The FIFA World Cup--you know, that massive sporting event that only comes around every four years, the one that the United States practically makes a sport out of ignoring--starts today in South Africa.
Lots of Americans think soccer is boring. Well . . . it is. But fútbol is awesome, and they don't play soccer in the World Cup. So from here on out, fútbol's the word.
The American team's first match against England on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. will be a good litmus test for how this team will fare against the rest of its competition. England is a fútbol power and is heavily favored against a Yankee team that fell well short of expectations in the 2006 World Cup. But Americans love a good underdog story--think "American Fútbol Revolution."
So if for some reason you decide that watching the single most important tournament in the world sounds like a good idea, but you also have no one to cheer for, here's a few local and close-to-local products you can throw your support behind. Some will sound familiar, others not so much, but they're Yanks all the same:
Landon Donovan, 28, is a name you should recognize--he's only the most famous and successful American fútbol player of the last decade. He was named to the MLS All-Time Best XI in 2005 and has continued to garner accolades and awards, including being named MVP of the MLS last season while playing for his long-time team, the LA Galaxy. Donovan was born in Ontario and attended Redlands East Valley High School. His skills on the field are not in question, and neither is his ability to go head-to-head with the Brits--he has openly criticized (and later apologized to) David Beckham for being a bad teammate and captain. It's OK, Donovan, we all know Beckham is a pansy. In any case, Donovan clearly has the stones to lead the US team in his third consecutive World Cup.
At 31, Carlos Bocanegra is the oldest player of the SoCal contingent on the U.S. team, but his age apparently hasn't hurt his popularity with the ladies. In 2009, he was voted No. 6 on The E! Channel's list of sexiest men in sports, and his fan page on www.talk-sports.net is awash with creepy posts about his girlfriend and his availability on the dating scene. That said, Bocanegra is a veteran of the MLS and international fútbol. He played in the 2006 World Cup and captained the 2009 U.S. team that defeated a first-ranked Spanish team in the FIFA Confederations Cup, a huge upset for the Americans. Bocanegra was born in Upland, went to Alta Loma High School and started all three of his playing years at UCLA.
Benny Feilhaber and Jonathan Bornstein are the only two players on the World Cup team's SoCal delegation who actually went to high school in Orange County. Feilhaber went to Northwood High in Irvine and Bornstein went to Los Alamitos High. They played together at UCLA in 2004. Feilhaber, 25, was born in Brazil and moved with his parents to New York. After eight years, they moved again to Orange County where Benny began playing fútbol for Northwood, helping the program win a national championship in the process. He was a walk-on at UCLA and soon was recruited to play for Hamburg in Germany's Bundesliga. Now, he plays for AGF Aarhus in Denmark and is on a World Cup roster. And his name actually is Benny. He can be seen here miming Jordin Sparks.
Bornstein, also 25, was born in Torrance to a Jewish father and Mexican mother. He played fútbol all four of his years at Los Al. He played at Cal Poly Pomona for two years before transferring to UCLA, and was selected in the fourth round of the 2006 MLS Superdraft by Chivas USA.
While plenty of U.S. fútbol fans like Bornstein, Honduran fútbol fans LOVE Bornstein. His goal in the final minutes of a U.S.-Costa Rica World Cup qualifying match tied the game. While it didn't mean much for an American team that had already qualified, the goal lifted Honduras to its first World Cup since 1982. Here's the call on Honduran radio as brought to you by ESPN's Pardon the Interruption.
Maurice "Mo" Edu was born in Fontana, played for Etiwanda High and at just 24 is one of the youngest members of the U.S. World Cup team. After playing two years for the University of Marlyand, he was drafted first overall in the 2007 MLS Superdraft by Toronto FC and was the 2007 MLS Rookie of the Year. In 2008, Edu signed with the Rangers of the Scottish Premier League and is the only American member of the team. A torn ligament in his left knee sidelined him for much of 2009, but he's rested and ready for the World Cup. That's him on the right on the American cover of FIFA Fútbol 2009 (in the red).
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Herculez Gomez was born in Los Angeles but grew up in Las Vegas. Gomez began his career playing for Cruz Azul of the Mexican First Division but soon after joined the San Diego Gauchos of the USL Premier Development team. While playing for the Gauchos, he garnered enough attention in a friendly match with the Galaxy that they brought him on board. He played for LA for three years. In 11 years playing professional fútbol, he's played for 11 different teams. However, he really made a name for himself while playing on the U.S. national team's 30-man developmental roster--he scored two goals in two friendly matches against the Czech Republic and Australia.
Gomez is also the oldest of five siblings, one of whom is MMA fighter Ulysses Gomez. Ulysses ranks somewhere between Tila Tequila and the guy who invented the Frisbee on the "Who's that?" scale, but he is slightly famous for knocking out Mexican-American boxer Fernando Vargas, a two-time world champion, while Vargas was hanging out with Tito Ortiz in a Vegas bar after UFC 71. Off topic, but interesting nonetheless.
In any case, root for a favorite local this Saturday--if the history of American involvement in the World Cup holds any precedent over how the U.S. national team performs this year, the Yanks will need all the help they can get.
But a win over the Brits could definitely be a good start to reversing that trend. Just maybe, like a similar revolution against the crown over 200 years ago, it could be the beginning of a new era of American dominance in the sport we love to overlook. USA! USA! USA!