PRO SOCCER TALK | NBC SPORTSPST Select Team
Getty Images

2018 World Cup should bring hope for USA

1 Comment

Watching the 2018 World Cup in the United States of America this summer promised to be a torturous thing.

It has been anything but.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]  

With the U.S. not qualifying for a World Cup for the first time since 1986, many wondered if the general public, or even general sports fans, would take much notice. Would bars even open early? How exactly would a soccer lover get their fix?

How wrong they could have been.

Over the past few weeks I’ve traveled across the USA and the Caribbean, watching games in bars in New York City, sports books in huge casinos and airport lounges as small taverns in rural America opened early to air the games at the behest of gangs of middle-aged men and their kids and despite the initial reluctance of an ageing barman.

“Hey, are you showing the game?” was heard time and time again in cities all over the USA.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

Good news for the sport in the USA: the excitement and passion for the World Cup is still there, even if reports state that Fox’s viewing figures are down compared to 2014. With the time zone in Russia compared to Brazil far from favorable with early morning kick offs and, of course, the U.S. not being in the tournament, the numbers aren’t that bad. Plus, our Spanish language partners at Telemundo have had roaring success when it comes to viewers of their broadcasts and streams as it became the “biggest livestream sports event in Spanish-language history.”

But back to the actual scene on the ground in the USA and what it felt like to watch games with ordinary Americans who had no real affiliation to a particular nation, despite constant car commercials telling them to root for Germany because of the “frankfurter” or for Iceland to “help with the clap” or Switzerland because of a Swiss army knife.

Actually, scratch that, we all know that U.S. citizens have some loose affiliation to their ancestry roots because that’s just how it is. Germany. Mexico. England. Colombia. Peru. But it was about more than that. Plenty of those nations had huge numbers of fans cheering them on in watch parties such as the one organized by New York City FC of Major League Soccer at the Rockefeller Center in NYC. Not to mention at home or at the office.

Bars were often packed in plenty of the major U.S. cities come lunchtime as fans gathered to watch Mexico stun Germany, England squeeze past Colombia on penalty kicks or Belgium’s stunning comeback over Japan.

The 2018 World Cup delivered dramatic moments which were aired on local news and the fact it only had to contend with the relatively young MLB season meant plenty of the focus was on it. Drinks specials in bars ranged from a pint of Carling for England, Carlsberg for Denmark, Bitburger for Germany or a Kronenbourg for France, while flags were out, jerseys of teams were visible and in places like NYC, as expected, you could watch the games with fans of any nation playing to enhance your experience.

Whole U.S. cities didn’t come to a standstill this summer and they didn’t in 2014 either. But the World Cup was a huge part of summer life for millions of Americans. There’s no getting around that.

There’s also no getting around the fact that not having the U.S. at this World Cup was a missed opportunity to bring in new fans to the sport. That’s something the United States of America still desperately needs despite MLS expanding and TV audiences for European leagues growing year-on-year. Building a bigger fanbase off the back of extreme patriotism is something which has no doubt helped the stature of the game in the U.S. on a four-yearly basis in the past.

The “soccer growth” aspect has been the dark cloud swirling around the USMNT’s failure to qualify for this World Cup. I’ve spoken to the likes of USMNT stars Christian Pulisic and Danny Williams and others about what it meant that the U.S. wouldn’t be at the big dance.

“When I was just a kid watching the U.S. at the World Cup, that gave me so much inspiration, seeing my country and seeing people playing with the U.S. crest,” Pulisic said. “Seeing them compete at a World Cup inspired me so much. Missing out on that is going to be a big thing but that doesn’t mean it’s over for U.S. Soccer. We are still growing a lot and we will do everything we can to be at the next one.”

And even if they don’t qualify for the World Cup in Qatar in 2022, kids are still being inspired. The average American still screamed in wonderment when Nacer Chadli score Belgium’s last-gasp winner against Japan or Cristiano Ronaldo spanked home that free kick against Spain or Harry Kane headed home a stoppage time winner against Tunisia.

The soccer culture in the U.S. has got to a place where you can walk into sports bars and fans will have taken the morning off work to go and watch a meaningless England v Belgium group game and tell you about the club team they play on or their son will talk through his college season while wearing a Chivas jersey and a pair of Manchester United shorts. The soccer IQ of American fans can no longer be questioned.

People cared deeply about the World Cup this summer on American soil despite the U.S. not being there. I saw it with my own eyes. Day after day. In several different cities.

Bars were packed in Pittsburgh for Croatia v England. Airports in the Caribbean were full of Americans applauding when Mexico went 2-0 up vs. South Korea. People went to the sports book and put money on teams like Serbia and Senegal just to get in on the fun. Germany and Colombia fans packed bars every time they played.

To me, this summer brought great hope for the future of the game in this country. It is still not even close to reaching its potential. We all know that hosting the 2026 World Cup will be the true benchmark as to whether or not soccer is going to surge past mainstream American sports league such as the NHL, MLB and NFL.

There is a lot of work to do in the next eight years to even get close to that happening but it’s a possibility as 80 games will be played across the U.S., Mexico and Canada with 60 in the United States as the biggest World Cup tournament in history comes to American soil.

For me, this small tale from my summer spent in the U.S. sums up one of the many reasons why watching the World Cup Stateside filled me with great hope.

I was sat at lunch with over 25 members of my extended family just outside of Rochester, New York last week. A 10-year-old cousin shouted excitedly as the World Cup was casually discussed: “I can’t wait for the 2026 World Cup when the games come here and I can see it!” He will be 17 when that happens with games to be played nearby in New York City and Toronto. He is already inspired after watching the games this summer. He is already looking forward to the next two World Cups.

This World Cup wasn’t a complete failure for the sport in the USA. If anything it underlined just how much the game is growing. Seeing it up close, there is still plenty of momentum behind the game despite the scaremongering about the harm a World Cup without the U.S. would cause.

Even better news for U.S. fans: the World Cup is almost over. Let the road to 2022, and more importantly 2026, begin.

Ilkay Gundogan: ‘OK’ to award Liverpool Premier League title if season cancelled

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan believes that Liverpool have every right to be awarded the Premier League title if the the season were to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Liverpool, who haven’t lifted a top-flight title for 30 years, currently hold a 25-point lead over second-best City, and are two wins away from officially sealing the title.

“For me, that would be okay, yes,” Gundogan told German broadcaster ZDF, after being asked if Liverpool should be named champions if the season were to end early.

Despite believing that awarding Jurgen Klopp and company the title is the fair thing to do, the Germany international is concerned that the cancellation of the league will not only backfire on the top threshold teams but those on the bottom end of the table as well.

“You have to be fair as a sportsperson,” the 29-year-old said. “There are different opinions. For clubs who have had a very good season, it obviously wouldn’t be nice if it was cancelled now.”

“On the other hand, for clubs who aren’t doing as well and are maybe in the relegation places, an abandonment would obviously suit them.”

Gundogan added he’d be open to taking a wage-cut should City and other English clubs follow Juventus and Borussia Dortmund’s lead in asking players to trim their earnings in order to play non-playing staff.

Of course I think it’s okay, that goes without saying, [but] there’s been no discussion in England yet,” Gundogan said. “Perhaps that’s because the English clubs are a bit financially stronger than the clubs in Germany at the moment.

“I don’t know who has the final say in that decision. On the other hand, if a player says, ‘no, I don’t want that, I worked hard for it, I get my salary,’ then it can go in the opposite direction.

“For me personally, it would be okay but, to be honest, you have to be tolerant and if there are players who are against that, then that’s also an acceptable situation.

Harry Kane fails to rule out future Tottenham exit

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Harry Kane won’t rule out a future Tottenham exit, admitting that it largely depends on lifting silverware with his boyhood club.

Asked by Jamie Redknapp on an Instagram live session whether he would end his playing career at Spurs, the 26-year-old striker responded that it all depends on the “progress of the team” and added that he’s not the type of person to be somewhere just for the sake of being there.

In other words, he wants to win titles with Spurs, soon. If not, his days in north London may be numbered.

It’s one of those things, I couldn’t say yes, I couldn’t say no,” Kane told Redknapp on Sunday. “I love Spurs, I’ll always love Spurs. But it’s one of those things – I’ve always said if I don’t feel we’re progressing as a team or going in the right direction, then I’m not someone to just stay there for the sake of it.

“I’m an ambitious player, I want to improve, I want to get better, I want to become one of the top, top players,” he added. “It all depends on what happens as a team and how we progress as a team. So it’s not a definite I’m going to stay there forever – but it’s not a no either.”

Kane, along with his teammates at the time, got the short end of the stick under Mauricio Pochettino, losing a Champions League final and a League Cup final. The striker is aware that Spurs, top to bottom, have – and have had – the firepower to lift silverware but need the final push, which they may unlock under proven winner Jose Mourinho.

“We’ve been saying that for a couple of years now,” says Kane, “we have got a fantastic team but for one reason or another we haven’t been able to get the trophies that, when you look from the outside, we’ve got the team to get.”

“It’s a hard thing to take as a player. I want to win at everything I do so when we’re coming close and you don’t quite get there it’s hard to take and starts to build up. But from my point of view, and the team’s point of view, all you can do is do everything you can, give your best to win every game, to win trophies. For one reason or another, we haven’t quite got there yet.

“Next year, the gaffer now, it’ll be his first chance to really have a pre-season with the team and embed his values into the team and we’ll see what happens. Of course, I want to win, I want to win team trophies, I want to be doing it sooner rather than later. So we will have to see how it goes.”

Kane, who is third on Spurs’ all-time scoring list, is fond of Mourinho, a manager he grew up watching and respects. The strike admits they chat on a regular basis about soccer and a plethora of other subjects, but is aware that if Spurs want to reap all the benefits from having him onboard, the players will need to leave it all on the field.

“He came in and what you see is what you get,” Kane said. “He’s an honest guy – he’ll tell you if you’re doing things well or if you’re not. If he likes you he’ll tell you and if he doesn’t like you he’ll tell you.

“From my point of view, I have built a good relationship with him. We talk every few days or so, talk about all different things, talk about the team, when we were playing, what we can do, how we can improve.

“For me, it’s great to work under a manager like Jose. Obviously growing up, watching football, he was a big part of that. It’s another opportunity for me to work with one of the best managers in the world.

“I’m excited to see how that relationship unfolds and see what we can do on the pitch. So far he’s been great and I know he’s excited to put his stamp on the team when he gets his opportunity.

“When a manager like him comes in and you know he’s won everywhere, I’m sure he has no intentions to not do that at Spurs. From a player’s point of view we know we have a top, top manager, so it’s up to us to go out there and perform.”

What we love about West Ham United

West Ham United
IAN KINGTON/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

This week at ProSoccerTalk we will be detailing what we love about each Premier League club competing in the 2019-20 season and next up is Tottenham.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Each day we will release details on why who adore each team in particular as we remind ourselves just how awesome the PL is as we await its return following the suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This afternoon, we forge ahead with the Irons, the Hammers, the West Ham United Football Club.


The Bubbles: Let’s be honest here, “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” is one of the coolest song/gesture combinations in world football. The bubbles floating across the field as the Irons seek three points is *chef’s kiss.*

The Academy of Football: Current captain Mark Noble is the latest in a long line of celebrated footballers to come out of West Ham’s Academy. And there are some giants in there, including the subject of our next topic Sir Bobby Moore. West Ham has produced Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe, Paul Ince, Trevor Brooking, and Frank Lampard Senior and Junior.

West Ham United
Frank Lampard and Joe Cole (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

 

 

 

Sir Bobby Moore: Can you believe we’ve got a member of the Carolina Lightnin’ on this list? Obscure American soccer jokes aside, Mr. West Ham didn’t just captain the club but also the national team that won England’s only World Cup (West Ham legends Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters were also on the team). Moore is one of the greatest defenders of all-time, having played more than 500 times for West Ham in addition to his status as a centurion for the Three Lions. A Ballon d’Or runner-up in 1970, “Sir Bobby” was an absolute monster of the game. Plus, he was in “Escape to Victory.”

West Ham United
The Bobby Moore statue outside Wembley Stadium (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

Mark Noble: There’s something remarkable about everyman Mark Noble, and not because the 32-year-old finishes penalties like a surgeon and looks like the definitive everyman. Doesn’t he give hope to every average-built person on earth? Poor Mark is five appearances from 500 for his career, and will likely meet that milestone by the end of this season, presuming it comes! His 60 goals are seven shy of Carlton Cole’s modern West Ham standard of 67, while his 59 assists lap the field.

Noble (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Juventus players, staff set to sacrifice up to $100M in wages

Juventus
Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Juventus players and coaches have agreed to forego pay for March, April, May, and June to the tune of approximately $100 million.

The Old Lady has been hit internally by coronavirus, with players Paulo Dybala, Blaise Matuidi, and Daniele Rugani testing positive for COVID-19.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Italian football federation chief Gabriele Gravina has become a worldwide name during the COVID-19 crisis, and praised the move by Juve’s players and staff (via Football-Italia).

“The agreement reached by Juventus is an example for the whole system. I thank Giorgio Chiellini, his teammates and Maurizio Sarri because, in wake of the collaboration that the FIGC hopes to have in days, they placed general interests at the heart of their conversations with the club.

“Unity and solidarity in the world of football represent the first great response to the emergency we’re experiencing, and that risks becoming even more serious if we don’t resume playing soon. Only through the contribution of all the protagonists, each of them playing their part, will we make football stronger.”

More coronavirus news in soccer:

Powered by WordPress.com VIP