Ferris State University women's soccer head coach Andy McCaslin will be traveling to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. During his stay, he'll periodically share his thoughts and experiences on the competition, the culture and more. The first blog below was submitted as he boarded the plane in Miami this weekend to travel to Brazil.
The World Cup is here again. Every four years the world gets together and this year marks a return to Brazil for the tournament, the first time hosting the finals for the country since 1950. I'm in transit now to follow the United States group stage games and am excited to see the sites and experience the culture all while getting some valuable professional development along the way from watching the best teams in the world compete for one of the hardest trophies to win in all of sports. One of the things I'm most excited is sharing some of our experiences in Brazil.
The World Cup tournament is akin to the US Open in golf just on a global scale. Anyone can qualify. The qualification process for this tournament started in 2011 with the smaller nations and began for the US and other larger nations in 2012. This year's tournament features 32 of the top teams from 6 continents. Host Brazil was automatically in and the other 31 had to go through various gauntlets in qualifying of rigorous travel, hostile fans, and their day jobs. The players appearing in the World Cup this summer are all playing for their country, however they are professionals playing for other teams across the globe. FIFA, world soccer's governing body, has a calendar with international breaks where the countries can get together and play friendly matches, or various tournaments. National teams get together very infrequently and a coach has to fine tune tactics with the best group at their disposal in quick fashion.
For the US to qualify for Brazil, the Yanks had to play 16 games in 2012 and 2013 in our global region, CONCACAF. The other countries that qualified for this year's tournament from CONCACAF are Honduras, Costa Rica and Mexico. Back in December, the Yanks were drawn into Group G, which quickly became the "Group of Death", meaning the most difficult draw of the tournament, with soccer super powers Germany, Portugal, and the team that has knocked the US out of the last two tournaments, Ghana. At the time of the draw Germany was ranked 2nd, Portugal ranked 6th with arguably the world's best player Cristiano Ronaldo, and Ghana sat at 36th in the world rankings while the US sat at 13. Standout American Landon Donovan was quoted as saying, "It's the 'Group of Death' because we're in it."
If you're following along though, the lead up to this tournament has been all but smooth sailing for the Yanks. Much of the controversy started with the omission of Landon Donovan from the final 23 man rosters. America's German born head coach Jurgen Klinsmann led home country Germany to a World Cup semi-final appearance in 2006 and bagged two World Cup trophies as a player. Jozy Altidore, one of the players the American's need to be good and score goals, hadn't scored for his club or country since December until June 8. Another thing that caused quite a stir was when Klinsmann said that the US wasn't at the level to win the tournament and that it would take seven perfect games to win, and even then they may fall short.
That's obviously a very un-American thing to say, even though it may be true. It's like Butler or George Mason in the March Madness though. They're in, but only dream that they could actually win it. With those teams though, they start winning games and growing confidence and then who knows? The hope is the fun part. The hope is why I keep going to games and following this team, whoever is on the roster. For the hope. It's why I coach. For the chance to catch moments of greatness.
For fans watching on TV or who don't know where to see it, this is the easiest World Cup to follow yet. There are three or four games daily and they're all on ESPN, ESPN2, or ABC. If you can't catch them live ESPN is doing 90 minute studio segments after the last game recapping the action with highlights and all games can be streamed live on Watch ESPN either live or starting about an hour after the event finishes. The 32 teams are broken into eight groups of four playing a round robin format for the first three games and the teams with the two best records advance to the knockout rounds. There are plenty of places to find schedules and groupings, but ESPN.com has the TV rights so there is great coverage there.
This is my fourth World Cup. Each one has been different and that's what makes them great. For the teams and me it's about the soccer for sure. It's to hope that the US can defy some reason and advance from their group. I think that they can do it. I've said it since the draw in December, that if somehow the Americans can win the "Group of Death", it's a team that can go to the semi-final. From there who knows? If they can claim second it'd be a harder path and they'd likely go out in the knockout game. Or they could crash out without scoring a goal. That's the beauty of American spirit and hope. I want them to advance and win the whole thing.
But the reason I like following tournaments like this and experiencing games live is way more than that. It's as much about culture and bringing people together as it is about the soccer. This year is about the food and the samba and environment and uncomfortable social unrest because of the tournament. I'm excited to meet people and talk to them about their views on the tournament and see proud Brazilians as they host it. I'm excited to eat new foods. Excited to sleep in the Amazon jungle and fish for Piranha. Excited to share it with special people and to see old friends. If you want to follow us down here on twitter you can follow my feed at @CoachMcCaslin. Tweet at me if there's tidbits on the tournament you'd like to be updated on or things you'd like to know about the culture or what is going on with us! I'm very excited to share it with you. For now though it's wheels up! GO YANKS!