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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Looking for a party with some kick? Tonight’s the night

Have you gotten your invitation to tonight’s party, the biggest in the world?

I know you’re invited. We all are. Appetizers are around 5:30 p.m., and the main course, the United States vs. Portugal, at 6.

Delicious.

Many of you are not hungry for the World Cup, even after our national team opened with a 2-1 victory over Ghana on Monday night.

I don’t understand.

I don’t understand why talk radio hosts declare that these athletes are not athletes at all, which is utter nonsense and just plain stupid.

I don’t understand why sports fans don’t appreciate what these guys do. The passing, covering long stretches of field, is crisper than anything we saw recently by the Miami Heat.

The shots are jet propelled, spotted toward the goal like a pitcher with masterful control. And the goalies fly like kites with no tails, up, down, side to side, changing direction in an instant, reaching heights and blocking shots that seem destined for the back of the net.

So what’s the problem? Why do so many American sports fans scoff at the World Cup, as though the players are playing checkers, as though paint is drying?

Is it because, like some exotic foods, it’s not ingrained in our culture, so we don’t appreciate what the rest of the world sees? Is it because we didn’t invent soccer, so we’re a bit closed to embracing it?

Is it because there are no sticks or bats used, no hand-eye coordination needed, no high-scoring games to keep our interest?

Is it because the rest of the world calls it football, and football to us means Tom Brady and the NFL and nothing else, ever?

Okay, admittedly I don’t watch soccer year-round. I know a guy named Pele once scored a lot of goals for Brazil, and, more recently, a British guy named David Beckham married a Spice Girl named Posh Spice.

Like many of you, I’m not interested in this sport – any sport, really – when it’s not played by the best players in the world. With soccer, that can mean the offensive flow is disjointed, the passing not able to consistently connect the dots.

But these are, indeed, the best players in the world. The superior level of play is unmistakable, even to someone like me. The give and go action, the corner kicks to traffic in front of the net, the incredible energy needed to create offensive opportunities, all combine to form great athletic theater.

And if the United States ever wins a World Cup title, something it’s never done before, watch out.

Not likely to happen in our lifetime, you say? Perhaps not. A waste of time to believe it’s possible? Perhaps so.

But no one thought the U.S. hockey team could win Olympic gold in 1980, when we shocked the Soviets and turned the sports world upside down.

And no one thought James Buster Douglas could beat Iron Mike Tyson to win the heavyweight boxing championship of the world in 1990, when Tyson was viewed as indestructible.

Sports history is littered with victims of overconfidence, cockiness and arrogance. Just ask Spain.

Conversely, we’ve sometimes seen underdogs who believed in themselves, when no one else did.

And after the win over favored Ghana, why not dream and follow along, just in case history sits on the horizon? Then you’d be in on the ground floor.

We have a chance to move to the next phase, something called the knockout stage, an elimination format for the 16 surviving teams that, I admit, I had to Google to make sure I had the name right.

But I know this much: If we win tonight, we advance, no matter what happens in our game later against Germany.

Maybe we can use the momentum from our win over Ghana to beat Portugal. Maybe we can smother Cristiano Ronaldo, named 2013’s world player of the year.

In our first game, Clint Dempsey booted one home in the first minute of play. Was that an omen, a sign of things to come?

And John Brooks, just 21 years old and making his competitive debut for the U.S., headed in the winning goal in the 86th minute, after Ghana had tied the score just four minutes earlier.

Boring? Devoid of drama?

Are you serious?

So while I don’t know much about soccer, I’m going to the party tonight, the one you’ve been invited to as well. Maybe I’ll see you there.

I’ve just spent some time here trying to convince you that it’s worthwhile, and I hope I’ve reached at least a few of you.

That was, after all, my gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooal!

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

Related

Tim O’Sullivan: U.S. is in it to win it against Portugal

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The United States took the first step it needed to take at the World Cup. Now, can the Americans take the second? It’s a doozy. The U.S. scored early, scored late and hung on in between in its opening 2-1 victory against Ghana on Monday. It may have been ugly, but at least it wasn’t as ugly as the 4-0 … 0

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