Soccer expert Daryl Grove chats with us about the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, which starts today. 

The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia kicks off today, and in the next four weeks soccer (er, football) fans across America will remain glued to their televisions at home or at sports bars and viewing parties, even though Team USA failed to make the cut this year (but no worries, we’ll automatically qualify as the co-host of the 2026 cup, as announced yesterday). We chatted with Daryl Grove, former associate editor of Virginia Living and the co-host of the Total Soccer Show, the most-listened-to independent soccer podcast in the United States. Originally from England, Grove moved to Richmond in 2005.

The FIFA Soccer World Cup 2018 starts today—but without the U.S. Does that hurt?

For me, the failure to qualify was very painful when it happened in October 2017. I’ve had seven or eight months to get used to it, so now it feels more like an old injury that sometimes aches. For the people who are only just discovering that the U.S. won’t be there, it’s probably like settling down to watch the Olympics and finding there are no U.S. athletes in the 100 meters or the swimming or any other event.

In 2014, Team USA did exceptionally well, sparking a huge soccer hype back home, with thousands attending watch parties all over the country. This year we didn’t qualify, do you expect the hype to be over? 

Daryl Grove

Yeah, there will be a lack of hype and a lack of visibility because a lot of previous World Cup coverage in the U.S. has been fueled by some really positive, optimistic patriotism that gets channeled into the team. In terms of the growth of soccer in the U.S., it’s a huge problem. There are a lot of soccer fans in the U.S. that found the game through watching the U.S. Men’s National Team at the 2010 or 2014 World Cup. Cheering for the U.S. surrounded by fellow fans was what persuaded some people that they enjoy this sport and that experience is unavailable this team.

That said, for soccer nerds like me, the games will still be exciting and interesting. And the U.S.’ absence presents an opportunity to watch the tournament through a wider lens. And if U.S. fans really want that cheering-for-a-team atmosphere, the good news is that the U.S. is such a multicultural place that you can find large groups of people supporting teams they have ties to. So you can easily find a gathering of Mexico fans or England fans or Brazil fans and experience the tournament from their perspective.

We’re the only western nation where soccer isn’t the #1 sport. How do you explain to a football or baseball fan the sport’s fascination?

I try not to do that, because no one enjoys being told why they’re wrong and why they should like something they don’t. But, if forced to explain, I would say that it’s best to think of soccer as something that doesn’t stop and start. Soccer isn’t made of individual moments that you keep building to—like a down in football, or a pitch in baseball—it’s more of a free-flowing event where anything can happen at any moment. To me, that’s what makes it so mesmerizing.

Recording Total Soccer Show in studio.

Where should Virginians watch the world cup games this year?

Because the tournament is in Russia, games will kick off either morning or afternoon on the East Coast of the U.S., so I recommend going to sports bars or restaurants to watch games during the day. FOX has the rights for the first time this year. The majority of games will be broadcast on local FOX affiliate channels, with the rest on FOX Sports 1, so the tournament is more accessible than ever. If you have a soccer-friendly workplace, you can also stream games using the FOX Sports GO app or website.

Who do you project will be the next world champion?

This is always an impossible question, but I really like the look of Brazil. They have a simple but effective tactical system where three really creative attackers are supported by three hardworking, sensible midfielders, so I think they have the perfect balance.

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