Ray Ratto

Winning bid for 2026 World Cup highlights America’s ability to throw massive party, not grow the sport

worldcupbid.jpg
AP

Winning bid for 2026 World Cup highlights America’s ability to throw massive party, not grow the sport

The United States’ pre-eminent role in world soccer was reaffirmed Wednesday when the 2026 World Cup bid it shared with Canada and Mexico was approved by FIFA.

And when we say “pre-eminent role,” yes, we mean money – the official language of FIFA. I mean, the United bid threw so much promised money at FIFA that it didn’t even have to spend a lot of time apologizing for the current U.S. administration, which is a great deal of money indeed.

But the bid, which crushed one from Morocco, was also described by U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro as a likely catalyst for greater expansion of the sport in the U.S., to perhaps as many as 10 million registered soccer players from a current level of four million.

But we had been led to believe by soccer people that the expansion fight had already been won. And which, we were assured, was the reason for the 1994 World Cup, the last one held in the U.S.

In fact, linking the World Cup to soccer growth in America has always been a tenuous one. The sport grows at its own pace, and even after that World Cup and the creation and multiple expansions of Major League Soccer, the game’s hold in America is still fungible. Those four million registered players in America are out of 330 million, 1.2 percent, a similar percentage to 1994, and the 2026 World Cup is somehow supposed to fix that.

Well, that isn’t how these things work. The World Cup will generate billions in revenue (though the bid’s estimate of $14 billion seems wildly high), and rich folks will get richer. But this is more an acknowledgement of America’s ability to throw a massive party than its ability to grow the sport.

You see, the spectacle, and the money it churns, is still America’s most enduring link to the sport. Winning the 2026 bid is largely being framed as a grand consolation prize for the U.S. team throwing up all over itself and failing to qualify for the 2018 Mundial, which begins Thursday morning.

But it doesn’t truly affect “the growth of the game” because most of the money that will come in, estimate or no, will be great for the business of the sport. That’s where it traditionally stops. It will not create, and is not designed to create, the kind of fundamental changes that will make the U.S. more than a third-tier nation in terms of talent spotted and developed.

That will take more and more purposeful work, and the financial windfall of a World Cup is not the same as growing the sport. Period.

So yes, by all means hail the United bid (as it is called) is a triumph for North American soccer. But it’s mostly a triumph for money . . . as these things typically are.

Where does Golden State's Game 4 clincher rank among Warriors-Cavs Finals matchups?

Where does Golden State's Game 4 clincher rank among Warriors-Cavs Finals matchups?

Warriors-Cavaliers is almost certainly a closed book now, an episodic drama that has finally reached end-of-show status. There is nothing left to tell, no secrets left to unearth. The braids have been undone, and this part of NBA history is now, well, history.

That is, unless LeBron James either falls back in love with owner Dan Gilbert or can be convinced (or convince himself) that the job he is going to is worse than the job he wants to leave.

With that as the apocalyptic backdrop, we now present The All-22 View, the list of the 22 Finals games between these two teams in rough order of impact.

SERIES ONE, GAME SIX, WARRIORS, 105-97

The Warriors’ first clincher in 40 years, a changing of the guard led by Stephen Curry’s 25, Andre Iguodala’s 25 and Draymond Green’s first triple-double. Also LeBron James’ final concession to the weariness of overuse (35-of-89 in the final three games, 6-of-22 from three on an average of 44 minutes per game).

SERIES ONE, GAME FOUR: WARRIORS, 103-82

The game in which Iguodala was inserted into the starting lineup to clamp down on James, break Cleveland’s momentum, and he did it so well (see above) that he won Finals MVP and became a national name and jump-started the Warrior Decade.

SERIES TWO, GAME FOUR: WARRIORS, 108-97

James baited Green into the suspension avoided in the Western Conference Finals when his foot took over his brain and found Stephen Adams’ goolies. It helped reverse a series clearly in Golden State’s favor and made “Blown 3-1 Lead” a meme.

SERIES TWO, GAME SEVEN: CAVALIDERS, 93-89

The Cavaliers break up the Warrior dynasty before it starts because Kyrie Irving hits the only shot by either team in the last 4:48, and because both Curry and Klay Thompson shoot dreadfully throughout the game. This provides the Warriors daily motivation for the Hamptons vacation that changed basketball.

SERIES FOUR, GAME FOUR: WARRIORS, 108-85

The most ruthless game against a good team the Warriors have ever played. Curry went for 37, Durant had a triple-double, JaVale McGee was glorious, but most of all they finished LeBron James’ time in Cleveland with the most comprehensive beating in all areas. It was an unfair fight from the anthem on.

SERIES THREE, GAME FIVE: WARRIORS, 129-120

The second clinch, and the night Kevin Durant outgunned James and cemented the idea in the old and narrow-minded that free agency comes with an asterisk that punishes players for entering into a contract with someone who wants them. James has the best numbers (41/13/8) but the Warriors have the most best numbers (Durant 39/6/5, Curry 34/6/10, Green 10/12/5, Iguodala 20/4/3).

SERIES TWO, GAME FIVE: CAVALIERS, 112-97

The Green suspension, when added to the injury to Andrew Bogut that left the Warriors too small and insufficiently bulky to prevent a 15-point Cleveland win in Oakland, and worse to come.

SERIES ONE, GAME TWO: CAVALIERS, 95-93

Curry’s worst night in any Finals (5-for-23, 2-for-15 from three), while James evened the series with a 39/16/11 triple-double in a 95-93 win.

SERIES FOUR, GAME ONE: WARRIORS, 124-114

J.R. Smith overcame James’ 51-point night with the kind of thing J.R. Smith makes famous, and the overtime rout by Goplden State guaranteed the first series of the modern era to be clinched in Game 1.

SERIES FOUR, GAME THREE: WARRIORS, 110-92

Durant’s 43 points and unadulterated brashness provide more than sufficient cover for brutal shooting nights from Curry and Thompson, and becomes the sure-thing MVP...until Game 4, when he still ended up MVP, but by a narrower margin.

SERIES THREE, GAME FOUR: CAVALIERS, 137-116

The Warriors lose their chance to out-Moses Malone and go fo’-fo’-fo’-fo’. In fairness, Irving’s 40 and James’ 31 had something to do with it, too.

SERIES ONE, GAME ONE: WARRIORS, 108-100

James had 41, but the Warriors showed the moment was not too big for them. A confidence-booster for a first-timer that allowed them to overcome Cleveland’s next two wins despite the loss of Kyrie Irving.

SERIES THREE, GAME ONE: WARRIORS, 113-91

Durant put down an initial deposit on the best years of his career by going 38/9/8 in a lopsided opener.

SERIES FOUR, GAME TWO: WARRIORS, 122-103

Hot off the mess that was Game 1, Curry broke the playoff record for threes, including five in the fourth, showing a fresh glimpse of why he is James’ truest rival for the nation’s heart attention.

SERIES TWO, GAME SIX: CAVALIERS, 115-101

James had 41 despite the return of Green, and forced the Warriors to contemplate their mortality in a series they surely had mentally celebrated.

SERIES THREE, GAME TWO: WARRIORS, 132-113

James doesn’t even play 40 minutes (one of three times that occurred in these games) as Durant had the second of his five consecutive 30-point games.

SERIES ONE, GAME FIVE: WARRIORS, 104-91

Curry’s 37 turns the series back in Golden State’s favor enough that nobody expects Cleveland to rally, and it didn’t. James’ 40 was marked by exhaustion as the toll of having no Irving finally weighed him down for good.

SERIES THREE, GAME THREE: WARRIORS, 118-113

The closest game of the series, won only because Durant (31/9/4) was joined by Thompson’s 30 and Curry’s 26 to trump James and Irving combining for 77.

SERIES ONE, GAME THREE: CAVALIERS, 96-91

James goes for 40, 12 and 8 without Irving, but the spectre of the Iggy Colossus awaits.

SERIES TWO, GAME THREE: CAVALIERS, 120-90

Cleveland responds to losses in the first two games by smashing the Warriors by the widest margin in the rivalry. Seems innocuous now, but at the time it gave the Cavs a life they seized upon later in the series.

SERIES TWO, GAME TWO: WARRIORS, 110-77

The least explicable game of the 22, because of what came afterward. It may have lulled the Warriors into a false sense of superiority, but they were young, and had much to learn, mostly at the back of LeBron’s hand.

SERIES TWO, GAME ONE: WARRIORS, 104-89

Given what happened next in the series and in the rivalry, the least memorable of all. I mean, a 15-point Warrior win seemed so normal at this point. Little did we know.

Game Result/Schedule
Game 1 Warriors 124, Cavs 114 (OT)
Game 2 Warriors 122, Cavs 103
Game 3 Warriors 110, Cavs 102
Game 4 Warriors 108, Cavs 85

Warriors cap off weirdest, hardest run with fitting ending

Warriors cap off weirdest, hardest run with fitting ending

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Coverage of the Warriors 2018 Championship Parade begins Tuesday at 9:30am on NBC Sports Bay Area and streaming on NBCSportsBayArea.com.

In some ways this was the perfect way to end the Warriors’ weirdest championship run – clinically, purposefully, almost cruelly.

Their 108-85 victory over the soon-to-be-freeze-dried Cleveland Cavaliers had none of the incandescent moments typically associated with Golden State at its best, no bursts of jaw-slackening brilliance or stretches of amazement, but it showed them at their remorseless best. They stole Cleveland’s heart, held it up for a gobsmacked arena crowd and the nation as a whole to see, and in a silent arena, they crushed it with one ruthless squeeze.

They showed anyone who needed further evidence that they have no peers, or even challengers. They sent the NBA into the offseason no better off than it was a year ago, and maybe a bit worse.

And though there were numbers to behold (Stephen Curry finished with 37 points and Kevin Durant triple-doubled his way to his second consecutive Finals MVP), this 103rd game, this 74th win, was the basketball version of watching a snake eat.

The Warriors defended LeBron James into the role of a passer with nobody to pass to, and rendered Kevin Love inert as a second option. They intercepted passes, slapped the ball out of careless Cavalier hands, took care of the ball and distributed it with the sureness usually found in scrimmages.

In all, the Warriors gave Steve Kerr and themselves exactly the game he enjoys most – a suffocating beatdown that denied their most serious rival even the barest illusion of hope.

They left no doubt and destroyed all doubters. They engaged the rivalry with Cleveland, they won the rivalry, and they killed the rivalry so surely that they and they made the LeBron James Era in Cleveland mostly bittersweet.

Not that is what James should be noted for, mind you. He is far more than the results of these four series, he was brilliant even as the futility of that brilliance became evident, and he did keep his word about winning one for Ohio. But when he left the game with 4:03 to play to a sustained ovation, he made sure to congratulate all the Warriors on the floor as an acknowledgement of what they did to his homecoming.

They ended it. With a concussive thud.

This was the hardest year for the Warriors, between the injuries and the ennui, and there was a sense that they viewed this victory with a mixture of joy and relief. But that might have been simply the fact that they started celebrating well before the actual game ended, because they assembled a game so complete and unyielding that it never actually reached the level of fun most associated with this team.

This was about business, and this was delivered with a businessman’s ruthlessness. This was the Warriors telling a skeptical world they have all the ways to win the league at their command, including denial of the opponent’s right to function. This was them not apologizing for ruining the league. This was them striding across the sport as the first team of this century, truly turning the switch at will and replacing the bulbs with floodlights once the postseason began.

This may not be a dynasty in the classic sense because it still lacks the third consecutive title that the Lakers of the ‘50s and ‘Oughts, the Celtics of the ‘60s and the Bulls of the ’90s, but it feels like one, and it looks like one that still has plenty of sting in its tail.

And there is no sign anywhere that there is a team even remotely close to challenging their claim that they are still years away from completing their run. They were once charming and fun and giddy and bubbly, but they have matured as champions. They are now clearly far too good for the field in all the ways good can be measured.

Game Result/Schedule
Game 1 Warriors 124, Cavs 114 (OT)
Game 2 Warriors 122, Cavs 103
Game 3 Warriors 110, Cavs 102
Game 4 Warriors 108, Cavs 85