Are you ready for some football? Some hard-hitting, gridiron action? Well, sorry, amigo, you'll have to wait 'til September. Unless, that is, you're ready for some futbol. It's World Cup time! And it's a big deal everywhere else in the world. In the U.S.A., not so much.
That would change, of course, if Team USA managed to win a couple of games. "Miracle on Grass," anyone? Unlikely. According to stats guru Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com, the U.S. has a .4 percent chance of winning the cup — 250-to-one odds. We're ranked alongside such non-powers as Nigeria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Cameroon.
Team USA's first game is against Ghana, which, to be fair, is similarly ranked. So we could win that one and be 1-0, right? Do you believe in miracles? Unfortunately, Germany and Portugal await the U.S. after its opening game. They don't believe in miracles, and only two teams advance from each four-team pool. Sure, we've beaten Germany twice before, but those were world wars, not World Cups. The smart money is on Brazil, the host team. Silver gives them a 23 percent chance of winning. He adds that Brazil hasn't lost a game in its home country since 2002.
Like most Americans, my main exposure to soccer was taking my young kids to their games. All the parents stand on the sidelines and watch a herd of six-year-olds run back and forth for 40 minutes. Once in a while, a ball gets knocked past a bored goalie. Cue the mad celebration. Goal!!!
The World Cup's kind of like that. Only the players are bigger, and you don't have to drive them through McDonald's after the game. Also you can drink. Sure, you may think soccer is boring, but have you watched baseball lately? Spit. Scratch. Adjust uniform. Ball three. Repeat. Besides, this event is going to be happening for the next few weeks, so you might as well get into it. Here are a few helpful suggestions on how to better enjoy the World Cup:
Pick a team to root for. Sure, you're pulling for the U.S., but that probably won't be an option for long. So improvise. Maybe you're of Dutch heritage, like me. Go Netherlands! Yes, the wooden cleats make it tougher for them, but they're plucky.
Get used to the fact that soccer players flop more than Manu Ginobili. They fall and scream and writhe in pain, then jump up and start running again. Don't worry about it. It's part of the fun. Embrace the acting. It's Oscar-caliber.
Go to a soccer-centric bar and cheer with the crowd. You might get a free drink. Accept the fact that almost every game ends 2-1. It's the soccer way. And, ties happen. A lot. Do not suggest ways to increase scoring, like making the goals bigger or handicapping the goalie. This will make it obvious you're an American poser.
Which you are.