Wednesday, June 12, 2013

American Pharaoh

TigerBlog was in Costa Rica exactly one year ago today.

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil begins exactly one year from today.

Those two facts intersected on ESPN last night, as Costa Rica played at Mexico in a World Cup qualifier. Los Ticos, as the Costa Ricans are known, tied Mexico 0-0 in a game that has them again positioned well to finish in the top three of the six teams in the group and earn a spot in the field that will be playing in Brazil.

The United States defeated Panama 2-0 last night in Seattle to stay in first place with 10 points, two ahead of the Costa Ricans and Mexicans and three up on Honduras. Panama is in fifth place with six points, and then Jamaica has two.

Mexico and Jamaica have played six of their 10 games; the other four have played five.

The top three automatically go to Brazil. The fourth place team plays New Zealand in November in a home-and-home, with the winner to advance to the World Cup.

When TB was in Costa Rica, he went to a game between the home team and El Salvador in the first round of qualifying. It was a sporting event unlike any other TB has ever seen.

The importance, the all-consuming national fervor, is unmatched by anything in this country. It's not that it's bigger than the Super Bowl; it's just different.

It is completely unifying, among everyone in the country. It is the singular focus of everyone. It is all anyone talks about.

To be in the stadium is ridiculous. There is nothing else that exists at that moment, for an entire nation.

The U.S. game was on against Game 3 of the NBA finals. In this country, the number of people who care about the NBA finals has to exceed the number of people who care about World Cup qualifying by several multiples. In the other country? No way.

TigerBlog still hasn't figured out his position on the U.S. team.

He's not really rooting against the Americans, though he is holding a grudge because of the firing of Princeton alum Bob Bradley as the U.S. head coach.

In a relatively short time, the World Cup has gone from something TB hardly paid attention to to arguably his favorite sporting event.

Bradley, who took Princeton to the 1993 NCAA men's soccer final four and whose brother Scott is Princeton's baseball coach, took the U.S. to the group championship at the World Cup three years ago but was let go shortly after that. At the time of Bradley's firing, the U.S. was ranked 18th in the world. Today, the U.S. is ranked 28th.

Ranked six spots behind the U.S. right now is Egypt, whose coach just happens to be Bob Bradley.

The Egyptians are also in a dominating position to advance to the final 10 teams in African qualifying, as Bradley's new team is running away with its group with two games to play. Should Egypt win its group - a tie in one of its last two games will probably be enough, two points will definitely clinch - it would advance to the last round of qualifying, which would be a two game, home-and-home, with the winner into the field of 32 for Brazil.

Bradley's work in Egypt isn't just about building a soccer team. Nope. Not by a long shot.

Bradley is trying to get his team to the World Cup, something that Egypt has only managed twice, in 1934 and 1990. If that wasn't hard enough to deal with, there are few places on Earth right now that have had the social and political upheaval that Egypt does.

Forgetting which end of the politics you're on, Bradley's task is an enormous one. And his story is an amazing one, with the way he and his wife Lindsay have been received by the Egyptians.

"American Pharaoh" is a documentary about Bradley and his work in Egypt. It's not the first one that TB has seen on the subject, but they all have something in common.

No, it's not just the way they show Bradley's work with the soccer team. It's the way they show Bradley the man himself.

He is so strong-willed, so commanding, so focused. He speaks with such determination, conviction and honor that TB always gets the sense that Bradley should be running a country, not a soccer team.

TB would have preferred that Bradley had never gotten fired by the U.S. team.

As its turned out, his legacy is really being made by what he's doing in Cairo - whether his team advances to the World Cup or not.

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