The World Series, however grand, is really the championship of American (and occasionally Canadian) baseball.
The World Cup, conversely, is just that — an international athletic spectacle featuring soccer teams, fans and viewers spanning nearly every country and continent.
The global game is also reflected in the USA Cup, which kicked off Friday at the National Sports Center in Blaine. While the name may make it sound like a strictly domestic event, 19 nations are sending soccer teams and/or referees to a tournament featuring 950 squads playing more than 2,300 games over eight days — including a U14 girls and U16 boys team from war-torn Ukraine.
"We pride ourselves that the USA Cup is unlike any other tournament," said Sara Soli, the NSC's chief marketing and communications officer. "Having these Ukrainian teams here is uniting the world in a really difficult time" as they "do something that all of these kids love to do, which is play soccer."
Getting a chance to take part "means everything," said the Rev. Rudolph Balazhynets, the coach of the Ukrainian FC Minaj boys team.
Why? "Because you can die at any minute" in Ukraine, he said.
That applies to all Ukrainians, but especially Balazhynets, who along with coaching must secure supplies from everywhere and anywhere to help Ukrainians in peril. Speaking from Uzhhorod, Ukraine, before his trip to Minnesota, Balazhynets explained that his ministry is delivering help to civilians, police, the military, maternal hospitals and other entities across the country, including in eastern Ukraine where the fighting is fiercest.
Among the lifelines Balazhynets has received were medical and personal-safety supplies recently brought in 20 50-pound bags by two college-soccer buddies who decades later are still close friends acting upon their beliefs: Peter Wohler, executive director of Source, an outreach ministry in Minneapolis, and Edgar Madsen, an accountant, youth hockey coach, and an advocate dedicated to the Ukrainian cause.
Madsen, a friend, said in an interview that Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February "just hit me" and led him to believe that individuals and institutions had to help as well as the government. It hit Wohler hard, too. When he began his plan to get a soccer team from war-torn Ukraine to Blaine, his pal Madsen decided within days to accompany him on a trip to the country.
There he witnessed Ukraine's needs and Balazhynets' inspired, intrepid response, including donating a generator to an eastern Ukrainian family whose son has been in a coma for the last five years. Because he's on a ventilator dependent on a power grid vulnerable to vicissitudes of wartime, the boy is especially imperiled, and the gift of a generator is literally a lifeline. Once the family understood what it was, and what it meant, Madsen said, they, and he, "got pretty emotional."
Ukrainians are "very appreciative" of individual efforts from citizens like Madsen and Wohler, and from America's elected leaders, too, Madsen said. "It sounds a little bit corny," he continued. But "we are a beacon; we are the shining light of the world. No matter what you think of what's going on in Washington or anything else, people aren't fighting to get into China or Russia, they're fighting to get into our country. And the people that we met know that if the American people get behind this that we can help them."
Balazhynets certainly believes it. "God put in America the biggest gift I've seen in my life," he said. "The nation gives the most for all the world and now we are a part of this giving."
Channeling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Balazhynets paraphrased his famous retort that "I don't need a ride, I need ammunition" by saying "I don't need a taxi, I need supplies." So too do the Ukrainian armed forces. Now that more heavy weaponry is finally, albeit belatedly, arriving in Ukraine, it gives Balazhynets confidence that "we will win this war."
Madsen said that Balazhynets' ministry has about a dozen donated vans with many more that need repair. The vans head out east with supplies and return with evacuees to the somewhat safer western portion of Ukraine. Keeping such an operation going requires help, much of which comes from displaced Ukrainians, as well as money, which necessitates keeping the Ukrainian crisis front of mind for Americans and Europeans already reeling from world events. Those include the economic crises stemming from the war itself as well as political distractions like the Jan. 6 investigation in the United States and the resignation of Boris Johnson as British prime minister.
"The hope is to try to raise awareness of people in the U.S. that these are real people doing some of the same things that we want to do with our kids" and that the team "can raise consciousness of the world, especially the U.S., to say, 'Hey, this thing is still going on,'" said Madsen.
Indeed, distressingly, it still is. A resurgent Russian military is tightening its grip on the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine and may yet set its sights again on the entire nation.
"Everyone should know that largely speaking we haven't even yet started anything in earnest," an unrepentant President Vladimir Putin told a parliamentary committee on Thursday. In fact, the conflict could continue for years, with some of the youth soccer players eventually being of age to join their older siblings, mothers and fathers in the fight.
"The biggest thing," Madsen said, is "to get them out of the trauma and see that there is some normalcy in the world. … Win or lose — and I hope they do well on the field — hopefully they can have some fun and play well and make some new friends."
Another goal, said Balazhynets, is "to show Ukraine is strong, Ukraine is part of the world, Ukraine will show its own talents and gifts."
And soccer is a gift itself, he added.
"Soccer can give you a life," Balazhynets explained, expounding that "soccer is a channel of love, joy, and health."
Many USA Cup players "don't remember life without soccer," said Solis. "They learned to play when they were very little, they cheer on their hometowns, and I think when you can see others from across the world that speak the same language of the game it's really exciting and makes the world feel much smaller and much more connected."
Comparing the sport to American football, baseball and basketball, Madsen added that overseas "every bar you're in has a soccer game on — 24 hours a day there's a soccer game going on somewhere in the world. … It gives a chance to be on the same page."
Indeed, soccer is the global game.
But for the next week or so, thanks in part to two Minnesotans and a minister from Ukraine collectively living their faith, soccer will live up to its other nickname: the beautiful game.