When did World Cup soccer start mattering to U.S. fans? I know many of us have doled out orange slices and cursed at volunteer officials at youth league games, but interest in the pro soccer pitch is apparently now at fever pitch.
The global football tournament begins this afternoon and won't end until the finalists square off for a true world title in Rio de Janeiro on July 13. Whether you care about FIFA, spot kicks or wall passes (these are soccer terms, people), you have to admit there's nothing like a month-long party.
If you don't think World Cup soccer has anything to do with music, think again, mon frere. In celebration of the planet's largest single sport tournament, here's a music-oriented guide to the games.
MUSIC Unlike other matches for world titles, like that Super one here in the states every February, the World Cup has its own soundtrack. We got one during the last tournament in 2010 and the 2014 edition features some of the same artists, like Wyclef Jean and Pitbull.
The 2014 FIFA World Cup Official Album: One Love, One Rhythm is heavy on Latin acts, presumably because the tournament is being held in Brazil. Before the tournament's finals in Rio, 32 teams representing their respective countries will run, shoot and occasionally score in a dozen Brazilian cities.
This year's official album has the requisite, celebratory tone. Its best track is "Ole," by a Norwegian teen-pop star, Adelen. There's a nice remix of The Isley Brothers "It's Your Thing," by Studio Rio, who specialize in samba and bossa nova arrangements of American classics by the likes of Billie Holiday and Marvin Gaye. Brazilian songstress Bebel Gilberto contributes an alluring song, "Tico Tico."
Not every track is a winner. A song by Ricky Martin -- yes, it has been 15 years since you were "Livin' La Vida Loca" -- falls flat. The official World Cup song, "We Are One (Ole Ola)," features Jennifer Lopez, an artist I personally prefer not to listen to while watching soccer or doing anything else. As the official song, I'm sure we'll be hearing it more than once, which is really enough, in my opinion.
The best song I've heard related to the games isn't even on the soundtrack. It's a chant by the American Outlaws, a badass group of US Men's team supporters. It's called "I Believe" and it's the antidote to those "Ole" chants. They have others set to the tunes of "I WIll Follow Him" and "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing Ta F' Wit."
PUBS/RESTAURANTS If you're not a fan of the world's most popular sport, perhaps you will consider the excuse of following World Cup action to drink. If your 12 steps are still headed towards the pubs and not away from them yet, the tournament is a good chance to quaff beers and visit with sports fans from across the globe who do care about soccer, right here at home.
Every day of the tournament, House of Blues is hosting World Cup viewing parties in its Crossroads venue. Dave Tepper and Jerome Solomon from ESPN 97.5 FM will host a brunch broadcast there tomorrow, leading into the first full day of games, including the match pitting Mexico against Cameroon. Friday night, there's a live music bash with Mango Punch and Bombon.
I have it on good authority that Richmond Arms Pub is still one of the best places to watch soccer matches with the sport's most avid fans. The crowd is diverse and follows the action, so, depending on who's playing, you can transport yourself to another place and converse with the natives, who are now all Houstonians. Oh yeah, they also have excellent beers there.
If you're a fan of U.K. teams, or just dude-bros, you may wind up at Lucky's Pub, in the shadow of our hometown soccer team's stadium. I plan to root for the African qualifiers at Lucy Ethiopian Restaurant with beer, wings and hookah specials during matches. I will be highly disappointed if I can't watch at least one match at Chula's Memorial, which is on my way home from work and has a sound system that blares music so loud you can hear it across the freeway at CityCentre. Or, maybe it just seemed that loud after several beers.
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THE TEAMS Host team Brazil (music fan: Sergio Mendes, who owns a football team and contributed to the official World Cup album this year) is a 5:2 favorite. For those of you without a bookie, that means you'd only earn five bucks for every two you bet on them. Defending champion Spain (music fans: Shakira and Julio Iglesias, who was once a pro soccer player in Spain before international music superstardom) is a better bet, at 13:2, if you ask me.
The Algerian team is the longest shot, at 2000-to-1. Don't ask me who their biggest musical supporter is. Google ain't that good. The Americans are 100:1. HAIM, Lupe Fiasco, Diplo and Ice Cube have all shown their support in some way for the team.
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