For those of us that care about it, U.S. Soccer is a cause. You cheer for your sports favorite team; you advocate for U.S. Soccer. It is not enough that you have fellow USMNT fans; you must convert those who resist your cause. Winning is important, but it's more than that. You must crossover. If you love U.S. Soccer, you demand that everyone loves it.
There are several reasons for this, but I think the main one is that, as I've written before, U.S. Soccer allows American sports fans their sole example in which their delusion that they are an underdog is actually true. U.S. Soccer is what Americans imagine ourselves to be: less skilled but determined, and, without question, on our way up. There are constant hints everywhere that ours is a nation, if not in decline, at least not ascendant; we've become the lumbering target rather than the sleek, hungry insurgent. In soccer, though, we can play that role: U.S. Soccer is on the rise, and it's so much more fun to cheer for a team on the rise than one that is merely trying to maintain.
And U.S. Soccer is on the rise, but in a delicate way. So much is going right, but it feels perilous, like one wrong move or one bad cycle could plunge the sport and team back down into sports irrelevance again. This is likely untrue; there is so much investment and corporate dedication to the team that the arrow should be pointing up no matter what happens in a particular year. (That's another reason Jurgen Klinsmann's contract was extended beyond this year's World Cup: No one wants the Group of Death to derail the ongoing overhaul, if the U.S. doesn't advance.) But the passion of U.S. Soccer zealots is roughly analogous to a fan of an up-and-coming indie rock band who just can't believe the rest of the world hasn't caught on, man. You want them to book that gig on Jimmy Fallon or Letterman or "SNL" so they can break through. It's another reason I've labeled current U.S. Soccer advocacy "hipster patriotism."
So we fellow hipster patriots suffered a blow yesterday from a predictable foe: FIFA. Our own Chuck Culpepper has documented the serious issues involving the 2022 World Cup, from terrifying labor woes to unsafe work conditions to delays in construction. But the number one problem facing the 2022 World Cup is that the World Cup takes place in the summer, and the summers in Qatar are hot. Like, unreasonably, don't-even-step-outside hot: In June and July, the temperature never goes under 99 degrees and is typically around 112. You can't play soccer in that. You can't really walk around in that.
This has been known for a while -- this has been known since Qatar existed, since before there was even a nation there, since there have been human beings able to detect heat -- but they hoped it wouldn't be a problem. 2022 Qatar bid chairman Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani has said, "We will have to take the help of technology to counter the harsh weather … a stadium with controlled temperature is the answer to the problem. We have other plans up our sleeves as well." Well, maybe the problem is that it's too hot in Qatar for sleeves, because those plans have fallen through. The buildings aren't ready. The temperatures are uncontrolled.
FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke confirmed many people's fears this morning when he told a radio station that the event, alas, will be moved to November and December, when Qatar's temperatures are in the mid-to-high 80s. (Which is still pretty hot.) There has been some pushback from FIFA to Valcke's comments, but less about their relevance or their necessity and more about whether FIFA has had the proper committee meetings to approve such a move, a very FIFA complaint. It looks like it's going to be a Winter World Cup.
This is a mess across the world, not just in America; the whole soccer schedule is constructed to avoid the World Cup. (The Premier League may have to do an NHL-esque mid-season stop.) But it's particularly damaging to us U.S. Soccer nerds, who may be spoiled with the very time-zone friendly games in Brazil this June.
One of the keys to the World Cup's success here is that it has an essentially open sporting calendar: All that's standing in its way in June and July is midseason baseball. But moving the Cup to November and December is the worst-case scenario. By then, the games will be broadcast by Fox, which, you might notice around those months, is a bit preoccupied by the NFL. We are a burgeoning soccer nation, but we are also a firmly established football one. Having the World Cup across the world, competing with football, is exactly how the World Cup gets buried.
Yes: 2022 is a long way away. But that's around the time these major investments in U.S. Soccer are supposed to be blossoming. The World Cup is the greatest sporting event on Earth, and someday it might be one of the greatest here. That is not going to happen if it's competing with football, at 3 am, on a network with other things to worry about. Someday soccer truly is going to break through here. For all the other problems it causes, moving the World Cup to winter makes it more likely that day is going to be an even longer wait than we could have expected. The hipster patriots are thwarted again.
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