This week the TV in our house has been filled with opening-round games of the Confederations Cup, being played in the same stadiums and cities that will host the FIFA World Cup next summer.
If you're not a fan, international soccer provides such a great challenge to some of the best players in the world who leave the comfort of their club team, stock full of international stars from all over the world, to play for their home country.
Oftentimes, the "best of" from their home countries wouldn't even make the roster of their club team but somehow a few times per year for "friendlies" and a month or so of training with the national team and you're expected to compete with the world's best in these international tournaments. It's much like kids these days that play club sports with the best players in the area and then battle against each other in high school competition.
These games have been fun to watch, but there's a lack of the star power that will be there next summer.
Soccer has matured to the point where there are certainly teams that are better than others, but there is no clear favorite to win the World Cup next year. You can still expect some upsets from the Confederations Cup and certainly next summer's World Cup.
Sports are full of upsets.
No matter what level of sports you may be involved with — from recreation to professional — at some point in time, the stars will align and the underdog will steal one from their heavily favored opponent.
Two of the greatest upsets in U.S. professional sports history involved two teams from Baltimore, both in the same year, neither of which were in the city's favor.
In 1969, Joe Namath predicted his AFL New York Jets' victory over the NFL's Baltimore Colts. And in the same year, the "Miracle" New York Mets brought down the dominant Orioles 4-1, themselves winners of 109 regular-season games.
Speaking of miracles, if you are one of my contemporaries or at least love a good Kurt Russell movie, who could forget where you were the night the collection of rag-tag collegiate hockey players from the U.S. knocked off the Soviet Union, possibly the greatest Olympic hockey dynasty, in the 1980 Olympics before moving on and winning the gold medal?
If you are one that has pulled a significant upset in athletics, you understand there is no better feeling in sports than when everything comes together — preparation, game plan, coaching, teamwork, and lady luck — to be the David who knocks off Goliath.
In most cases, the teams that are supposed to win generally do. But that rare time when everything works, when everything falls into place and preparation meets execution, the win over that highly favored opponent can be so sweet.
It doesn't matter if the victory comes in the playoffs. You don't even have to win a game to feel like you've pulled an upset.
I remember a game where in the previous three years our soccer team had been humiliated by a combined 16-0 by the top team in our district. We set out a game plan that emphasized a packed-in defense and counterattack and only lost 1-0 on a controversial penalty kick call.
Although we lost, the ride home from Winthrop College that night was one of the most satisfying ones of my collegiate career because we had come to prove ourselves worthy and went home knowing we had accomplished what we set out to do.
Locally, the drama on the pitch was unfolding that would have made a great script for a made-for-Hollywood movie. Christos F.C. a local amateur soccer club, based in Baltimore and headquartered out of a local pub, was the last amateur team left of the 14 remaining teams in the U.S. Open Cup — a cup, as per the name, that is open to any professional, semi-professional, or amateur teams from across the country.
Christos defeated heavily-favored teams from the United Soccer League (USL) and the Premier Development League (PDL) on the backs of local area high school and college teams like UMBC products Geaton Caltabiano, Pete Caringi III, and Levi Houapeu, who all factored in goals along the way. Despite taking a 1-0 lead early in the game, they eventually fell to four-time MLS champion D.C. United 4-1 at the Maryland Sports Complex, an honorable completion to their incredible run.
These examples are a testament to what can happen if you believe in yourself and your teammates, and put in the work that will prepare you for the battle ahead.
If you are staring down the next Goliath on your schedule, remember what Henry Ford once said: "One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his greatest surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn't."
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