It has been said the 1975 World Series between the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Red Sox – featuring Carlton Fisk‘s Game 6 walk-off, 12th-inning, wave-it-fair home run over the left-field Green Monster in Boston’s Fenway Park – helped save baseball. The Reds won that Word Series in game 7, BTW. Not 20 years later, baseball shot itself in the foot with the 1994 player’s strike, and followed up by allowing the steroid era to begin in 1998. But every sport needs a signature moment like the `75 Series every once in a while to energize its old fan base and generate some new ones.
International football, soccer in America, got theirs yesterday at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar at the World Cup final between Argentina and defending champion France. In one of the great championship matches in any sport’s history, Argentina and France played to a heart-stopping 3-3 tie after 90 minutes of regular play, eight more in overage time, and 30 more of extra time. Twice Argentina was within scant minutes of hoisting the cup, only to see the French and it’s marvelous 23-year-old striker Kylian Mbappé somehow pull the maiden off the railroad tracks just in time to keep the match going.
It took six more penalty kicks before Argentina and its GOAT player, Lionel Messi, finally prevailed to take its third and his first World Cup title over perhaps-soon-to-be-GOAT, Kylian “Hat Trick” Mbappé and his French teammates. But the real winner was the game itself.
Not that Fútbol it isn’t already the most watched and most played sport in the world. But if that match doesn’t elevate soccer to a new station in America, nothing probably will.
Watching the slate of NFL games afterwards paled by comparison, though some, like the Cowboys vs. the Jaguars and the Raiders vs. the Patriots, were thrilling/stupid, as many always are.
Perhaps that’s not a fair comparison, as American football was only in regular season week 15, while the World Cup was playing a once-every-four-year final.
But soccer, the so-called “beautiful game”, has long been seen as having too few highlights and too few goals for an American audience. And too often, including in this match, the outcome comes down to penalty kicks to decide the issue, which have a 75% success rate – though France only managed 50% yesterday, which was their undoing.
In today’s smart-TV-era of sports viewing, I often just go to “watch key plays” rather than “watch from the beginning”. In both the NBA and the NFL, you’ll get anywhere from 35 to 55 key plays in a given game. For instance, yesterday’s Cowboys versus Jags game, which the Jags won in OT with a pick-six off Dak Prescott, had 39 key plays to view.
In a soccer match, you might get six or eight key plays. That’s it? Six highlight plays in an hour and a half game, which often ends in a nil-nil tie? I’m sorry, I’ve still got too much dopamine left in my brain that needs a fix for that to be satisfactory. That’s a little too nuanced for a Luddite like me.
Furthermore, just like in American distance running, American audiences don’t really have a home team that can compete on par with the best in the world.
You can see what having a home team contender does in countries like Argentina, Croatia, France, etc. They lose their collective minds! In America, we just trash the individual city that wins the Super Bowl or World Series or NBA finals. Nothing unites us all in our fandom.
In the round of 16 at the World Cup, the US men’s national team took on the Netherlands. The Dutch team dominated play, winning 2-0.
On the Dutch team, we saw the best athletes in the Netherlands who’ve been playing this game their whole lives compete against what have to be called second-level American athletes, men who grew up in a society that primarily develops American football, basketball, and baseball players – actually, fewer and fewer baseballers.
Yes, the players on the U.S. national team were excellent, no disrespect. But almost to a man, they were smaller and less skilled than their Dutch opponents. Against the Dutch, the American goal was “not leave here without a fight.“ The Dutch, on the other foot, were trying to win the whole damn thing (spoiler alert, they didn’t). Americans were happy to be in the knockout round.
World Athletics President Sebastian Coe is doing everything he can to increase interest in athletics heading toward the LA 2028 Olympics. FIFA head man Gianni Infantino just got his dream final in Qatar as the beautiful game heads to its next World Cup in the Americas in 2026. Let’s see if they take advantage of their match of the century. Even an American Luddite, like me, found it thrilling.