By Mark Vasto
Thirty-one nations have booked a ticket for the 2018 World Cup, to be held in Russia next year. Most conspicuously absent in this year’s tournament besides Italy (which missed the cut for the first time since 1958 and has the nation in mourning)? The United States of America.
Don’t blame any sort of collusion either — the United States has been paying plenty of lip service to world football (or soccer or whatever you want to call it) over the past few decades, but our continued inability to mount any sort of push for the championship on the men’s side remains a constant annoyance for the American sports fan. (Our women, however, continue to rock.)
As of this writing, 30 countries have secured their place to join host nation Russia in next year’s tournament: Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Egypt, England, France, Germany, Honduras, Iceland, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Panama, Poland, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia and Uruguay (New Zealand vs. Peru played after we went to press).
For those of you who missed it, America soiled the sheets in the Caribbean when it came time to qualify, a bloodbath that saw Coach Bruce Arena, the man who was supposed to bring European sensibility to our roguish American ways, quit the scene entirely. Now, America once again sits on the precipice, questioning its desire to rebuild. Does it blow everything up? Or is there enough there to build upon, enough to believe in.
Call it American exceptionalism, but it’s time for Team America to really put their heads back down and think back to our own culture when it comes to dominance and change. What would John Wooden do, for instance? Or Knute Rockne? Or Vince Lombardi? Or George S. Patton?
For years we’ve been focusing on building a program — a well of players. Well, that time has come. We have a great soccer structure in place. All we need now is a champion.
Once again, America will be on the outside looking in during the 2018 World Cup, and it’s more than past time for this country to start to compete in great ways. It’s time to start thinking about winning the World Cup, and the time to begin has to be now.
For those of you expecting to see a little history, know that defending champion Germany is the bookmakers’ favorite to win the World Cup, followed by Brazil, Spain, Argentina, France, Belgium and then England. If Germany wins, they’d become the first country to win back-to-back World Cups since Pele’s Brazil in 1958 and 1962.
Halladay death a tragedy
For every certain moment of greatness in sports, there is an equally certain moment of tragedy. On Nov. 7, 2017, Roy “Doc” Halladay became the living embodiment of that sentiment through his death.
Halladay was a great pitcher. Baseball is a funny sport in that hitters get all the accolades, but true fans and those in the business of the sport know that pitchers are what make the game work. Fans may cheer for the home-run hitter, but it’s the pitcher who puts the ball in play, and it’s the pitcher who sends that hitter back to the bench with a few killer curves and fastballs that most people in the upper decks can’t even see nor comprehend.
Halladay was just such a guy. Seven times he was in the top five for the Cy Young award; twice he left with the iron.
At 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds, his was a figure you couldn’t ignore. For years, it was common knowledge around the league that if you had Halladay, you had a winner on your team.
He won 20 games three times, 19 games twice. Never lost more than 11 games in a season, ever. His lifetime WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) was 1.17 … better than Bob Gibson (1.18), Jim Palmer (1.18) and Bob Feller (1.3) to cherry-pick a few. He threw two no-hitters — one a perfect game and another in the playoffs, matching only Don Larsen in that feat. He won 203 games and lost only 105. The guy had Hall of Fame written all over him, and there was little doubt that he could have kept pitching after his retirement. He was only 40 when he died.
To understand Halladay’s dominance during the early parts of the 21st century, you only need check the baseball columns of the day. Halladay pitched in Toronto for 12 seasons, and every single team wanted him in their uniform next. Philadelphia won that contest, and the instant credibility he lent to the franchise was impossible to miss every fourth day.
“There are no words to describe the sadness that the entire Phillies family is feeling over the loss of one of the most respected human beings ever to play the game,” read the Phillies twitter, echoing sentiments of fans everywhere.
It’s creepy that Roy died in a plane crash. While air travel is considered the safest means of transport, it was hard for baseball fans to believe when Roberto Clemente and Thurman Munson both met their early demise in a small cockpit. Halladay, it seemed, couldn’t resist the allure either.
“I have dreamed about owning a A5 since I retired! Real life is better [than] my dreams!!” Halladay tweeted on Oct. 13.
Well, Roy got his wish, and we got to watch him play. He’s in a better place, and every sportsman was better for having known the guy. Rest in peace, Roy … fly on.
Mark Vasto is a veteran sportswriter who lives in New Jersey.(c) 2017 King Features Synd., Inc.