There hasn't been a 24-team World Cup since the 1994, so once again we will be treated to the spectacle of crappy, substandard third place losers pretending to take their place among vastly superior teams.
What? I can't put in a random picture of soccer players on a soccer blog? Is that what you're telling me?
In 1982...they had some sort of ridiculous second group system that was an even worse idea than this format. In 1986, Belgium crapped their way to the semifinal before Maradona put them out of their misery. In 1990, Holland finished behind freaking England and freaking Ireland, spat at Germany and torched the goodwill they had built up two years earlier. Even worse, Argentina finished third in their group, and made it all the way to the final - stinking up southern Europe every miserable step of the way. And in 1994, Argentina once again couldn't take a hint after finishing third, but they were upstaged by Italy - yes, for two tournaments in a row, a team that finished third in its group went on to the Final.
I can't get mad at Italy '94, any more than I can get mad at Italy '06. So they were overmatched. What were they supposed to do, quit? Yeah, it wasn't as great for casual fans, but at least Baggio's team did something with its second chance, rather than just act all happy to be in the second round like that was some miracle by itself.
What? More fun visual images from World Cup history, that's all.
But, in 1998, the tournament that Pete Davies had already called "Gargantua" expanded to 32. And that was the end of third place teams doing anything of note after the group stage.
Okay, not everybody was thrilled. But it made the group stages more meaningful, despite the alleged dilution of talent. I think it's a more straightforward tournament now, with better teams going farther and lesser teams not having a safety net.
And all was well and good until 2015, when the women's tournament expanded to the size the men had already abandoned.
Well, the upside is, as far as I can tell, no one has officially been eliminated, no matter how dour, disappointing, or unlovely the play has been.
Our World Cup scowling team. Seriously, when Abby Wambach is the jolliest person in the picture, that's some seriously stern looks going on.
But the downside of the format is, none of the favorites have to sweat that much, despite their best efforts. Sweden and France should be staring elimination right in the face, but instead they have plenty of ways to survive.
The solution - and I realize this won't be popular what with the occasional 10-1 beating being handed out these days - is to expand to 32 as soon as possible. More teams getting more experience in the World Cup finals will cut down on those 10-1 blowouts sooner rather than later. And the group stage will mean something again, instead of three warmup games where we hope we see as little Alex Morgan as possible.
I take solace knowing that a month from now, Megan Rapinoe will be America's sweetheart - she probably should have been all along, she's awesome. I'm trying to get with the program, I really am. It's just...Abby and Hope, man. They're just intolerable these days.
Some vicious, cruel so-called friend of mine made absolutely sure I heard about Jerramy Stevens calling ESPN's "Outside the Lines" story "unpatriotic." That should set a whole kennel of pet peeves barking, even if you think Solo is innocent, or being used by cynics for grandstanding purposes (looking at you, Senator Blumenthal).
Well, I'd like to thank Jerramy for making it very easy for me to cheer against the US, should I so choose.
Now's probably an appropriate time to remind ourselves that they don't sew those American flags on their uniforms in service to our country, to defend America from enemies foreign and domestic. The United States Soccer Federation doesn't represent the United States of America any more than American Apparel or the National Biscuit Company. The USSF is a non-profit that organizes soccer leagues and tournaments. You can hate soccer and be patriotic. You can cheer for Mexico and be patriotic. You can even cheer for Notre Dame against Army and guess what, still be patriotic.
Hell, I thought I remember reading somewhere that even explicitly unpatriotic, anti-American speech was protected in this country, because the US is strong enough to handle opposing viewpoints, but maybe I was mistaken. I'll defer to Solo and Stevens' considerable legal experience...even if it is from the receiving end.
And that's not even the most annoying thing so far about the USWNT. Abby Wambach may not be earning her keep on the turf, but she's certainly been a valuable investment against it.
Fine. Alex Morgan can get paid for shilling Coca-Cola, Abby Wambach can sell a bunch of fertilizer. And what could be wrong with endorsing something as environmentally conscious as sweet, wonderful, natural grass lawn turf. After all, didn't Scotts offer to put in natural grass for free? What could possibly be manipulative and hypocritical about that?
But even if the total cost of “Keep It Real” (which is being assisted by multiple major public-relations firms) does run into that price range, the resulting publicity looks like a steal for the lawn care specialists – who actually stopped selling commercial sports turf products two years ago.
Scotts focuses their business on homeowners hoping to grow lush lawns in their front and back yards, even as they broker major sponsorships like the one that makes them “the official lawn care company of Major League Baseball.”
It’s easy to see how consumers might conflate that promotional tag with the products that actually make their teams’ fields thick, lush and resilient.
But Abby has gone above and beyond the call - no, not because she generously allowed Scotts to bask in the glow of her civil rights leadership. Abby has proven willing to sacrifice her athletic image for the benefit of her sponsor - or, is willing to blame inanimate objects for her playing woes.
“My focus was on getting my head on the end of a cross,” Wambach said. “I did. Goalkeeper made a great save. If it’s on grass, I think it goes in.”
Cha-ching! I mean, good point, Abby!
Scotts has even taken others anti-turf tweets and promoted them, such as:
With Abby Wambach, Tim Howard, and Mike Magee all on the payroll, you'd have thought Scotts would have held short of risking Wahl's journalistic objectivity, but you'd have been wrong.
Well, assuming Wambach, Howard and Magee are being paid. Maybe they just really, really, really like to play on the kind of grass that Scotts doesn't actually produce anymore.
I tweeted at Grant asking how he felt, and will let you know if he responds. In fairness, Grant's not a big Twitter guy.