Four off the pitch stories to watch heading into the World Cup

Most of the talk about the World Cup has to do with the games and players. You’ve probably heard all of the same talking points bandied about – can the US escape the Group of Death? Will Diego Costa play for Spain? Will Brazil be able to bring home the trophy on home soil? And while all of those stories definitely deserve your attention, we need the matches to start to answer those questions.

However, there are some stories related to the World Cup that won’t decide games on the pitch, and won’t really determine the winner of the World Cup. Here are four stories that will largely take place off the pitch that are worth your time.

Will the protests in Brazil affect the World Cup at all?

This week, protests about the Brazilian World Cup started to get real hairy. Stones were thrown at security forces. Protesters were hounding the Brazilian national team at their hotel. Tear gas was shot at protesters in Brasilia. Brazilian soccer legend Ronaldo and president Dilma Roussef have been trading barbs in the media. It’s an ugly situation that could turn threatening and deadly at a moments notice. But the matches have not begun yet. None of them have been moved or postponed. As we draw closer and closer to the World Cup, we have to wonder whether or not the protests will simply be in the background, like they were in Sochi this winter, or if they will be right at the forefront of our collective consciousness.

How much will America care about the World Cup?

Soccer as the “next big thing” in the States has been a consistent storyline for 20 years. It’s beginning to establish itself as a major sport with the recent success and ambitious expansion of the MLS and strong Premier League ratings during its first series on the NBC family of networks. Soccer has “made it” in a sense, but there’s still plenty of growth potential. The World Cup is a different animal – this is an event like the Olympics, where national pride is at a high. Just how big will the audience be for the US team matches at 6 PM on Monday, 6 PM on Sunday, and noon on Thursday? With group stage matches in primetime, the 2014 World Cup could post record ratings and continue soccer’s growth.

How much of Louis van Gaal’s attention is on the World Cup?

This is a question that you can’t really answer until the World Cup is all said and done, but it will be a major storyline. Van Gaal will take over at the helm of Manchester United once the World Cup concludes, and you wouldn’t fault him if his mind wasn’t wandering towards his new job. The Dutch team will face a much tougher group next month than they did in qualifying, when the club went unbeaten in ten matches and qualified with a whopping +29 goal differential. The Netherlands will face Spain right off the bat, and if the defending World Cup champions take the Dutch behind the woodshed, will we see a noticeable change in van Gaal’s demeanor with qualification on the line in matches with Australia and Chile?

Will travel be a significant impediment or a minor inconvenience?

Much has been made about how far away some of the stadiums in Brazil are from one another. The US doesn’t get the benefit of any short flights – they start off against Ghana in Natal, then have to fly all the way across the county to Manaus to take on Portugal, and then have to fly all the way back over to Recife for their battle with Germany. England and Italy both start in Manaus, and have long flights to Sao Paulo and Recife, respectively. If there are any sort of issues getting into or out of the lone city in the rainforest, you best believe that teams that were forced to play there will have sour grapes – especially if the group stage is decided with any of those matches.

About Joe Lucia

I hate your favorite team. I also sort of hate most of my favorite teams.