The NCAA made me read Mein Kampf and other things to think about before the World Cup

4 years ago, I wrote a world cup preview for Maryville College’s school newspaper. It was even printed as the paper’s cover story (not a big deal).  I broke down the tournament and what to expect in it so all the theater geeks at the school didn’t walk around being ignorant about soccer and giving my alma matter a worse name. A single moment of competence from Higuain kept me from making sure that they were all well prepared.

People have asked me to write again, so I figured there’s no better time to pick it back up than doing another world cup thing, and commitment wise, I can still stay on a every four year basis if I don’t get the validation I’m so clearly clamoring for. A shot of espresso and a couple Charles Bukowski quotes later… and here we are.

Also, by people, I mean my sister-in-law, Sarah. So Sarah, maybe just let this be a decent life lesson for Presley about learning to be careful what you ask for. And if anyone else wanders in here, hopefully this will give you something to read while you’re pretending to work.

Also in the article, I misspelt the country Chile as Chili, which is good.  So being the cover story turned out to be less of an accomplishment and more of me publicly outing myself as a moron.  Some of the other obvious grammar mistakes and typos hopefully distract from it, but that’s what happens when you procrastinate writing your last required article until finals week. I tried to save face and reached out to the web editor to at the very least correct it in the online version. He never responded though. I’m not that embarrassed now.  It’s turned out to be very on brand for me.

This iteration of the World Cup, I’m back.  I’m less informed, more entitled, and more ready to boldly call in to question decisions that people smarter than I have made.

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Like last time, let’s start with the US. 

We’re not in it. 

And man… it feels great.  I grew up with the dream of playing in the World Cup.  I’m 25 — in my prime. This would have been my World Cup.

Can you imagine how much more work I would have had to put in to make that dream possible, only to not make it because Sunil Gulati and Bruce Arena are fellow morons? 

What. an. absolute. relief.  Chalk one up in the box for not following your dreams because otherwise, I would be so, so devastated.

I’ve been able to use this time to accomplish so much more.

So Sarah, here’s the reason why we didn’t qualify.  The US has to qualify from “the Hex” — the top six teams from North and Central America. The top three teams are guaranteed spots in the tournament; number four plays in a play in game against a team from Asia.  In the hex you play 10 games — home and away vs each team. We lost the first two games against Mexico and Costa Rica, and Sunil Gulati (US Soccer President) and the USSF decided to fire our manager and technical director at the time, Jurgen Klinnsman. Within a day, Bruce Arena was re-appointed. I say re-appointed because Arena has held the post before. He conducted the US team in the OG Korean Summit in 2002, where we were somewhat successful until the Germans got in the way.  In 2006, his team was bounced after the group stage after tallying only one point and scoring only one goal. He was fired the first time after 2006. 

We went into the last game of qualifying needing only one point (a draw) to be guaranteed 4th (the play-in game). If we won, we’d finish 3rd.  Best news of all was that we were playing the team in 6th, a country with no incentive to win, Trinidad and Tobago. It’s an island with a population of 1.36 million people (shoutout wikipedia); rough equivalent to Metropolitan Nashville.  Only 1,500 fans showed up to the game in Trinidad because the result was so obvious.  They had nothing to play for; we had it all.

We lost 2-1.

Sunil didn’t run for re-election, Bruce resigned before he was fired, and the US failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986. 

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I think Holly Warlick’s failure as the UT Women’s Basketball coach is fun to talk about because Tennessee fans still have a hard time dealing with it.  The Lady Vols have only known success. Now it’s not there. But do I need it to be there?  I don’t really care about the Lady Vols. I couldn’t tell you the last time I watched a game to be fair. I compare it to the furniture in your house that you don’t use.  I never sit in that chair, but I’d notice if it wasn’t there, and I’d prefer to have the option.

For a lot of people, missing the World Cup is like that.  Even if that does describe you, it’s so much worse. This is like coming home for Christmas and finding that instead of putting up the Christmas tree, your family set the thing on fire this year. We have a pile of ashy sticks with a string of popped popcorn weaved through. What the USSF has done is ruin Christmas — Christmas that falls on a leap day.   We came home from Trinidad and Bruce Arena was standing over the tree like Cousin Eddy looking puzzled down at the sticks saying, “You sure about this, (Ricardo) Clark.” Bruce Arena locked himself up in the dressing room, farting all day long, and the whole place caught on fire when he lit up a cigar to celebrate finding a way to keep Graham Zusi on the field. 

As Americans. We should be upset.  This was a catastrophe.

Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama are at the World Cup. The US isn’t.

Catastrophes seem to all follow the same arc afterwards. From fart gas fires to the very in vogue school shooting, they go:

  1. How did this happen? How did we get here?
  2. Who’s fault is it? Let’s point fingers.
  3. The Leaders get axed. The group agrees to remove anyone named Bruce or Sunil from leadership positions.
  4. People start to talk about change. If “Change” is going to happen, we should do it now!
  5. Upstart candidates rise and present their proposals. We’re having an election.
  6. Title IX advocates jump in and ruin the conversation.
  7. Too many people start presenting ideas, and we start finding flaws in all of them. The group doesn’t commit to any resolution.
  8. And you end up like US Soccer did. We hired the right hand man of the guy responsible for the original failure, Carlos Cordeiro.

We’ve already followed the arc. Carlos has already admitted his main priority right now is to make sure we are awarded the 2026 World Cup. *Edit: YIPEEEE!!

Speaking of catastrophes, Roger Bennet of Men in Blazers talks in his new podcast series about how Jack Kemp, a Republican Vice President candidate campaigned against hosting a World Cup in the US in ’94 because “We don’t need that ‘Socialist European Soccer’ being spread in America”. This is like me blaming the NCAA for making me read and believe Mein Kampf.

***I don’t usually enjoy Men In Blazers but the podcast American Fiasco is a masterpiece.  It still has a little of the Men in Blazer shtick, but it’s worth a listen.****

The problem the US has had and will continue to have is how do our clubs make money and produce good players in spite of child labor laws and in spite of clubs charging players to play? Against Trinidad, the US lost for one reason.  Our players and our pool of talent was not good enough.  We went in relying on aging MLS stars who weren’t being pushed by a younger crop of players with the exception of a 19 year old. Not to say that we were incapable of qualifying with what we have, but the loss brought systemic issues to the forefront. 

To me, what happens next is really interesting.

Jack Kempf was wrong. American sports are the most socialist in the world. We need to get on par with the the rest of the world.  Hopefully you’re not shocked to find out that the countries with capitalist systems are producing the most talent.  America’s development system for soccer players is a melting pot of different ideas — each is flawed in it’s own way.

  1. College soccer will always be held back by the NCAA and Title IX.
  2. Club soccer will always be held back by US Child labor laws that will limit revenue streams from selling developing players to clubs willing to pay.  The task of scaling academies across the country is a fascinating piece of the puzzle. If you think of this as a business, charging kids to play is bad business.  On the bright side, the academy structure has had heavy investment lately, which is great, and it’s proving to work.
  3. Sending kids to European academies is great too, but it’s hard with VISA restrictions. When this happens the whole family is involved and has to be completely committed. And the pool of players with dual citizenship narrows prospects from the outset.

It’s not all doom and gloom. The upcoming generation of is deeper and more talented than any before it. We have young players at Arsenal, Chelsea, Barcelona, Dortmund, Munich, and players on senior sides in the top divisions.   

Every time my brother texts our family group chat saying that he’s won another lumberjack competition and my dad texts back of how proud he is of Adam — I silently think to myself, “But can Adam write a thousand words on what’s wrong with US soccer?”, and I feel like a man again. Thank God soccer gave me something to be a junkie about because otherwise, I could really be a nerd.

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The World Cup Starts today.

Here’s what to look for and what to expect.

It’s important to know: Teams that don’t win the world cup — don’t win the world cup. 

Only 8 countries have won the tournament since 1930.  Out of those 8, Italy can’t win it this year, because they’re not in it, and if we’re being honest, England and Uruguay can’t either.  Neither of them have won it since 1966. So we’ve got 5 countries left to narrow down from for who’ll win the whole thing: Spain, France, Brazil, Argentina, and Germany. 

Making the semifinals is a tremendous accomplishment, so that’s where I set the bar for picking the successful countries.

There are 32 teams: 8 groups: 2 teams advance from each group.

Group A

Group A has Uruguay, Russia, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, and it will control a lot of story lines.

Mohammed Salah hurt his shoulder in the Champions league final, which has been the biggest soccer shoulder injury since Austin Pugh elected to have surgery on his shoulder in 2011 instead of winning a state championship with his friends.

Salah did more to eradicate Islamophobia in England this past season than Sadiq Khan has done in the past 15, and how much he is going to be available to play will be talked about ad nausium.

Uruguay has Suarez (the guy who bites people) and Cavani (the guy who misses a comical amount of easy chances), and should advance. Suarez and Cavani will be fun to watch because they both have incredible work rates, and watching Cavani miss sitters that they’ve both worked so hard to get in position for will be can’t miss TV. 

Russia has racism.  It will be the forefront of the tournament at some point.  Look for US media to white knight its way on to the scene to solve it for the Eastern Europeans like Kevin Malone carrying a pot of chili. 

By all accounts, the Russian team is terrible. I don’t know anything about them. But, they’ll advance out of this group.  I don’t know how. 

If you don’t think so, then do this for me.  Close your eyes (not yet) picture yourself as a referee and you see a foul against the Russian team.  Now look up to the sky box and see the super awesome and powerful looking dude with the Russian Lapel and the skinny nose**. Now decide whether or not you saw a foul.  Okay you can close your eyes now. Even if you’re reading this while driving. It’ll be okay. Go head. 

** I published this on facebook. I care more about my safety than accurately describing Putin.

Group B.

Spain are playing 4D chess. 

I love random facts.  One that sometimes pops up that I think is funny is about how the only way to beat master chess players is through pure chaos. 

Spain have gone pure chaos two days before the world cup. They fired their coach yesterday.  Poor Portugal isn’t going to know what hits them on Friday.  

I think it would be foolish to say that the Iberian countries won’t be the ones advancing, but Morocco isn’t bad.  They aren’t altogether good either — but neither is firing your coach two days before a World Cup.

All of the good work that Salah has done for Islamophobia reallh pales compared to all the work that Ronaldo has done for Narcissism.  It’s great to see that someone as self centered as him can overcome and still be donned the best player in the world when he doesn’t do anything but poach goals. Ronaldo is going to leave the group stage with 5 goals, and they’ll all be headers against Iran

Group C.

France are in the midst of another revolution, and like last time their conductor is the small statured man. This time it’s N’Golo Kante. Two years ago, Kante led the French side past Prussians. Now, he’s led them to Russia.  He’s covered a lot of ground, and that is to also say that Kante is everywhere on the field. 

Griezmann is my pick to win the Golden Boot for scoring the most goals in the tournament. He was going to be my Napoleon metaphor, but I googled his height and apparently he’s 5’9’’, which is like, really tall.  I actually think it’s the perfect height for any man, especially really good soccer players, and it’s way better than being 6 feet tall. This is why all the girls love Griezmann way more than Ronaldo.  Look for all the beautiful Brazilian women in the stands to have signs expressing how masculine is at 5’9″ when the two countries face off in the semi-finals. 

Pogba will draw headlines, but I think the major storyline will be weather Didier Deschamps, the French coach, has the confidence to bench Pogba for Tolisso, who fits the team better. 

They won’t face much opposition from their group, and the French should be really humming by the knockout stage. 

Group D.

Argentina was just bailed out by the IMF, and it’s ironic because through the tournament Lionel Messi is going to have to do the same thing for the national team.  Even more ironic is that in this “Too Big To Fail” football equivalent, it’s the diminutive 5’7 Messi that will be the failsafe.

But Messi is anything but diminutive on the field.  He’s a footballing giant who will have to carry Argentina through this group and the tournament.  Argentina will be appointment television, and their games are the only thing giving me World Cup fever. I don’t know how Messi will conjure up his bailout of Argentina, but interest rates are at an all time high. 

I had to go into so much debt to be able to work that finance pun, man.

Here are all the times Higuain blew goal scoring chances in Finals.  Don’t buy in to the farce that Messi has to win this tournament to prove anything about his “legacy”.

Argentina’s group isn’t easy.  Croatia have all the pieces to be good but never are. Corruption is rampant through their federation, and the corruption has divided their support like a Michigan State fan deciding whether he cares more for Sparty than enabling a pedo.   

Nigeria are the youngest team and have cool jerseys. 

Iceland are well drilled and are coming off the high of a Euro 2016 Semifinal.

I’m really scared Argentina won’t make it out, but the knockout stage is set up nicely for the group’s winner.

Group E.

NBC did a video a couple years back to promote the EPL on NBC when they bought the rights to broad cast it.  American coach Ted Lasso came to coach Tottenham.  He learned about his opponents through word association tricks. Bald. Baldy. your head is bald like a mirror. Mirror. M. your name is Mark. That’s word association.

Brazil is Ryan Reynolds.

They have it all.   They’re the rightful favorite to win it.

Neymar will win the Golden Ball unless Messi carries Argentina to the semifinals. If Messi has done that, we will have seen something incredible.  I love that Neymar left Barcelona to escape Messi’s shadow, but even in this tournament, Brazil will have to follow up Messi’s performance from the day before. 

Group F.

Steve Jobs talked about how inspired he was of the efficiency of teams that worked in uniform.  He wanted one for Apple.  It creates identity and gives consistency.  Uniforms mean you know what you expect.  Germany is that consistent. In the uniform of the world cup, they’re permanently woven into the semi-final fixture.  

*Apple didn’t adopt a company wide uniform policy btw

You know each Apple Key Note, it doesn’t matter who’s in the dad jeans (RIP in peace Steve) or what inconvenience the change they’re announcing is going to cause their customers  — they’re going to still be successful.  It doesn’t matter that Sane and Gotze aren’t there.  Germany will be successful. 

There’s a saying in England that in football you play for 90 or 120 minutes and at the end the Germans win in Penalties.  Death taxes all that jazz. Goodness this thing is getting too long.

Group G.

When my mom used to pick me up from school, we’d listen to sports talk together in the car.  One of the best things that would happen every year is after UT’s first loss of the football season, whether it was the first game or whenever Florida was, all the reds would call in and say, “Well, Jimmie… I’m just disappointed. I know we’re not going to go undefeated like I predicted we would at the beginning of the year. But I still think if we just beat Bama and GA we can get to Atlanta.”

Then the host would respond, “We did say at the beginning of the year that Vegas has our over/under wins at 5.”

“I knowwwww. I just thought he’d coach em up this year.”

England fans are like the UT reds who call in from the hollers to give their football predictions on sports talk.  I don’t know what delusions they’re buying in to that they’ll win it, but somehow we end up with these expectations.

I hope England do do well, but they aren’t the dark horse people think they are. 

Like UT Athletics, England always seem to have enough drama to keep you entertained.  Right now, the country is in fierce debate about whether or not one of their players should be kept in the squad because he had a gun tattooed on his leg. They’re trying to remove one of their own players. It’s not even visible from underneath his shinguard. It’s a concealed carry.

Not to nerd out again, but I think the key for England is Jesse Lingard.  Other than him, they’ve elected to not bring any midfielders who pass the ball forward or between lines, which is usually a nice thing to be able to do. A midfielder who looks to pass forwards is a bit like toilet paper, it’s nice to have when shit happens.  Unfortunately, Southgate elected to bring Jake Livermore over Jack Ultra-Soft Wilshere.  

So I think England will struggle to break down well drilled defenses, and we’ll be treated to another meltdown in the Quaterfinals. Depending on how they fare against Belgium they’ll either meet Brazil or Germany there. 

Belgium are a dark horse to win it, but again, teams that don’t win the world cup, don’t win the world cup.

There’s not much worth talking about in the last group. 

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Looking at how things will shake out, if Brazil and France win their groups they’ll meet in the semifinals.  I think the winner of that game will win the tournament. 

I want so so so badly for Messi to win it all, but I don’t know how it will happen. 

It also feels like this tournament is ripe for an underdog to make it to the semi-finals.  It would cause some disruption, but I think Uruguay, Colombia, and Serbia are all capable of making a run. This is called covering your bases.

So let’s say Brazil, France, Argentina, and Germany in the semis with Brazil taking it home in revenge match against Germany. For those of you keeping score at home, those are the four favorites, which really sets me up to look smart and say, “CAALLLED IT” next month. So, Sarah, here ya go.

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