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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on USYouthSoccer.org every Monday.  A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom". 

 

Spectating

Susan Boyd

With the World Cup in the rearview mirror, we here in Milwaukee witnessed something amazing Wednesday night:  the first-ever professional soccer match in our burg at Miller Park. Swansea City and Chivas Guadalajara came to Beer City to play their friendly in front of nearly 32,000 soccer fans. The build-up to the contest included watching the transformation of a baseball field to a soccer field, which started on the first base line and extended to left field. The grounds crew removed the pitcher’s mound and installed sod along the baselines and in a huge crescent around the bases. Other than a difference in color, the pitch had a smooth, elegant appearance. The length was 120 yards but the width was only 66. News media climbed on board the soccer train and rode it to the end with dozens of stories and interviews leading up to the match. Fans were invited to watch the teams practice for free. Milwaukee’s formidable Hispanic population turned out to support what is Mexico’s premier professional team. The stadium was awash in the reds and blues of Chivas, the greens of Mexico’s national team, and the whites of Swansea City. It was an incredible atmosphere and the game did not disappoint. Swansea City scored in the 58th minute but could not hold on after losing two players – one to a red card and one to an unexplained reason. Chivas lost a player to a red card in the same incident as Swansea for shoving. Despite a strong defensive showing, a Swansea player was charged with pulling a Chivas player down in the box, and the penalty kick in the 87th minute provided a tie, which held through the end of play.

It seemed fitting that a friendly ended in a tie, although none of the players looked like they were comfortable with the outcome. I know the Chivas fans were relieved. The match got chippy as it progressed as evidenced by the double red cards in the second half. However, the play proceeded at a high caliber with a great show of team tactics and individual skills. Any soccer fan would have been delighted by the evening. 

The most significant aspect of the event for me was the number of young fans throughout the stadium. Dozens of cameras scanning the stands before the game and during halftime revealed thousands of youngsters dancing and smiling on the jumbo screen. I would estimate that at least 50 percent of the attendees were kids. These youth fans represent the growing influence of soccer and participation in the sport. Tickets went on sale in February and the majority were purchased in the first few days they were offered. Therefore, the World Cup effect probably wasn’t a huge factor. Instead, it had to be the growing interest and involvement of youth players that drove sales. I actually bought six tickets and my sons and their friends took all of those, so I had to buy two more for my husband and me! Soccer clubs bought blocks of tickets for their players. Young fans cleaned out Milwaukee’s entire stock of Chivas jerseys, scarves and T-shirts. The overall economic effect on the city was tremendous to include sales of soccer-related items, hotels and restaurant visits for out-of-town visitors, even museum attendances were up. Fans were represented by nearly 30 states and many of those long-distance fans were young.   

The local NBC affiliate interviewed six people before the game and four of those were under age 13.  Their comments included “this will set the stage for more soccer in Milwaukee” and “as long as professional soccer comes here, I’ll keep coming and so will all my friends.” That’s some pretty sophisticated analysis from pint-sized fans, but it does represent the deep passion youth players have for the game. In the section I was sitting in, there were six youth players behind me and two next me. Despite Swansea not being significantly followed on the world stage, many of the kids knew who the players were and helped out the adults in identifying their strengths and histories. I admit I learned a lot eavesdropping. I’d even take the position that between the growth of soccer in the States and the influence of the World Cup, we’ve seen the kind of youth interest that we see in basketball and football. In fact, the 26.5 million American viewers for the World Cup final is a larger audience than last year’s deciding game in the World Series (19.2 million), the NBA final game (18.0 million), and this January’s BCS Championship game (25.6 million), according to Variety. Those are amazing and heartening statistics and help explain why NBC, Fox and ESPN have made such a huge investment in airing international and domestic football in the United States.

When the World Cup ended, Bryce opined that it was back to watching the MLS — not as a slur on our American soccer option but bemoaning the hole in the soccer experience that won’t be around for another four years. The English Premier League begins again in August, and all of its games are now broadcast in the United States thanks to NBC Sports. The Women’s World Cup will fill part of the void in 2015. America has also seen the expansion of minor leagues such as the North American Soccer League (NASL), Professional Development League (PDL), Professional Arena Soccer League (PASL indoor), and several futsol organizations, including the National Futsol Team that trains in Milwaukee. All of these professional and semi-professional opportunities will need young players both as fans and participants to remain viable. Additionally, college soccer has received more media coverage during the season for both men and women and for the College Cup. 

I continue to encourage families to find soccer games in their area to attend, whether it be professional, college or high school. Kids need the role models that players in these arenas offer to keep them motivated about the sport. Additionally, the best soccer players are students of the game. Discovering various tactical formations while watching a match can provide a great backdrop for all the explanations coaches try to make during practices. Following competitors who play the same position as a youth player can help that player understand how to perform both on and off the ball. Although tickets to Wednesday night’s Swansea City-Chivas match ran $24 to $70, fans don’t need to spend that kind of money to enjoy an evening at a soccer game. Most college and high school tickets are under $5 each, making it an inexpensive and educational experience for the family, the team or the club. Most semi-pro teams have many ticket specials for families and club that make the average cost around $10 a seat. At today’s inflated prices for movies, most soccer games are a bargain entertainment experience. Next Friday we will return to Miller Park to see the Brewers and our seats will be $34 a person. We can’t afford to attend Packer or Bucks games. Soccer as an emerging sport in America is still an affordable option for family fun.

When you travel for tournaments or family vacations, look up soccer matches at your destination. Being able to see the level of skill in different geographical locations helps when assessing your own child’s abilities. We can get tunnel vision when we just watch our kids’ youth games against local competition. The more exposure we can get to the sport, the more we and our kids can observe the various levels of soccer around the country. Attending college games on our travels can also reveal some options for them as they contemplate where to attend school. The choice doesn’t need to be dependent upon soccer. We can visit the campus, talk to students at the games, and check out the library, student union and housing. Soccer can be the excuse to make some educational discoveries with our children. Getting recruited to a university is really just one small piece of the puzzle in making an informed choice for the future. Having the opportunity to check out schools early in the selection process can really help in managing the options and narrowing their choices. In the meantime everyone will benefit by enjoying some great soccer.

We are inundated with family entertainment picks, ranging within movies, sports, fairs, amusement parks, music and comedy performers, plays, and travel. These can end up being very expensive activities. If your children have a passion for the game, then going to soccer matches at any level can feed that passion and help with playing improvement. At the very least, check out the variety of matches now offered on TV. If you can’t afford a seat in a stadium, then plop down on your comfortable couch and share a televised game with your child.

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Dog Days

Susan Boyd

When this blog is posted we’ll be half-way through July. Last time I looked, that was summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Yet with all the rain, low temperatures, dark days and strong winds, it seems more like mid-autumn. I’m sure in a month’s time, I’ll be wishing for less heat and humidity, but for now I can’t help but hope that real summer decides to burst onto the scene. In the firm belief that we’ll soon be experiencing consistent heat and sun, I have a few suggestions to help families survive the summer tournaments and practices. Perhaps you’ll even be able to use these deep into autumn! I don’t mind the seasons shifting; I just want them to fully appear.             

Finding foods that provide adequate nutrition without overfilling a young athlete’s tummy can be difficult. Our kids need good energy that doesn’t weigh them down, especially on hot days. Happy Family Organic Superfoods (happyfamilybrands.com) has a complete line of products that begin with babies and go through to adults. The kids and adult offerings range from a quick energy snack of dried fruit and veggie chips to vitamin infused drinks and yogurt. The manufacturer addresses issues such as allergies and nutritional needs to create products that are easy to pack in a cooler and pull out when needed. These can be bought on line at their website or at stores such as Whole Foods, Publix, Target, Walgreens and Meijer. They also have a nutritional shake, which is perfect to have an hour before a game or practice. If you’re the snack parent for the team, their individual snack packs are perfect for avoiding allergy concerns. I’ve been a big fan of Capri Sun pouches because I can freeze them, pop them in the cooler, and have an ice cold quencher for after the game for the kids. Most juice boxes are so full that if they freeze they explode. So I love the fact that the pouches not only freeze but add to the “cooling” effect of my bag.  Even if I don’t have an insulated carrier, the pouches stay cold for several hours if not exposed to direct sun.              

If you’re looking for a good insulated bag in which to store your eats and drinks, there are several options that I have found to be excellent. The main thing I hate is when ice melts and the bag leaks. Puddles on the floor of my car, damp blankets, and dripping bags I have to carry back to the car aren’t my idea of convenience. Maranda Enterprises (marandaenterprises.com) has two choices to avoid the drip, drip, drip of leaking carriers. They have coolers that are lined with “cubes” of plastic pouches filled with distilled water. The bags unzip and fold into a flat pack that can be placed in your freezer. Once frozen, the bags can be zipped up and filled with your goodies. The interior has a reflective lining that helps retain the cold for about eight hours depending on how much they are exposed to sun. They come in multiple sizes and have a carrying strap. If you don’t want to take up freezer space with the folded cooler, they also offer the sheets of “ice cubes” on their own to freeze. These are a great option if you already have a cooling bag you love, but don’t want melted ice soaking the products left in the bag. Even more conveniently, the sheets come in full and half sheets so you can select what works best for your needs. And if that’s not perfect enough, you can cut the sheets to fit. A win-win the entire way. The other nice thing about the sheets is that they are flexible so can be wrapped around any item or surface you choose. Outdoor Active Gear (outdooractivegear.com) has a backpack cooler that holds 20 cans and has a heat-seal liner that guarantees no leaks. The backpack style leaves your hands free to cart those chairs and clothes bags around. Using the freezer sheets in this cooler would insure no leaks as well. All of these products can also be ordered directly from the manufacturers or on Amazon.

Once you get to the fields, you know that you are at the mercy of the blazing sun. Shade trees don’t exist anywhere near the field. We can resort to our rain umbrellas, but then we have to hold them, and they aren’t made for blocking out the UV rays that are so dangerous. Maranda Enterprises has a free standing umbrella that blocks out more than 90% of UV. Given the rise in skin cancers in recent years, this protection is significant. The unit comes in two pieces — the stand and the umbrella — which fit in a carry bag the same size as any sports chair you have. The tripod stand is very steady, even in moderate winds, but comes with stakes to hold it down if the wind is strong. Unfortunately, sometimes the summer droughts leave the soil too dry to push a stake through, but I found that sliding the legs of the tripod under my chair steadies it. The umbrella can rise up to eight feet tall casting a wide shadow that protects up to three chairs, but on windy days I recommend keeping it lower despite its excellent wind design. It can also be tilted to further help in sun blockage. Two cup holders are provided to hook onto the stand as well as two additional “J” hooks to hold towels, jerseys, and light bags. Further versatility comes with a corkscrew on the end of the umbrella post so it can be driven into the sand at the beach.  At the end of July a special limited edition in pink of the Wondershade will be offered with proceeds to help fund the fight against breast cancer. Otherwise, it comes in red and blue. You can order directly from the manufacturer’s website or from Amazon.             

The chair you choose for sideline viewing can really affect how much you enjoy the event. Many chairs don’t offer the back support we need and can cut off circulation under the legs. If the canvas doesn’t breathe adequately, you may end up sitting in a sweaty wet seat. Coleman (coleman.com) has the Comfortsmart Suspension chair, which is mesh on an aluminum frame designed like a regular chair rather than a sling. The mesh allows for cool air to blow on your back. It has a carrying case and a cup holder. Brylanehome Camp Chair with Canopy (brylanehome.com) fits the regular sports chair category, but has a full canopy over it for shade. It is not coated, so only provides shade not UV protection. It has side “windows” which can be opened or closed at your discretion for a wider view or for breezes. Ming’s Mark (mingsmark.com) has a marine chair that has great back support and a padded head rest. It doesn’t have a cup holder but has solid armrests for comfort. It folds up like a lawn chair and weighs 9 pounds. All of these chairs can be bought directly from the manufacturers or from Amazon.              

If you want to stay really cool especially when having to remain on tournament grounds for several hours there are some great devices and products for you. Water bottle fans really do provide great cooling using battery power. ShiningTek has a handheld cooler that can be powered by USB or AAA batteries. Its slick design makes it easy to use. Cool on the Go has a model that is hands free, but costs twice as much. However, it will clip on a stroller which is nice for our little ones who have to accompany us out in the heat to watch big brother or sister compete. O2 Cool Necklace Fan has a band that goes around your neck and sets the fan unit on your chest to blow up into your face. It can be a bit intrusive, but is hands free, which is a plus. Cool Off Citrus Ice Towelettes are a quick fix that can lower skin temperature 12 degrees for 60 minutes when rubbed on and come in packs of 12. For longer lasting heat relief, several brands of cooling cloths are available, all out of the same material, so you should go for lowest cost. Frogg Toggs Chilly Pad, Chill-Its Cooling Pad, and Coregear Chiller Evaporative Towel all offer the same benefits with a PVA cloth that retains water.  You simply snap it occasionally to refresh the cool and place it around your neck, stomach, or wrist to get the cooling effect. All of the products mentioned are best purchased at Amazon rather than their websites because many of these sites are in Chinese, so they are a bit difficult to navigate.              

Should true summer ever arrive, you’ll be glad you invested in some of these products. Costs for the chairs are around $40 to $60, the cooler bags run in the $20 to $40 range, and the umbrella is $40 to $50 depending on the web site. The ice cube packs are $7 to $15 depending on the size. The fans are in the $17-35 range and the cloths can be as inexpensive as $5. So the options for having a great summer at the field are numerous and affordable. The food items vary in price but most individual organic products cost around $3-5 and drink packs of 10 cost about the same. I highly recommend the organic foods, Capri Sun, and the umbrella as a wonderful triumvirate to conquer heat and hunger, but anything you can do to reduce the discomforts and step up the enjoyment will make the season not only tolerable but memorable.

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Arrested Development

Susan Boyd

The World Cup celebrates some of the loftiest ideals in sport. Countries that have long traditions of distrust meet each other on the field and play with dignity and poise, shaking hands and exchanging jerseys when the battle is over. It helps that many opposing players in the World Cup are teammates on professional teams before and after the event, so strong connections are already established. We expect to see the highest level of decorum, and referees have been directed to issue cards for dissent. When Cristiano Ronaldo was called offside during the U.S. – Portugal game, he shrugged his shoulders and with a wry pinch gesture indicated that it couldn’t have been by much. Even though Portugal needed a win with its back up against the wall, Ronaldo kept his cool. We’ve seen a few meltdowns, but for the most part the matches have only seen cards for rough play, which has always been a part of the game.  Even Clint Dempsey, who was kicked in the face during the U.S. – Ghana match, agreed that it happened because of the zeal of a player to control the ball in the frenzy of a game with tremendous importance. The wounded have populated the pitch like an episode of the Walking Dead. Yet players and fans accept these injuries as part of the game. Well, almost every injury.            

During the Uruguay – Italy match, Luis Suarez, for no apparent reason and away from the ball, bit the shoulder of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini. No card was issued, and a livid Chiellini pulled down his jersey neckline to reveal clear bite marks on his left shoulder. The event was bizarre to say the least, made even more inexplicable because this is the third biting incident involving Suarez, who has served a seven game ban in 2010 and a 10 game ban in 2013. His vampire antics last week have cost him dearly with a ban from his next nine international matches and a four-month suspension on top of that. My youngest daughter bit her nursery school classmates and nearly got expelled. Luckily, we were able to squash the behavior in the nick of time. When two of my grandsons were just 17 months and 14 months old sharing some happy moments on the living room floor, the tranquility was broken when the older suddenly leaned over and bit his cousin on the back totally unprovoked. I think the collective gasp of “no” scared him straight because it never happened again. We expect our kids to have these incidents as either the instigator or the victim, but we also expect the episodes to end before they learn to read. We don’t imagine we’ll see a major player in the soccer world still learning to control his jaws at age 27.             

Social media exploded with parodies, nasty comments, name-calling, and arm-chair analysis. News organizations weren’t sure what tone to take reporting the story. Laughable? Serious? Incredulous? ESPN commentators could barely talk about the game, which Uruguay eventually won, because the behavior of one player overshadowed his team’s success. Ruud Van Nistelroy, the former Dutch national player, stammered his words and shook his head in disbelief while describing his disappointment. Clearly he couldn’t fit his mind around the assault. His anger at Suarez was barely contained in describing how this stain affected a world-wide audience of youth players. He argued that Suarez needed to adhere to a higher standard as a role model in the sport. He wondered how we tell our young people to practice decorum and good sportsmanship when they see boorish and dangerous behavior at matches. Kids do pay attention to and model our actions.             

I’ve been at youth games and have seen some disturbing conduct: Players punched in the stomach, tripped during the handshakes, and verbally and racially abused, along with temper tantrums, insubordination to the referees, taunting and attacking parents on the sidelines, and refusing to play. No wonder Ruud was worried. As well he should be because all of these incidents were perpetrated by adults, not youth players. I’ll never forget talking to fellow parents following a U-10 game and having a set of keys whizz past my face and smack into the parent next to me. Our team had won the game, and the opposing coach thought we had cheated, so in a tantrum, impulsively and regrettably attacked us with the only weapon he had. At a tournament, Robbie’s coach, so frustrated with the refereeing, called his team off the field and forfeited the match. This was in Florida, and we had traveled at great expense from Wisconsin to the tourney. Besides the embarrassment of being connected to the team who quit, there were the economic ramifications. I know how powerful the drug of winning can be, morphing a reasonable person into a pouting, shouting monster. But adults are supposed to be emotionally developed enough to avoid such immaturity. Just as my daughter and grandson acquired the self-restraint to stop biting, grown-ups (implying we’ve reached the pinnacle of maturity) should be able to control impetuous bad behaviors.            

The administering of past bans on playing and the threat of a worse ban didn’t seem to be sufficient to thwart Suarez’ actions. That’s the most difficult thing to understand. His bite wasn’t done as retaliation, defense or control. It was a visceral, nearly primitive outburst. He targeted and went after the guy. Why he would risk his career and reputation to lash out in this way has to be what truly befuddled Van Nistelroy. I feel the same befuddlement when I witness adults in youth sports behaving badly. For example, a mother marched onto the field in the middle of a U-6 game to poke the 12-year-old referee in the chest while verbally badgering him. His crime? Not calling a foul that affected her child. She wouldn’t relent in her attack, which went on for 15 or 20 minutes. In the end, the police were called and she was charged with assault. Those of us who witnessed the debacle could only shake our heads as she was led away handcuffed. Apparently her sense of fairness had been abused to the point of clouding rational thought. I can’t figure out how any of it was worth it. Her daughter was left sobbing uncontrollably as she watched the police arrest her mother on a lovely spring day that should have been joyful. The lesson is that we need to rise above our own petty insults during any match and control our reactions. It really shouldn’t be that difficult — we tell our kids to count to 10, and we should take our own advice.               

I love watching the World Cup because usually I can see exciting soccer played aggressively, yet decently. I groan during mistakes, cheer for exemplary play, and bite my nails as the clock ticks down. Despite a 1-0 loss to Germany, the U.S. managed to make it to the round of 16, thanks to Portugal’s defeat of Ghana. It was the least Portugal could do after scoring a last minute goal against us to tie the game. Instead of clear advancement, we were in the dizzying world of statistical analysis with dozens of scenarios depending on confusing variables controlling our fate. In the end, it all worked out. Uruguay also advanced, but without the assistance of Suarez it fell in the Round of 16. By his immature actions he let his national teammates down in their most important soccer contest. Rather than remembering a hard fought march to the Round of 16, Uruguay will be remembered as the team with the biting guy. None of us demand nobility from soccer adults, but we do expect normal controlled behavior. Whenever we feel the urge to lash out at a match, we should step back, take a deep breath, look at all the young eyes that are watching us and tell ourselves we’re better than that.

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World Cup by the Numbers

Susan Boyd

When this blog is posted we will have completed 11 days of the World Cup and the end of the second round of group play. Some fascinating facts have already emerged promising new amazing statistical memories.  The U.S. finally beat Ghana, 2-1, in their third encounter in as many World Cups.  Previously, Ghana had been the spoiler to the U.S. team’s dream of the finals defeating our team ironically 2-1 each time.  Our first match win included the fifth fastest goal in World Cup history at the 32 second mark by Clint Dempsey, and John Brooks, a substitute, became one of the youngest US players to score in a World Cup game.              

All the excitement over the month-long tournament translates into significant viewership.  Records have been set both around the world and especially in the United States. What feeds the uptick in viewership is both a growing interest in the sport and options in television and streaming video.  ESPN and Univision broadcast all the World Cup games and the Watch ESPN app allows for viewing on the go.  We were at a soccer tournament last weekend, but got to see every game thanks to the stream.  The numbers are encouraging.  ESPN had 11.1 million viewers for the US-Ghana game and Univision (and sister stations) had 4.8 million viewers for nearly 16 million total.  Adding to that number were 1.4 million on the Watch ESPN app and 1.7 million on Univision’s stream.  ESPN is up 23 percent over the 2010 World Cup and Univision is up an amazing 48 percent.               

Monday’s match between U.S. and Ghana compares favorably with many of the concurrent sporting events.  The Stanley Cup finals on the previous Friday had just 6 million tuning in.  Sunday the NBA final between San Antonio and Miami attracted 17.9 million viewers.  Soccer has a way to go before eclipsing American football.  However consider that the average television audience for the Jets - Giants NFL game last year was a 14.1 share in New York City compared to that city’s 14.4 share for the US – Ghana game.  In 2013 the NFL averaged 17.6 million viewers per televised game, which nearly parallels the audience for the US – Ghana match.  Of course several games are offered on any given weekend day, so total audience could be three or four times that amount.  However if we look at the average U.S. audience for all World Cup games thus far, we are near the 5 million mark.  The Super Bowl drew 111 million US fans, while the 2010 World Cup finals had 24 million American viewers.  If this year’s numbers hold up, this World Cup final promises to have an even bigger U.S. audience.  World-wide it’s expected that this year’s World Cup finals will have over 800 million fans watching.              

Controversy over the costs of hosting a World Cup became particularly acute for this contest because of the displacement of many impoverished Brazilians, not to mention the construction of stadiums in locales where they will never be fully utilized again.  Stadium construction and upgrades cost over $3.5 billion with the additional costs of infrastructure, security, housing, transportation, and media soaring to over $14 billion.  Sadly much of the promised projects which would have improved the quality of life in the long term for the cities hosting matches have not materialized.  Tram lines, highway improvements, and links between city transportation and national transportation were canceled.  Manaus, a city deep in the Amazon, cannot be reached by roads.  The citizens had hoped that some of their isolation would be mitigated by infrastructure improvements, instead they have a gigantic stadium which no local team would ever fill.  To be fair, Brazil is also hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics, so many of these expenses cover that event as well.  But Brazilians complain that hospitals don’t have beds, schools are short on supplies and books, highways are inadequate for traffic, and public transportation is spotty and expensive. They argue that money should be spent there rather than for “monuments” which will never be properly enjoyed.  Additionally citizens complain that the money doesn’t stay in Brazil but gets funneled into FIFA’s coffers, and the jobs that preparations supported will be gone in July.  These staggering costs would probably not be true should the US ever host since we have been actively building soccer-specific stadiums and our American football stadiums could easily accommodate games in the summer when football is on hiatus.  Nevertheless, Brazil highlights the argument that people need to be careful of what they wish for.              

Speaking of costs, what does it cost to attend the World Cup? “Plenty” is the answer. Package deals were probably the best way to go because they provided airport transfers, travel around the country to various host cities, meals, rooms, and, of course, tickets.  You could purchase packages to follow a team throughout group play, packages for a particular host city, packages for the round of 16, packages for the quarter- and semi-finals, packages for the final game, and any combination of these.  The least expensive would be for a particular host city since there would not be added transportation around a country as huge as Brazil, but even these went for around $3500 to $5000 a person.  Depending on the team country you wanted to follow the packages had a huge sliding scale with the US, Brazil, England, Spain, and the Netherlands commanding the highest prices starting at $6500 and climbing to $12,000.  Any one of the three tiers of finals cost dearly in the range of $10,000.   If you want a hotel room in Rio for the finals be prepared because most hotels are requiring a six to eight day stay at around $450 a night for a three-star hotel (on a scale of five).   No matter that only one of the four quarter-final matches on July 4th will be played in Rio and nothing again until the final on July 13.  If you wanted to take your chances on creating your own “package” count on $1,800 for airfare, $2,000 for the cheapest rooms for a week, tickets beginning at $90 if you were lucky enough to snag the ones off the FIFA website early and up to several thousand dollars for ticket brokers, and transportation to get to venues that are all at least 500 miles apart and some with a 2000 mile separation, and food, which will be the least of your expenses.           

How many fans will be paying these prices?  According to FIFA at the last World Cup in 2010 in South Africa nearly 3.2 million fans attended the 64 matches with an average of just over 49,000 per match.  These fans consumed 750,000 liters of beer and 390,000 hot dogs at the venues.  Over six million additional fans participated in viewing parties at 16 sanctioned sites around the world.  Those who had to watch from home had the benefit of 245 channels spread across 204 countries with a world-wide viewership of 715 million for the final match.  FIFA anticipates over 3 million at the Brazil tournament with over a half million coming from outside the country.  The US alone purchased 200,000 tickets for matches.  That number doesn’t include the thousands of US soccer fans who traveled to Brazil to watch the matches at viewing sites that don’t require tickets.

               

Every World Cup wouldn’t be complete without firsts and mosts that come up throughout the month.  Landon Donovan was hoping to be the first American male to play in four World Cups, but two players, Antonio Carbajal (Mexico) and Lothar Matthaus (Germany), have played in five World Cups. Brazil has played in every World Cup which began in 1930 and Brazilian Mario Zagallo holds the honor of being only one of two who have won the World Cup as both a player and a coach. Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer is the other. Brazil holds the most titles with five and national player Ronaldo (not to be confused with Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo) has the most goals, 15, in his World Cup career.   Germany has played in the most World Cup matches (100 as of their June 16 match vs. Portugal) and Brazil has the most World Cup goals (210).  The fastest goal ever scored was 11 seconds by Turkey’s Hakan Sukur in 2002 against South Korea.  In this tournament Spain set the dubious record of being the only reigning World Cup champion to be mathematically eliminated before playing its last group play match.   Only two World Cup finals have been decided by shoot-outs:  1994 when Brazil beat Italy and 2002 when Italy beat France. If you want to consider costs, the first team to withdraw from the World Cup because they couldn’t afford the entry fee was Sri Lanka in 1978. In 2002, the World Cup had the first (and only) cohosts with South Korea and Japan who were also the first Asian hosts.  Moreover, 2002 was the first time that the quarter-finals had teams from five continents:  Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America.  Brazil has finished in the top 16 in every single tournament.  Germany ties Brazil with the most top eight finishes with 16 each and with the most finals reached with seven each.  The difficulty of achieving a championship can be demonstrated with the fact that only two teams, Brazil and Italy, have consecutive wins with the streak ending at two.  Netherlands has the debatable honor of being the team with the most top two finishes (3) and never being champion.  Pele holds the record as the player with the most championships – three.  The only host team eliminated in group play was South Africa.  Germany just celebrated playing the most World Cup matches reaching 100 this week.

               

We use statistics to predict how a contest might be resolved. Yet what we see on paper doesn’t necessarily translate to the pitch.  Still it’s fun to learn what countries have traditionally done well, how the history of the game has evolved.  For example draw finals games before 1978 were simply replayed rather than decided with shoot-outs and FIFA used the drawing of lots to decide knockout round ties.  The strength of certain countries can’t be assured by past performances, as Spain has sadly learned.  Likewise the USA benefitted from an outcome which was not predicted based on our past matches with Ghana. We are witnessing the growth of soccer’s popularity in America as well as our admission into the brotherhood of world-class teams who have pedigrees we can’t ignore.  Whether you think of soccer as an exciting sport or a deeply significant, nearly religious experience, we have to admit that World Cup fever is worth contracting every four years if only for the chance to feel the thrill of victories, the heart-pounding tension of close games, and expectations that are either realized or dashed.  For a month, the world joins together to celebrate through battles that don’t end in lost territory, dangerous attacks, or casualties, unless of course you use these as an analogy to explain how the U.S. beat Ghana — we took over their field territory, we made successful attacks to come out victorious, while suffering the loss of Jozy Altidore and the injury of Clint Dempsey.  Still a skirmish like that provides a safe, exciting way to support our patriotism.

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