Watch CBS News

World Cup: Team USA Must Win On 'Sunday Night Football'

By Eric Thomas
Looking for story lines after team USA's win against Ghana in the World Cup? Here you go: they MUST beat Portugal on Sunday Night Football. It's OK to call it Sunday Night Football if it makes you more comfortable. The word police will not take you away.

World Cup mania gripped areas of the states on Monday. Many Americans approached the phenomena like someone who called a radio station to request a song and wound up caller 10. "Yeah! That's great! Um, what did we win?"

Let's break it down: team USA has to win on Sunday evening against Portugal. They'd need a miracle to beat Germany in their next scheduled game, and best to save a miracle for later. They did themselves a lot of favors in their win against Ghana. They have some breathing room, but a win over Portugal means they will likely advance into the next round of competition. That's unexpected for a team given little chance at all when the World Cup opened this year.

Don't worry about the rest of it. Focus on that. A win against Portugal and they're (likely) to advance.

There's other considerations, of course. Cristiano Ronaldo, the man recognized as the best attacker in the world—whose personal portfolio of ex-girlfriends rivals Leonardo DiCaprio—has a hamstring injury. We wonder if Clint Dempsey can pull a rabbit out of his hat; can DaMarcus Beasley match Ronaldo if he's limping? If none of that made sense, focus on this: USA must beat Portugal, and you'll be fine.

The World Cup comes around every four years. Along with it comes the avalanche of blogs, columns and endless pop psychology about sports-crazy America's indifference. Interest in the World Cup thrives along the east and west coast, but most in the middle of the country turned off by names they can't pronounce and stadiums that seem foreign. The younger generation seems a little more interested. They spent time either playing the game for real or on Xbox; but even their interest seems more because they're getting sick of baseball.

Don't get me wrong, there are fans in America. I have a friend who religiously watches the Premiere League. Gamblers lay money against Real Madrid even though they don't know how to pronounce it, seeking big payouts from long odds. For the majority of Americans the beautiful game is over their heads. The tension comes in small doses. It has the basics of hockey, grass that seems familiar from the gridiron or baseball, the pace of golf, and a clock that counts up. We're used to story lines spoon fed to us in bite-sized pieces, which is why NBC fills their Olympic Coverage with stories about athletes instead of the games themselves.

I'd never heard of the World Cup when I moved to West Germany in 1989. My family had a house in a suburb of Stuttgart and our TV got three channels. I only saw live Tiger games when we would visit the States in the summer. I followed individual games through the box scores in USA Today. I watched the Bad Boys win their championships on VHS, taped and shipped by my grandmother. The only sport we could watch live was soccer, and the World Cup was when I got my first prolonged taste.

I've forgotten most of it. The only name I remember was the legendary Argentinian midfielder Diego Maradona. That year the Argentines met West Germany in a World Cup rematch, and the Germans beat them this time on a disputed penalty. I'll never forget Maradona's face when they lost 1-0. As the match drew to a close the window in our house lit up with fireworks. The sounds of celebration came from every direction around us. Winning a World Cup is so much bigger than a win in the Olympics, because a gold medal is individual, even if a team wins it. We throw around the term "World Champion" and that usually means American champion, but in the World Cup the title is absolute.

After I returned to the States, I resumed my indifference to the beautiful game. I shrugged away the fact that the latest host country was the USA. I cocooned myself in American sports. I found my love for pigskin, drowned myself in basketball, and even tried hard to watch golf with my Dad until I stopped kidding myself.

Soccer isn't a lot of fun to watch in America, because the level of competition just isn't there. So I'm with you, I understand, and that's why I'm breaking this down to a simple storyline where nothing else matters:

Team USA has gotta beat Portugal. Move on and they have a chance. That's the stakes, and if there is ever a World Cup victory in America, there will never be anything bigger.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.