The United States play their first World Cup game today against Ghana. If you've somehow avoided watching the World Cup up to this point, it's time to start paying attention; it's a matter of patriotic duty.
But if you haven't been following the U.S. Men's National Team (USMNT), it will be hard to put the game into context. Now then, is a quick guide on today's game so you aren't completely lost when it begins.
Kickoff: 5 p.m. - This is a great excuse to be leave work early or just become completely un-productive.
How to watch:
On TV: ESPN, Ch. 35/1035 on Cox, Ch. 206 on DirecTV and Univision, Ch. 50/1050 on Cox and Ch. 402 on DirecTV.
For my money, I take Univision's coverage of the World Cup over ESPN's. Even if you don't speak Spanish, the Univision announcers always add an extra flair for the dramatic and their emotion overcomes all language barriers. Of course, if you're actually trying to learn about the game a bit and gain insight through real-time analysis, then yea, ESPN is the way to go.
With Other People: Pretty much any sports bar with a TV should have the game (WWNO has a helpful map of where to go) on but if you really want to immerse yourself in World Cup excitement, there are two places that stand above the rest:
1) Rendezvous Tavern on Magazine Street: The New Orleans Chapter of the American Outlaws will be hosting a watch party that includes free beer for anyone wearing U.S. gear (while supplies last). Pre-game festivities begin at 3 p.m. and there will be food as well.
2) Finn McCool's: This is the most renowned soccer pub in New Orleans for a reason and it brings an international flair to the tournament. It's a good bet that while there will be a few fans left over from the earlier games when you arrive for the U.S. kickoff. While it can get crowded, Finn's has added outdoor seating and will have beer bucket specials.
USA - Recently, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said that it's not realistic that the team will win the World Cup. Though you could take this as being self-defeatist, it could actually be a bit of reverse psychology. Though he's since slightly back-tracked on that remark, it still frees his players from the burden of expectations. All that said, though, the United States must win their opening match to have a prayer at getting out of the group stage.
But Klinsmann is surely aware, the United States plays its best when nobody believes in them. The team's best finish in the last 20 years came in the 2002 World Cup. Faced with a similarly daunting group, the U.S. made a surprise run to the quarterfinals. The USMNT has failed to build on the success of that year and Klinsmann fancies himself as the man to get the U.S. over "the hump."
To that end, the U.S. is very much a forward-thinking team. Though it's still anchored by veterans Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, this team is fueled by youth and led by midfielder Michael Bradley, who is on his way to being one of the best U.S. soccer players of his, or any other, generation.
Ghana - The Black Stars have eliminated the United States in back-to-back World Cups. But unlike other professional sports where teams can take another crack at each other in just a few months with relatively the same lineups, we're looking at a completely different Ghana squad than we did in 2006 and 2010.
Not to say that this isn't a daunting task; Ghana sports a slew of talented players including Asamoah Gyan, Kevin Prince Boateng and Michael Essien all have had great success in the best European leagues. But while the U.S. is looking to open a new chapter in their history, Ghana is writing the last pages of one. Ghana also lost two of their last three tune-up games leading to the World Cup while the U.S. has won three in a row, including one against current African champion Nigeria.
What to talk about to sound like you know about soccer:
For a quick primer on soccer lingo, check out this handy guide by the Washington Post.
If you want to go the extra mile, start a conversation about the the U.S. back line that has played just two full games together as a single unit. Facing a talented Ghana offense, the play of DeMarcus Beasley, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez will be crucial for the U.S.'s chances. Note that Beasley is a World Cup veteran and Cameron is one of the better defenders in England's ultra-competitive Premiere League. If anything, the U.S. defense could prove to be a strength.