Summer soccer excites sports fans

Sporting KC forward Dom Dwyer attempts to put a header in the back of the net in the waning minutes of Sporting's 1-0 victory over Toronto FC Mar. 20, 2016, at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. (Parker Robb | The Collegian)

A week from now, the NBA season will be over. The Cleveland Cavilers and Golden State Warriors will have battled to six or seven games, giving us 2016’s NBA Champion. Usually that is the sign that we are heading into the worst part of the summer sports schedule; that time where nothing is going on except baseball and more baseball.

For those of you who enjoy America’s pastime, don’t get too upset and start sending me angry emails or tweets – I get enough of that all year. This year, however, offers many key storylines from across the world that could offer us one magical sports summer. There is baseball, the NBA free agency that finally doesn’t involve LeBron James, but it’s soccer that will give us the biggest drama in summer 2016.

Two of soccer’s three biggest events are going on right now with major soccer tournaments taking place on two continents. UEFA’s Euro 2016 and Copa America 2016 have offered drama on and off the pitch. Over in France, where Euro 2016 is being held, they’re under the constant threat of a potential terrorist attack after the Paris travesty of 2015. On the field, each of the tournaments have must-see storylines that will keep soccer lovers glued to the TV and may create some new fans of the beautiful game.

Germany, the reigning World Cup champions, look to continue their dominance on the international stage as they try to fend off world powers such as Spain, Italy and France to remain the kings of Europe. Over here in the U.S., it’s the battle of the Americas or, as it’s usually called, Copa America. This is the 100th anniversary of the tournament that puts North America’s best up against South America’s best in a winner-take-all tournament. Already we’ve been treated to some juicy storylines, none of which are as shocking as world power Brazil being eliminated in the group stage of the tournament.

Two other major storylines involve the U.S. Men’s National Team and arguably the world’s best soccer player, Lionel Messi. The U.S. is on a quest to win its first Copa America title and top its all-time best finish of fourth place in 1995. As for Messi, he has achieved great success with his home country, Argentina, and his club team FC Barcelona. Despite all of that success, he has yet to win a major title for Argentina, coming close in 2014’s World Cup but losing in the final to Germany. A title at Copa America could put Messi among not just the greats in his country, but the greats of all time.

Then there’s the most controversial of soccer’s “big three” in 2016, the Rio Olympics. The Rio Games will feature the U.S. Women’s National Team, and the men’s side will feature world superstar Neymar who is a homegrown Brazilian.

It’s what is happening off the field that’s grabbed headlines, though, from the sewage-infested waters at various venues to the possible impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff to the biggest one of all, the Zika Virus. The mosquito-based virus has been classified as “low-risk,” but still a large enough threat that has caused athletes from various countries to be hesitant about participating in the Rio games.

If Rio organizers do not get their house in order, what’s being showcased on the field may be overshadowed by what’s going on away from the field.