The United States plays Portugal on Sunday at the World Cup. That’s a soccer tournament you might have heard of.
If you haven’t been paying attention, it’s time to start. TV ratings for soccer are on the rise. The Internet has created a new generation of fans. Alexi Lalas shaved the goatee and is presentable these days.
Most important, a win would catapult the Stars and Stripes toward the knockout round. For those people who only understand a flop in the Nicolas Cage sense, that’s the 16-team single-elimination bracket that determines the world champion.
So we’ve put together a cheat sheet. Follow these rules for what to say — and not to say — during the game and you might just escape being tagged as a xenophobic rube who only cares about violent American sports with rigid timing. That can wait until football season.
And if this is too much to remember, just mock Spain and England. They’re already out.
DO SAY: I’ll bet Klinsmann wishes he put Landon Donovan on the team now.
Donovan, the career scoring leader for the U.S. men’s national team, and a veteran of three World Cup teams, was left off the roster by U.S. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann. The surprising decision drew an even harsher spotlight when striker Jozy Altidore strained his hamstring in the opening win over Ghana, leaving the U.S. without an experienced forward to replace him.
DO SAY: Who do you think they’ll plug in up front for Altidore — Johannsson or Wondolowski?
The U.S. has two options: 23-year-old Aron Johannsson or 31-year-old Chris Wondolowski. Johannsson came on against Ghana when Altidore went down and failed to impress but he scored 17 goals last year in the Dutch pro league and is said to be a favorite of Coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Wondolowski, who stars for the San Jose Earthquakes, has scored nine times in 21 appearances for the U.S. national team but has never played in a World Cup match.
DON’T SAY: Klinsmann has to use his bench more. He barely subbed in the last game.
No, dummy. Each team is only allowed to use three substitutes in the game and once you’re out, you’re out.
DO SAY: I hope we spank these guys like in 2002.
The United States stormed to a 3-0 lead, then held off Portugal for a 3-2 upset in the 2002 World Cup. The win helped propel the U.S. all the way to the quarterfinals.
DO SAY: Ronaldo’s good, but he’s no Messi.
Consensus opinion is that Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina’s Lionel Messi are in a constant tug-o-war for the “greatest player in the world” title. When not representing for their respective national teams, each plays in the Spanish Primera Division: Ronaldo at Real Madrid; Messi at rival Barcelona.
DON’T SAY: How long is overtime?
There is no overtime in group round-robin play, although extra time is tacked on to the end of each half at the referee’s discretion.
DO SAY (IF PORTUGAL IS LOSING): The climate in Brazil is really having an impact on the European teams.
Weather is one of those topics you can talk about freely because most folks will understand the parts of the world that are hot and cold. Sunday in Brazil is going to be hot and humid, and for players/teams used to the cool temperatures of Europe, this might be too much. You could also spin this into a line of discussion about when you visited a particular country and had issues adjusting to the climate, making you sound even more worldly.
DO SAY: Superlative football and an out-of-this-world Bernini sculpture.
Even if you don’t know much about soccer, studying the work of Roy Hudson, one of the beautiful game’s legendary commentators, will at least get your friends to remember you after your goal celebrations. Try this after a big goal.
DO SAY: Pitch and side.
Globally recognized soccer terminology for where the game is played (not a field) and who plays it (not a team). While we’re at it, it’s a match, not a game. You can get by with all of these without sounding pretentious.
DON’T SAY: Fútbol.
You’re trying too hard.