The World Cup is the greatest singular sporting event on the planet. No other tournament or championship comes even close in terms of sheer drama and excitement, except maybe the World Air Guitar Championships held in Finland every year.
Last night was a pretty good example of that. Especially if you're at all invested in freedom, sweet shades, fast cars, and burgers the size of your head, because the US men's national team played some really awful soccer for the better part of 90 minutes and still emerged victorious over a Ghanan team that had been the bane of their existence for the last two World Cups.
The US struck first with one of the fastest goals in World Cup history, with Clint "Deuce" Dempsey, one of six soccer players in the world who legitimately look like they might stab a dude, beautifully weaving his way through Ghana's defense for a score.
Then, after some key injuries (including Dempsey probably getting his nose broken after a kick to the face), the US side played like a drunk bald eagle flopping around and trying to protect a broken wing. For the next 80 minutes, Ghana rifled shot after shot at the goal, and thank zombie Abraham Lincoln that we've got one of the world's best goalies in Tim Howard or else the game might've gotten completely out of hand.
Ghana eventually scored the equalizing goal, because a good comeback story is only good if there's an actual comeback involved, and then little regarded US substitute John Brooks snatched a 2-1 victory from the jaws of a tie with a terrific header off a corner kick in the 86th minute. Cue yelling, hugging, crying, people pretending to blow imaginary vuvuzelas, etc.
So far this has been an incredible World Cup in terms of games played, with some nail-biting drama, stunning upsets, and incredible shows of dominance. No matter what your overall familiarity with soccer might be, even for the casual fan there has been a ton to offer. And guess what? As a presumed Ohio State football fan, you (yes YOU) are better prepared for World Cup than maybe anyone on the planet.
Okay, that's a blatant exaggeration, but you are most assuredly better prepared than the average SEC fan. Here's why.
You Survived Tresselball
I loved Jim Tressel, you loved Jim Tressel, we all loved Jim Tressel. But let's not pretend that his style of football was anything but a coldly calculated slog of anxiety-riddled math, with the intended outcome being the square root of no turnovers plus the coefficient of clock control. It was often incredibly hard to watch, and the Ohio State fans that didn't die from the stress of watching a team gingerly protect a four point lead for three quarters only became stronger for having lived through it.
Well, welcome to the World Cup! If there is one college football fanbase that has been mentally prepared for low scoring games where both teams spend the better part of an hour and a half playing not to lose, it is Buckeye fans.
Hang On Sloppy
I think at some point Ohio State fans are going to have to acknowledge that we genuinely hate efficiency and perfect play. Think about it: who have been the most popular offensive players in OSU football history? Chic Harley through Archie through Ted Ginn through Braxton Miller, all of these dudes have been staccato improvisers, pulling insanity out of their back pocket at will. Brady-esque robotic precision doesn't really fly with us, and I love that.
Well, welcome to US men's soccer! The western European (and Brazillian, I guess) obsession with the "beautiful game" basically means that you not only try to win, you try to win as sexily as possible. Ohio State fans know that's a load of crap. I once bought a ticket for and sat and watched in sheer awe at a game that Ohio State won 22-14 on the strength of five evenly spaced out field goals and a whole lot of nothing else. IT WAS AWESOME.
That's how the US plays soccer. Grace, beauty? Feh. A USMNT cares not for such things. I think a Buckeye fan can get behind that.
I've given up hope of Ohio State football fans ever developing any kind of cool, Euro League-esque chants or songs or anything more organized than the first six notes of Seven Nation Army repeated over and over. But that's okay too, because the World Cup changes the metric on which sporting enthusiasm is based! Organization is for wimps on the world stage, and the fact that Ohio State fans are pretty much only capable of white noise for hours on end is actually perfect for what you want to accomplish in the world's most important sporting tournament.
Remember when we tried to tell fans to show up in scarlet and gray to strip Ohio Stadium? Of course you don't, because it was a miserable failure. But we were loud anyway, because that's all we know. I mean, yeah, I'd love to a capella Build Me Up Buttercup sometime, but truthfully no one does loud gibberish better than OSU fans.
Which is perfect for the World Cup.
Here's the thing: soccer often gets a bad rap in America, particularly from football fans. As a massive fan of both, I obviously think that's absurd. Both sports are capable of moments of excitement and inspiration and insanity on a level that you typically don't see in real life without the police getting involved. That's special, and true sports fans of any stripe can look at an event and appreciate it on the level of a John Brooks pulling a victory rabbit out of his hat at the last second.
If you haven't already, Buckeye fans, I beg that you check out the World Cup. Not just out of a sense of national pride, but because you have all the tools to enjoy it already, even if you don't know it yet.