The countdown clock is at about 22 1/2 days as I type, to the opening game of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa (and another 26 1/2 hours until the US kicks off against England in perhaps the most anticipated game in US soccer history). The whole world will be watching, and for a change the US will be too. After decades of wondering when soccer will finally "make it" in the US, we seem to be there. The MLS may not be one of the true major leagues yet, but with homegrown players like Landon Donovan and Tim Howard making good in the Premier League and international stars and franchises becoming, if not household, then at least Sports Center-worthy names in the US, we can finally enjoy the games without once again hashing over the "soccer in America?" question once again. (Which I guess I just did. Sorry--last time.)
For over three decades a soccer player, reporter, and fan, David Hirshey patiently waited for this moment, enduring the contempt of red-blooded American sports fans for whom a few goals a game--and only one commercial break!--weren't enough, as well as the samizdat pleasures of sharing a secret passion with fellow aficionados. He's been an editor at Esquire and now at HarperCollins, while writing on soccer for everyone from the New York Times to Deadspin.com. And for the 2010 World Cup, starting in June, he and Roger Bennett labored lovingly over The ESPN World Cup Companion, a full-color guide to the history of the world's greatest sporting event. In typical soccer style, it's low on stats and heavy on stories, both serious and cheeky (and with fabulous photos that are a credit to whomever did the photo researching: I want that shot of toothless wonder Nobby Stiles, unlikely hero of England's '66 title, poster-size for my wall!).
I talked with Hirshey recently about most of these things (though, alas, I forgot to bring up Nobby), and you can listen in, in three parts, below:
Part 1: The Lonely American Soccer Fan ("Kid, don't waste your time on that sport. It's a game for commie pansies."):
Part 2: A Global Soap Opera (in which he answers the difficult question: what does an Arsenal fan do when Thierry Henry goes up against England?):
Part 3: This Summer in South Africa (in which he warms my orange heart by saying the Dutch are his underdog pick this year):