Wednesday, July 2, 2014

End of the road in the World Cup

Yesterday the dream of a World Cup trophy died for the United States with a 2-1 loss to Belgium. The US performance has been described as gutsy and gritty. In the soccer world those are euphemisms for teams that were overmatched and outplayed. The US team is completely bereft of creativity in the midfield. They are not capable to maintaining possession and dictating pace. Until those deficits are addressed, the US will always be an underdog in the World Cup.

The style of play for the US is very reminiscent of England's style for most of the last 50 years - at least until an influx of foreign players in the Premier League caused English sides to realize there's more to soccer than launching long balls and crosses all day long. So long as the US relies on guts and grit its results in the World Cup will be similar to that of England - no trophies.

The one bright spot yesterday was US goalkeeper Tim Howard, making what may have been his last start for the national team. Mr. Howard made 16 saves - a World Cup record. He deserves combat pay for his performance. He was the only member of the US team who deserved to be on the same field with the Belgians. Unfortunately, if your game plan is to stand around and let the other team take target practice on your keeper, you have no margin of error.

We'll have to wait and see if anything changes over the next four years.

In the meantime, Juliet Macur penned this wonderful article in the New York Times about the legacy of sports stadiums after the fans have left. These palaces of sport are built using hundreds of millions of dollars of public money and then sit empty afterward - relics of crony capitalism.

Many of these arenas will be vacant after the games have left. In most of the cities there aren't enough supporters of local soccer teams to fill the venues for ordinary league games. In some cities there aren't any teams that are willing to pay the astronomical rents to use the stadiums.

At the same time FIFA (the world governing body for soccer) rakes in billions of dollars from the World Cup and washes its hands of the aftermath of rampant graft and corruption.

Over the next four years Russia will be next to spend public money on stadiums that aren't needed and will sit unused after the tournament is over. This is on top of the billions of dollars thrown away on the Sochi Olympics earlier this year.

As I've said before, if sports stadiums are the engines of economic development as supporters claim them to be, there should be problem lining up private investors to put their money into the projects in hopes of making massive profits on the back end. The fact that these stadiums are built using nothing but public funds should tell us everything we need to know about the myth of stadium construction.

The working class and poor folks in Brazil are learning that lesson first hand.

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