On Sunday evening in the United States we had a huge game. We cared deeply. The rest of the world cared not a whit.
On Wednesday afternoon in Honduras the United States will have a huge game. We care maybe a whit. The rest of the world cares deeply, ultimately.
Sure, it's pompous and ludicrous to use the word "world" for some of our championships. But we love our games. And we don't love so much other people's games. We had to invent our own, either because we're rebels or because we felt too intimidated to challenge the others in theirs.
So sue us. (We have great lawyers.)
Yet here we go, off on the very-beaten path, into the final stage for the United States and five other nations to seek qualification for the biggest party in human history, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Six nations tussle at soccer through 2013. Three or maybe four will reach the most fascinating country on Earth two Junes hence. The process carries from Wednesday on into October.
The United States seeks an impressive seventh consecutive qualification for the exalted 32, meaning a largely oblivious nation that has not gone deprived since 1986, not bad for a young country still catching up to the world. A minority of us will concern ourselves with the vagaries of the Honduran, Costa Rican, Jamaican, Mexican and Panamanian teams. The coming months promise drama and angst and maybe even, if we're lucky, scorn and hostility and melodramatic handwringing.
It brings us to the world in a way in which we seldom interact with other nations except when we send forth luminaries such as Madonna. And when we see the world in swatches, we might just see how older societies cope.
At this moment in football (soccer), there's a gigantic, ongoing probe into match-fixing, spanning most of the known continents with the conspicuous exception of Antarctica, which must be feeling glum and omitted and incapable of successful match-fixing. This involves a 19-month investigation, 680 games, 150 international games, 380 European games. It involves World Cup qualifying games, European qualifying games, European Champions League qualifying games.
The only exception I can spot would be friendlies, which comes as a fantastic disappointment as I despise friendlies (and exhibitions of all kinds) for their waste of electricity and gasoline and human toil. I believe all friendlies and NFL exhibitions and college basketball exhibitions should be fixed out of spite. Spring-training games can stay on the off chance somebody brings a keg.
This match-fixing saga is yet another occasion in which you get to read unwittingly hilarious accounts, often in London-based newspapers, of how football (sorry again -- "soccer") has taken a black eye, an embarrassment, a dent, a bruise. Yeah, well, it has taken untold black eyes and dents and untold bruises yet still sails on as untouchable ocean liner. It supposedly took black eyes and dents and bruises with massive FIFA corruption unearthed in 2011, yet we have learned through time precisely what can damage soccer, and it is this:
At the same time, racism takes more idiotic turns, with Dutch fans toward the American Jozy Altidore last week or the vice president of AC Milan, Paolo Berlusconi, referencing Mario Balotelli this week in an attempt to match the towering clownishness of his brother, the former prime minister.
As American sports fans navigate a cloud of Lance Armstrong and Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun and deer antler velvet spray -- the last one especially tricky to inhale -- we can see how the people of the world roll eyes and move on and watch games.
So: The Honduran government has declared Wednesday a national holiday so that the eight million citizens, roughly the same population as the sole city of New York, might attend or watch the game against the U.S. Already the Hondurans have stashed away as hero the American Jonathan Bornstein, whose dramatic goal in 2009 against Costa Rica helped Honduras to its first World Cup in 28 years. This final-round opener with the United States has a mid-afternoon kick-off (4 p.m. ET, if you care to catch it), enabling local authorities to turn up the humidity dial.
Jurgen Klinsmann approaches his biggest stage thus far as United States manager. Dual citizen Timmy Chandler joins the U.S. squad rather than the superior German one. In Europe, the seasons carry on. In Asia, the cups carry on. In Africa, the Africa Cup of Nations has semifinals featuring Ghana and Nigeria but also Mali and Burkina Faso, their populations energized with the fresh verve.
All over the world, even if you're a global renegade insisting on prioritizing other sports, you just can't stop this stuff. Unless, of course, you're from Antarctica.