Dear Tommy: Why Should We (Americans) Watch Soccer?

Dear Tommy,

Let me, for a moment, play the role of the naïve, xenophobic, NFL-loving American. This role isn’t hard for me to play, as I grew up loving (American) football and unfortunately did not travel abroad during college. My abroad semester was spent in Los Angeles, a world foreign enough for a Chicagoan attending Boston University.

With this World Cup thing approaching again on Thursday, I figured now is the time to whip out my notebook of unanswered soccer questions. I’ve been filling it with queries since I quit AYSO after the fourth grade to focus on my budding baseball, basketball, and football careers. That worked out.

You seem to know a thing or two about this whole international fútbol phenomenon, which is a thing or two more than most Americans. Would you kindly answer my dumb American questions below? It might just give other Americans a reason to get really into soccer, fútbol, or football (see question #2 below).

1) Why the hell isn’t Landon Donovan on the American team?

Seriously. He’s the only guy on the squad I kinda, sorta knew. I’m going to miss his unrivaled widow’s peak hairline and his indomitable spirit. If Klinsmann punished Donovan for taking some time off to refocus and deal with some understandable mental health issues, why should I trust this German coach?

What a beautiful, American widow's peak.

What a beautiful, American widow’s peak.

2) Can I still call it soccer? Or does it have to be fútbol, or worse, football?

I might be playing the role of the naïve American, but I’m not a method actor. I want to adapt and get on board with the international lingo. What the hell should I call this sport? I fear calling it football will essentially be cheating on my favorite American sport. Is there a compromise name somewhere in between?

3) Where can I find a last-minute, cheap American jersey to wear?

Seriously. Amazon only has $50+ U.S. jerseys or real shitty t-shirt jerseys. If I’m jumping on this bandwagon, I’ve got to look the part.

4) So… fullbacks actually are still important in soccer?

Will good old number 40 be rumbling down the pitch this summer? Can you wear #40 in soccer?

Will good old number 40 be rumbling down the pitch this summer? Can you wear #40 in soccer?

I read the Grantland “How to Watch the World Cup Like a True Soccer Nerd” post you sent me. I’m not going to lie, I was a little bit confused, but one of my main takeaways was that fullback is actually an important position. That made me happy. I miss NFL fullbacks – like my all-time favorite Mike Alstott – making game-changing plays. Any chance we see Alstott roaming the field for a random national team? Cameroon, perhaps?

5) I strongly dislike Cristiano Ronaldo.

This isn’t much of a question, but that’s okay, right? You and I watched Atlético Madrid battle Ronaldo and his Real Madrid a couple of weeks ago, and I really couldn’t stand that guy. He’s a pompous asshole who seems to spend as much pregame time on his hair and eyebrows as he does stretching. Should I take solace in the crazy idea that the U.S. team has a chance to upset Ronaldo and Portugal? Or should I plan on hating him more.

6) Flopping. Eh. WTF?

I understand there’s plenty of flopping – or “Lebroning” – in American sports, but the flopping in soccer seems ridiculous. I get that it’s part of the game, and that since there’s only one referee, a good flop can gain your team a serious advantage, but… come on. Are these guys all classically trained Shakespearean actors? Can’t we get another anti-flop ref out on the pitch?

7) Is this an actual soccer pregame ritual? Because it’s awesome.

I could care less that this is blatant advertising. Please, please tell me this is how things go before a match.

8) Have we (Americans) got a shot at advancing out of our group? Please lie.

I’m a patriot, Tommy. You know that. I might lose interest in this World Cup, and soccer in general, if our team doesn’t make us proud. Give me a reason to believe. I want to care about soccer, fútbol, or football because there’s always more room for sports fandom. But my compatriots and I, like Rod Stewart, need a reason to believe.

***

I’ve got a million other questions about the World Cup and soccer in general, but I’ll leave you with those for now. I really feel that if America is going to care about soccer – really care – that our team needs to do something to excite us. We like being the underdog, but we want to be the underdog with a fighting chance. See our obsession with the Rocky movies as proof.

Give us some reasons to get excited, TD. I know you can.

Yours truly,

BK

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