As World Cup kicks off, Fox hopes Amer­ica still tunes in

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Christo­pher Bren­nan

MOSCOW — As crowds for the World Cup pour into Rus­sia, the U.S. team is a world away. The planet’s most pop­u­lar sport­ing event kicks off to­day in Moscow as the host coun­try faces Saudi Ara­bia, though the Amer­i­can men’s na­tional team will not take part in the tour­na­ment for the first time since 1986 af­ter an em­bar­rass­ing loss to Trinidad and Tobago in Oc­to­ber.

Though the team is miss­ing, t he Amer­i­can soc­cer ap­pa­ra­tus, in­clud­ing the U.S.’s li­censed World Cup broad­caster Fox Sports, has come to Moscow and hopes that those back home tune in. When: Through July 15 Where: Rus­sia Open­ing game: Rus­sia vs. Saudi Ara­bia, to­day, 11 a.m., at Moscow TV: Chs. 45, 5

“From a per­sonal per­spec­tive and from a busi­ness per­spec­tive it’s disin­gen­u­ous for us to say that the U.S. not be­ing here doesn’t mat­ter. It mat­ters it was ul­ti­mately a fail­ure,” said Alexi Lalas, a for­mer star of the na­tional team and an­a­lyst.

“But there is no other coun­try in the world that is more fit to em­brace the World Cup with­out the home team be­cause of di­ver­sity, be­cause of the con­nec­tions that we have.”

And even though the U.S. team didn’t qual­ify, Amer­i­can fans have bought the sec­ond-most tick­ets of any coun­try af­ter Rus­sia — al­most 90,000.

In New York, fans also have a list of op­tions for watch­ing the fes­tiv­i­ties that re­sem­bles the city’s United Na­tions head­quar­ters, with bars, restau­rants and cul­tural cen­ters all host­ing watch par­ties to sup­port teams from Ar­gentina to Tu­nisia.

Amer­i­can in­ter­est in soc­cer gen­er­ally surges around the World Cup, in­clud­ing the women’s game where the U.S. dom­i­nates and won in 2015.

But with no U.S. men’s team to root for, the ques­tion re­mains — which other coun­try de­serves Amer­i­cans’ sup­port?

“Of course Mex­ico,” said Ale­jando Alamilla, a 32-year-old Amer­i­can cit­i­zen who lives in Florida but was in Moscow to sup­port his na­tive coun­try ahead of a match against Ger­many on Sun­day.

“Be­cause Mex­ico and the U.S. have so many ties and there are so many Mex­i­cans in the U.S.”

In­deed, on Wed­nes­day FIFA awarded the 2026 World Cup to a joint North Amer­i­can bid, mean­ing that the U.S, Mex­ico and Canada will to­gether wel­come vis­i­tors from around the world in eight years.

Alamilla, wear­ing a cow­boy hat and his Mex­i­can jersey, was one of dozens of im­promptu emis­saries who gath­ered near the tourist cen­ter of Red Square, where within the span of 10 min­utes Peru­vian fans were singing, Ira­ni­ans were dancing in a circle and Egyp­tians were pho­to­bombed by a man who opened up his jacket to re­veal a Brazil flag.

“There are Amer­i­cans here, but they are not cheer­ing as loud. If Amer­ica was com­ing I would have brought my Amer­i­can flag too,” Alamilla said.

For those with­out eth­nic ties who are look­ing to pick a team, Lalas says that “usu­ally the team will pick you.”

“There is some sur­prise in every sin­gle World Cup that has hap­pened. A sur­prise player. A sur­prise coun­try,” said Tony Me­ola, a for­mer na­tional team goal­keeper and Fox an­a­lyst.

Me­ola re­mem­bers cheer­ing on Italy to vic­tory as a teenager in 1982, when the U.S. also did not qual­ify. “If you watched the U.S. team you’re a soc­cer fan, and if you don’t, then watch and wait for that mo­ment.”

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