The collective yawn that usually greets the World Cup on these U.S. shores has given way to real live celebration and excitement. The shots of fans in Chicago hollering about shots in Manaus thrill the hearts of fütbol fans everywhere.
You can argue otherwise, but I believe soccer — especially at the World Cup level — is the most popular sport on the planet because of all sports, it most closely mirrors the human condition.
Consider: A soccer match pits two sides against each another in a long, arduous test of endurance that flows continuously, mercilessly. It demands full effort from every player at all times. It calls for strategy. It calls for patience. It requires stamina and speed, grace and grind. It’s a pushing, pulling, bouncing chess match, and it hurts to play it.
It moves fast, often in blinding bursts, leaving players precious little time to rest (halftime aside). And Lord help the player who grabs a mistimed breather. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and Neymar shall cram the ball down thy throat.
Soccer demands perseverance. Tired? Keep running. Overmatched? Keeping pressing for chances to score. Down 2-nil with a minute to play? Keep shooting, if only to say you played all 90 minutes (plus three for stoppage time) with all your heart.
Soccer also commands loyalty bordering on madness. Hooliganism, refs packing sidearms, vuvuzelas — this is a sport with a dark side. Nobody even tries to hide it. It might be ugly, but fans sporting that kind of obsession demand respect, if not necessarily admiration.
Soccer can be played by nearly everyone, regardless of income, but few can master it. It keeps you in constant motion, but offers few chances to succeed in a way that people remember. It can break your heart, it can pull you to your feet screaming, it can mesmerize you, it can render you speechless while you wonder, “How did that just happen?”
So poo-poo the Cup if you must, armchair quarterbacks. Spit sunflower seeds, if it makes you feel better, at Clint Dempsey and Team USA, all you baseball nuts (I’m one of you, by the way). No matter. For billions of fans, soccer is life. And right now is the time to cheer.