At every commercial break, we in the United States are reminded that our country did not qualify for the World Cup. Those who do not follow soccer at all in-between the World Cups tune in and see that the USMNT are not listed among the 32 teams—and we had to relive October 2017 all over again. Short-sighted television executives and sponsors believed that, given that the USMNT did not qualify, ratings would be lower. (They were wrong.)
But—believe it or not—the FOX commentators are wrong in believing that the majority of us are only interested in Messi or Ronaldo.
The beautiful game speaks for itself. Seeing underdogs like Mexico beating Germany 1-0 and Iceland drawing Argentina 1-1; or seeing Panama fighting for 90+ minutes even after being down 3-0; or when Tunisia equalized against England, only to lose in extra time on a set piece by a header from Harry Kane...the storylines are absolutely amazing.
When I was 11 years old, I remember the 1982 World Cup. I didn’t follow soccer at all, but the games were on and I saw this diminutive #10 in a powder blue and white kit running through a team in white that seemed to be the wrong-colored traffic cone. “Who is that guy? I don’t know nuthin’ about soccer, but I know that dude is a stud.” And no matter how much time passed, I still remembered the name Diego Maradona.
When Trinidad and Tobago (my second home) qualified for the World Cup in 2006 as (at the time) the smallest nation in World Cup history to qualify, and they played every team tough, only to lose to England when Peter Crouch pulled the dreads of a Trini player to gain leverage for a header to win—I will forever remember their effort and their joy and the injustice.
And the vuvuzelas of South Africa.
Tim Howard’s 16 saves against Belgium in 2014.
Germany 7, Brazil 1.
Brooks goal against Ghana in 88’.
I could go on and on.
But, but, but, the USMNT isn’t playing...
So I’ve heard. Every commercial break.
But this is an opportunity on two fronts.
First, for the United States to regroup and develop a plan going forward in developing players for the next generation. The Donovans and Dempseys and Bradleys and others are either off the team or on the downhill slide of their career. The USMNT now has a chance to move forward in a new direction—whatever that direction is!
Secondly, the commentators on FOX should lean into helping those who are watching understand the tactics and the beauty of the game. Sports commentators have a choice: (1) go after what the people want or (2) go after what the people need to know about the game. The easy route for FOX commentators is to construct this rivalry between Ronaldo and Messi, then take one game from the week and show how one is greater than the other.
(Side note: does anyone disagree that there is far more pressure on Messi than there is on Ronaldo? Does anyone believe Portugal has a chance to win the World Cup more than Argentina? To use those games to show who is better is taking the easy road.)
To FOX Sports commentators: Show new viewers why this is the greatest sport in the world, the most popular sport, the most beautiful sport. Get off the tabloid stuff and get back to the game! Think long haul! Show tactics, show strategy, and profile the players to show why they are the best in the world.
Yes, the USMNT didn’t make it. But we will see the best soccer and hear some of the best stories this go ‘round.
That’s not a bad alternative, is it?