Quite a weekend for soccer! The Cinderella story continued in the English Premier League for Leicester City, the U.S. men’s national team notched up a couple of wins and Barcelona and Brazil star, Neymar, popped up in a Super Bowl commercial to give the beautiful game a plug.
Watching the increasingly silly Super Bowl ads, I did a double take as Neymar ran onscreen to try his hand – or rather, his foot, at a field goal. Ignoring the oval-shaped football, he opted for the round variety that sat next to it – and scored.
This, he told viewers, was “real football.” An amusing play by the people at Taco Bell. I may even try the “Quesalupa” thing they were promoting.
All kidding aside, this may have marked a big breakthrough for our sport. Maybe we will start seeing more soccer in the mainstream. There are reports of a soccer series being made in Hollywood for one of the cable networks.
Let’s hope for more.
Best pix of the week
What Does Misery Look Like? How Front Pages Across Americas Depicted Brazilians' World Cup Pain
For Soccer Dreamers In Brazil, World Cup Is Driving Their Ambition For Fame
The Dreamy Team: 11 Good-Looking World Cup Players To Really Keep An Eye On
Brazil Defeated Colombia In An Electric World Cup Quarterfinal
Soccer star David Villa talks about his goals
FIFA scandal shakes the soccer world
The <i>Other</i> Football: Omar Gonzalez is alive and well and enjoying Liga MX
The <i>Other</i> Football: A super weekend for the beautiful game
The <i>Other</i> Football: MLS takes one step forward, one step back
The U.S. national team had two wins in a week.
First came a shaky 3-2 success over minnow Iceland, a team that shocked world soccer by making it to this summer's European Championships. With a population of fewer than 350,000, the island nation doesn’t even count as many people as Colorado Springs.
In Friday’s friendly against Canada, the U.S. team was hampered by an excellent effort by Canada’s goalkeeper, Maxime Crépeau, but finally Jozy Altidore netted in the final minutes of the game for a 1-0 win.
The 26-year-old forward looked sharp – let’s hope he can maintain his quality as the games become more serious.
The friendlies give Coach Jürgen Klinsmann a little more time to work out his squad for upcoming World Cup qualifiers and this summer’s Copa America. My only advice to the boss is to have him consider New York Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty, and giving his teammate – last season's MLS goalkeeper of the year, Luis Robles – another shot as keeper.
Robles started the near-debacle against Iceland, giving up two scores, but both players are more than capable of filling important roles on the team.
The story of Leicester City is so much of a fairy tale that Hollywood producers were reportedly watching soccer's match of the week as Manchester City hosted the team from the English Midlands on Saturday.
Leicester nearly went down a division last season – along with the league’s current top scorer Jamie Vardy, who is being scouted by Hollywood producers to make a movie of his rags-to-riches story.
But there they were on Saturday taking the game to England’s biggest spenders by downing them 3-1. Vardy didn’t score, but Leicester is now the bookies' favorite to win the Premiership in what has been the most exciting season in years.
They were able to pull out the win in front of Man City’s biggest attendance ever – just under 54,000, many of whom left early thanks to Leicester’s dominance.
The pressure is now on coach Claudio Ranieri’s team to win it all, and some of England’s most admired and respected soccer writers say they can do it. Mental toughness is needed, and while I see a last minute dash by Arsenal or Man City to try to take the title, I do feel Leicester can finish in the top four and nail down a UEFA Champions League qualifying spot.
Soccer can be the cruelest of sports, and the Leicester fairy tale run is unlikely to last, as much as I’d like to be wrong about that.
Video of the week
What else? Here is the Taco Bell Super Bowl commercial featuring Neymar.
From the wires
After she was left off the U.S. World Cup roster last year, Crystal Dunn says there were days she didn't even want to get out of bed in the morning.
Dunn turned her disappointment into drive.
"I think once I took it as, 'There are other things waiting for me,' that's when I became a better player," she said. "This is such a high level and it's so easy to fall out of love with the sport because you're in such an intense environment. We lose track about what it's about, which is getting better, improving your craft and just enjoying the game."
Dunn is a versatile 23-year-old midfielder for the U.S. national team. She's on the young roster the Americans selected for the Olympic qualification tournament for the North and Central America and Caribbean region that starts this week in Texas.
The top two finishers qualify for the Rio Games. The United States has won the gold medal in the past three Olympics.
Dunn played soccer growing up in New York because her parents told her to go outside and run off her energy. Unlike some of her teammates who idolized players like Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain as kids, Dunn didn't start following the national team until she was a teenager.
"I remember watching Abby (Wambach) playing and that's when I started realizing, OK, there is a future in this game, and it wasn't just about having fun, you could actually have a career with this," she said.
Dunn went on to win the Hermann Trophy as the top college women's player and an NCAA championship while at North Carolina. She also played for the U.S. Soccer Federation's junior teams, including the champions at the 2012 Under-20 World Cup.
Dunn got her first call-up to the national team in 2013 from then-coach Tom Sermanni and earned a spot on that year's Algarve Cup roster. The Washington Spirit selected her with the first overall pick in the 2014 National Women's Soccer League draft.
But she struggled with injuries ahead of last year's World Cup and was left off the roster for the qualifying tournament. She wasn't prepared for the phone call from Sermanni's successor, Jill Ellis, telling her she didn't make the 23-player roster for her sport's biggest event.
"It was super devastating to hear that I wasn't going to part of such an amazing tournament. It hurt a lot," she said. "It took a couple of weeks to dust myself off and continue to want to play the game after such a heartbreaking moment."
But Dunn did just that, throwing herself into the NWSL season with the Spirit. She scored 15 goals in 20 appearances, earning the league's Golden Boot and Most Valuable Player awards.
"For a long time there I was still battling injuries and I was constantly trying to get fit, I just wasn't in a good place. I wasn't completely enjoying the game," she said. "I would say getting left off the roster actually improved me in so many ways. I was stronger this past year, I was way more focused and I learned to love the game again."
Ellis took note, bringing Dunn back for the post-World Cup victory tour. She scored and had two assists in her return, a 5-0 victory over Haiti in Detroit.
"Left side, right side, she's impactful," Ellis said. "I love her confidence. She's back in and she's making a case for herself."
The U.S. team has a 20-player roster for Olympic qualifying that looks much younger from the group that won the World Cup. Veterans Abby Wambach, Shannon Boxx, Lauren Holiday and Laurie Chalupny have retired. Christie Rampone and Megan Rapinoe are out with injuries, and Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux are pregnant.
The roster limit is 18 for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August.
''It's hard to feel like you have (a roster spot) in the bag," Dunn said. "But I think with what I went through last year, I worked my butt off and I'm a completely different player. And I'd like to believe I'm someone the national team would like to keep on the roster."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.