-open World Cup ever, making the most recent NCAA men’s basketball tournament look positively predictable in comparison.

Here is what you’ve missed so far:

— Germany, the defending champion and one of the pre-tournament favorites to win this year, was eliminated in the group stages for the first time in its history.

— Former champions Spain and Argentina as well as power Portugal were bounced out in the first knockout round. The two players who have dominated the conversation of “best player in the world” for the last decade, Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, have most likely ended their international careers before the quarterfinals and without having scored a single goal in the knockout rounds of any World Cup.

— No fewer than 15 games in which the winning or tying goal was scored in the last two minutes of regulation or later. That’s the soccer equivalent of a buzzer-beater.

— Of the 56 matched played so far only one has ended 0-0, and that was in a game that meant nothing because the top two in the group were already decided.

— Of the eight teams in the quarterfinals, only two of them, Brazil and France, were given any chance beforehand of winning the thing, and France was a long-shot because the team is so young.

— Those two teams, Brazil and France, are on the same side of the bracket, meaning at least one of them will not make it past the semifinals.

— The other side of the bracket contains four teams who are just happy to have made the quarterfinals, England, Sweden, Russia and Croatia. One of those teams will play in the World Cup Final.

That last one is why this tournament, despite the immense entertainment value is just about every game played so far, is so depressing for me and other fans of the USA.

Never, at least since World War II, has the road to the World Cup final been so wide open, a spot in the biggest game in the world been so available for a pre-tournament dark horse.

The United States of America making a run to the World Cup Final would have energized the nation, perhaps even served to unite it —at least a little, at least temporarily — in a time where this nation is arguably more divided than at any time in its history.

But no.

I guess this corner of Northern Michigan will have to wait a few more years to catch up to the rest of the country in its US soccer fandom and excitement for the World’s Biggest Sporting Event.

I hope I’m still around to see it when it happens. I’m not getting any younger, and four-year increments seem a lot longer now than they used to be.

In the meantime, I’ll have to make do with watching some other nation go crazy watching their team advance, with a real possibility of actually winning the World Cup.

Hey, at least the Lions open training camp soon.

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Posted by Scott Yoshonis

Scott is the sports editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach him at (231) 398-3112 or syoshonis@pioneergroup.com.

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