Every four years, one of the largest sporting events in the world takes place, with billions of fans from around the world watching. Many teams, though starting with high hopes, are faced with some of the toughest competition the globe has to offer, leaving only one champion. No, this isn’t the Olympics, but the FIFA World Cup, the world’s most prestigious soccer competition. But in the United States, its television ratings are outpaced by more local events such as the Super Bowl and the World Series. How can a country as large as our own be so removed from this international phenomenon?
For those who do not know as much about it, the World Cup brings together the 32 best soccer teams in the world for an elimination-bracket-style tournament, almost like March Madness. The host country qualifies automatically, and the other 31 spots are distributed amongst the different regional soccer associations in the world, such as CONCACAF for North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Teams within these associations play each other to earn qualification to the larger tournament.
The difference, though, is every team in the World Cup gets to play at least three games. Before the first ball is kicked, the teams are randomly sorted into eight groups of four, and each team plays every team in their group once. A win is worth three points in the standings, a tie one and a loss zero points. After this group stage has been completed, the two teams in each group with the most points advance to the knockout round, with ties being broken based on how many goals teams have scored.
In the knockout stage, no tie games are allowed, and a loss sends a team straight home. To break ties in soccer, there is first a 30-minute overtime, followed by a penalty shootout much like in hockey. Passions run high in these games, and you can see the excitement of the fans as their country’s fate lies with the 11 players on the field, hoping to score and protect their net from the opposing team.
By the time the final is reached, the two best soccer teams in the world are now face to face with each other. The anticipation has been building throughout the weeks of the tournament, and a victor will finally be crowned. The final in 2014, between Germany and Argentina, was watched by more than 1 billion people, almost 10 times what the Super Bowl can claim here in the United States.
So if the World Cup is such a big deal, why do we not hear as much about it in the United States? This can be explained by two major reasons. For one, the U.S. men’s soccer team is not very successful on the global stage. We were defeated by Belgium in Round 16 in 2014, and failed to even qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Secondly, the United States is known for its strong domestic sports leagues. Football, basketball, baseball, hockey and other sports leave less room for soccer than in other nations where it’s the primary sport.
However, I do think this is changing. Soccer is a popular sport among young Americans such as myself, who have grown up playing it in the summer and in school. Our nation’s own domestic soccer league, Major League Soccer is also growing, with Minnesota United FC joining as our local team. On the world stage, the U.S. women’s team has been very successful, and the United States also recently won its bid to host the World Cup in 2026, along with Mexico and Canada, which will bring even more awareness to the sport in our nation. As a soccer aficionado myself, I look forward to seeing the sport continue to grow and pick up new players and fans. Who knows, maybe someday our country could win the World Cup trophy ourselves.
Connor Kockler is a student at St. John’s University. He enjoys writing, politics and news, among other interests.