Thirty years after World War III, the world—what’s left of it—has finally learned from its mistakes. All weapons and warfare are illegal, and a single world government is responsible for guarding the few remaining nuclear missiles. Control of this international body changes every two years, but instead of elections, the head of this organization is decided by a youth soccer tournament: Whichever team wins, its country’s leader controls the global government. China has won the past five tournaments, but this year, for the first time ever, the nation of Alaska has a shot at taking the title. Alaska, which is all that’s left of the former United States, is led by the all-star trio of Jason, the determined goalie; Cassie, a girl trying to prove herself in a boy’s world; and Reed, the brilliant striker and spoiled son of Alaska’s security minister. But history is doomed to repeat itself. Jason’s twin brother, Nate, sent to a secret government training facility after his soccer career was ended by injury, reveals to his brother the president’s plot to take over the world, win or lose. There is plenty of excitement here, almost all of it on the soccer pitch. The stakes couldn’t be higher, yet somehow the reader doesn’t feel the dread. There’s plenty of sneaking between rooms at the World Cup village, but the book is never clear on what, exactly, are the consequences of getting caught. Evil is rarely in the flesh: The president appears infrequently and briefly, the soccer coach is harsh but not sinister, and Reed’s father is more of a benign pawn than an actual enemy. The reader waits for the kids to make a stand or for at least the inkling of an uprising. Instead, the kids just keep scoring goals.
Young readers are sure to relate to these characters, but the book needs to spend more time off the field.