Saturday, February 17, 2018
Sports

World Cup conspiracy theories abound for U.S. team

This match, you could play on the grassy knoll.

This match, you could ask Elvis to officiate.

This match should be attended by the likes of J. Edgar Hoover, and what do you know, he has just the evening gown to wear to it.

No, you aren't going to believe the soccer match that is scheduled for Thursday afternoon between the United States and Germany. In fact, if it ends in a tie — which is always highly probable in soccer, and would send both teams through to the next round of the World Cup — no one is going to believe it. One hundred years from Thursday, there would be many who would raise an eyebrow every time the score is mentioned.

Already, ghanaweb.com has suggested that the fix is in. After all, sometimes the conspiracy theories are just too good. Sometimes, they make too much sense. Sometimes, they're just too much fun to dismiss.

And so here we have it, two teams that need at least a tie to move on, eliminating Portugal and Ghana from the tournament. Already, the wink-wink and the nudge-nudge has begun. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann is already answering questions — seriously — about back-door deals and secret agreements. No, he says, there hasn't been a telephone call.

Of course he says that.

Doesn't NASA say the same thing about the Moon Hoax?

It's just too delicious not to wonder. All of the elements of a good conspiracy are there. Let's see: Klinsmann is a former German player. He coached there. Five of the U.S. players are German. German coach Joachim Loew was once Klinsmann's assistant.

And, when you get down to it, wouldn't Germany prefer to have a U.S. team advance to the next round than a talented Portugal team?

All of this is why much of the media has begun to write about these teams just settling in for a leisurely day of kick-about instead of a real match. A lot of people don't seem to believe this match might be on the up-and-up. Might the goaltenders wear flip-flops? Might the defenders bring lounge chairs?

We'll see.

After all, we have become a conspiracy-minded planet these days. We believe that everything is a conspiracy. We believe in the Magic Bullet and Roswell and someone writing Shakespeare's plays for him. We believe in the Illuminati and Zachary Taylor's assassination and the draft of Patrick Ewing being rigged and that Paul McCartney died before he arrived at Abbey Road. We believe the Men in Black exist and Elvis is alive and named John Burrows and aliens abducted Amelia Earhart. We believe there are cars that can operate on water and that Michael Jackson's nose once fell off and that John Lennon was killed by Stephen King. All of these, by the way, are real conspiracy theories.

Given all of that, would a 1-1 tie really be stretching things?

Look, no one thinks the sides will decide the match in a darkened room somewhere. Not really. Not at the start, anyway.

After all, a draw can happen quite naturally in this sport. In the 2010 World Cup, there were 14 ties in group play alone. It's a sport where the sides end up even a lot more than they do in other sports.

But does a little part of you wonder this? What if the teams play 80 minutes, and they're tied? What if it's 70? What if it's 65?

At some point, don't you think the teams decide that a tie is a far better fate than turning reckless and then finding yourself out of position? After all, the United States was burned late against Portugal as it was, remember? You couldn't blame it for using a little caution in the second half.

Of course, as a sport, soccer is a little touchy about conspiracies these days. Everyone is aware of how bad the match-fixing scandals have become.

The thing is, this has been a bold American team. It won late against Ghana rather than play for the tie. It lost a lead late against Portugal.

Still, these things happen. It didn't take long for the 1982 World Cup game to come up, did it? That year, in Spain, Germany had to beat Austria, and it took an early lead in a game where both teams knew going in that a German win by one or two goals meant both would advance at Algeria's expense on a goal differential tiebreaker. The rest of the game was a stroll in the park. You could have let the air out of the ball. The match was called Nichtangriffspakt von Gijon, the Non-Aggression Pact of Gijon. Spanish fans chanted que se besen: Let them kiss.

Oh, it could be worse.

Go back to 1994 and the Caribbean Cup match between Barbados and Grenada. At the time, Barbados needed to win by two goals to advance. But as play got late, it led only 2-1.

At the time, however, there was a silly rule that if a team won in extra time after 90 minutes of regulation, it would be recorded as a two-goal victory, so Barbados purposely scored an own goal to create a tie. Grenada then began to try to score at either end to break the tie.

So there you had it, two teams trying to score against themselves in an absolute farce.

Bottom line? I don't think it will happen this time. This U.S. soccer team has survived on its passion so far. I don't see it turning that off along the way.

This is already the most popular soccer team the United States has ever had. It has earned its right not to be doubted. It may lose, sure, but I don't think the players are going to let their momentum slip away with a lackadaisical effort.

If they tie, sure, a lot of people may be suspicious.

In the end, that won't matter.

Just ask Bigfoot.

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