The U.S. confronts its rival Mexico for the World Cup Qualifier; Cincinnati faces an uphill battle to the College Football Playoffs; and sports overtakes politics in Americans’ news consumption.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
And now it’s time for sports.
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SIMON: Two-zip – the U.S. men’s soccer team defeats Mexico – a good omen for the World Cup. Also, will the Cincinnati Bearcats keep winning but be shut out of college football playoffs? And sports is back on search engines.
Joining us now from Columbus, Ohio, is NPR’s Tom Goldman – morning, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: Dos a cero – what caught your eye in the World Cup qualifying match last night?
GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Well, let’s first explain. Dos a cero is a meaningful score in U.S. men’s soccer. Since the late 1990s, the U.S. has beaten Mexico in World Cup qualifying matches five times on U.S. fields. And the scores have all been 2-nil or, as you said, 2-zip. And last night’s dos-a-cero win was a great one on a cold, rainy night in Cincinnati. From the start, the U.S. team was aggressive. It put pressure on the Mexican players deep into their side of the field. And it paid off in the second half, when it seemed to wear down Mexico’s defense. And the U.S. pounced with two goals – the first a beautiful header by star forward Christian Pulisic. He’d missed several matches because of an ankle injury. So now, Scott, halfway through this World Cup qualifying, the U.S. leads in the regional standings. Mexico is second. And you know, it’s sure looking like this won’t be the embarrassment of the last World Cup, when the U.S. didn’t get there.
SIMON: And U.S. Soccer said before kickoff that it was ready to shut down the game if there was any offensive or racist behavior by fans. Any you saw?
GOLDMAN: I didn’t see anything. And there were no reports of anything bad. The sell-out crowd of 26,000 was hugely pro-U.S., and that was by design. U.S. Soccer reportedly has tried to find host cities for these matches with smaller Mexican American populations, under the assumption that’ll reduce support for the Mexican team. Now, a couple of Mexican American fans told me the overwhelming pro-U.S. crowd was a big factor, even intimidating at times. There was chippiness on the field between players – a few shoving matches. Yellow cards were issued. But that’s to be expected by teams that really don’t like each other, although afterwards, they shake hands and they move on.
SIMON: And while you are in Cincinnati, let me ask you about University of Cincinnati Bearcats. They are undefeated, ranked second in polls, but they don’t have a clear shot at the college football playoffs. Why?
GOLDMAN: Well, the ranking that counts, put together by the College Football Playoff committee, currently has Cincinnati at No. 5. The top four at the end of the season qualified for the Championship playoff. Now, several teams above Cincinnati in that top four have lost once. Cinci, as you said, is 10 and 0 after last night’s big win over South Florida. Lots of college football fans, especially in Cincinnati, say there’s a bias against teams not in the so-called Power Five conferences.
GOLDMAN: Cincinnati is not and therefore supposedly has weaker opponents. But the Bearcats are a good team. And if they win the rest of their games and don’t make that top four, there’s going to be anger and more cries for an expanded playoff.
SIMON: Finally, a bit of news I noticed this week – 6 of the top 10 news topics and searches on search engines last month in this country had to do with sports – last time this year, much heavier on politics and other weighty concerns. How do you read this?
GOLDMAN: I think part of it – you know, these stats also show the interest in politics has dipped a lot. I think people are moved by sports because it’s something off the news. It’s engaging. It’s a diversion.
GOLDMAN: You know, another thing that may be driving more interest, Scott, you’re seeing a return of actual fans to games. Although we’re certainly not post-pandemic. And then there’s you and me. You know, it’s a good time for sports. And I guess this means you’re going to still have me on, at least for the time being, yeah?
SIMON: Hold on. Let me look in the control room. Raise your hands. Yeah? Yeah? It’s a very close vote. But they say, still have Tom on.
NPR’s sports correspondent Tom Goldman – thanks so much.
GOLDMAN: Thank goodness. Thank you.
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