Friday, November 11, 2016

With Trump, 2018 World Cup Just Got More Interesting

The final phase of World Cup qualifying for North American, Central American and Caribbean countries (CONCACAF region) begins today. Of the six remaining teams, three are guaranteed a spot in the 2018 WC and a fourth entry will be possible after a playoff vs. an Asian Confederation team.

The pressure heats up significantly, beginning today. Making a WC appearance is critical for all countries of the world, but for the U.S., it is a role that needs to be fulfilled because the public is now used to the U.S. qualifying every four years. The U.S. has qualified for seven World Cups in a row, making the quarter-finals once at the 2002 South Korea/Japan WC, in its best finish of the seven.

Being part of the WC every four years carries a reputation for excellence in soccer. The U.S. joins other countries around the world, such as Germany, Argentina, Italy, Brasil, England and Mexico, as expected to qualify. The U.S. is in an elite group, whether the soccer pundits want to admit it or not.

Where the WC takes place has always been an interesting aspect to the history and pageantry of the WC. Now, as politics has taken center stage for the past year, and the rise of Donald Trump to president of the U.S. has become a reality, Russia as host of WC in 2018 carries even more intrigue.

The relationship of the dictator, Vladimir Putin, and Trump, will be studied endlessly by the time the WC kicks off. And, how Russia may have influenced the 2016 election or how it hacked emails with or without the help of Wikileaks, will be a strong part of the headlines if the U.S. continues its qualifying magic by making it eight WCs in a row.

A big story line in today's qualifier vs. Mexico includes Trump's rhetoric towards Mexico from the primaries and general election periods. Mexico would love to put egg in the face of the U.S. over Trump and win on U.S. territory in the opening match in Columbus, Ohio (a crucial battleground state that Trump won).

Trump played varsity soccer in high school, so he will probably take an interest in the 2018 WC if the U.S. qualifies. I imagine he will visit Russia to see a game or two. If the U.S. ends up in the same group as Russia, he and Putin might even sit together for the Russia vs. U.S. match.

The best possible scenario from my perspective would be a deep run by the U.S. and a threat to win the WC in Russia. If Trump can bring some attention to the team in the days leading up to the start of the event, that would be great. In fact, it is well-known that Republicans are lesser fans to soccer than democrats, so any enthusiasm by Trump for the team to win its first WC would be awesome.

We are living in some interesting times. Leicester City, the Chicago Cubs and Donald Trump have turned the world upside-down, so why not a WC win for the U.S.

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