By now there is a good chance that you know these two things to be true: the 2018 World Cup starts on Thursday and that the United States will not be involved. The U.S. team was bounced from the Cup back in October of last year, after losing to Trinidad and Tobago, although the team’s struggles didn’t start there. The USMNT had actually been headed towards that dismal result for almost a decade thanks to unfortunate personnel moves and an erosion of a culture that had made the team likeable and easy to root for, even though that didn’t always mean they were successful. Since 1990, the U.S. squad’s best finish was back in 2002, when they made it to the quarter finals and were bounced by Germany, who eventually finished in second place. At the last World Cup in 2014, the team advanced out of the group stage, but were subsequently defeated by Belgium in the round of 16.
Regardless of the outcome though, it goes without saying that here in America, for the majority of the people who watch the World Cup, the event is infinitely more interesting and engaging when the United States is involved. Patriotism in sports is dope. Just ask the Olympics. The 2014 World Cup and the surprising run by the Americans was easily one of the best things that happened on our shores that year. We had favorite players, we started to understand tendencies, we all became devotees of the Church of Clint Dempsey. It was a lot of fun and even though the World Cup was no less entertaining after the U.S. loss, some of the appeal had fallen by the wayside after the loss to Belgium, those waffle-making sons of bitches.
But now we must shove that disappoint aside and be resolute in our desire to not let the absence of the Americans in the 2018 World Cup diminish our eventual enjoyment of the tournament, one of the best sporting events there is. We must pick ourselves up, we must get over the bummer, we must resign ourselves to not having to worry about whether or not any of our gear hastily purchased during the 2014 Cup still fits. There are 32 other teams out there, countries who actually made the World Cup, and with the exception of Russia, are all deserving of our love and affection, no matter how temporary that may be. All we have to do is pick one. Easy.
Is it though?
How do you actually go about doing this, especially if you’re not all that familiar with the sport?
Well, you could attach yourself to a front-runner, a team that is a favorite to win, someone like Brazil, Germany, Spain, Portugal or Argentina. There is no shame in that. It’s not like you’re going out and getting Viva La Brazil tattoo’d across your chest. This is all temporary, man. You do you.
Or maybe you want to feel a little something when it comes to supporting a team, kind of like how you felt that warming sensation that comes only when national pride seeps through your skin and runs rough shot through your veins. Perhaps you have some Icelandic blood in you or some Belgium ancestry- then this is your team to tap into that. Twenty percent Tunisian? You’re in luck. A smidget of Swede, huh? Giddy up. A dabble of Costa Rican on your mom’s side? Bueno!
That might not work though. Me personally, I’ve gotten some Canadian in me, as well as some Irish. Neither of those countries made the Cup and frankly, as an American, I’ve become a little confused lately on how I should feel about Canada.
So what does someone like me do?
Search the Internet of course.
The fine folks at FiveThirtyEight have put together a quiz, a quiz that couldn’t be better titled and suited for this particular moment in time: “Which World Cup Team Should You Root For?” It’s like they knew that the U.S. not being in the World Cup was going to result in folks asking themselves that very question. See, sometimes the Internet is useful. I mean, most of the times it’s more of a bummer than an American-less World Cup, but we all have our redeeming moments.
It’s a short quiz, only a handful of questions, and in less than a minute or so, it produces an answer to that most vexing of questions. I took it. It was helpful. I’m cool with the result.
Question 1 (Team Strength): I want a team that…
- Is an underdog
- Could make some noise
- Is a soccer powerhouse
I love a good underdog, but I also like a semi-long term commitment. If I’m going to pick a random team to root for, I want it to be one that has a chance to be around for at least the bulk of the Cup. I don’t want to get all excited about a squad, only to see them get bounced during the Group Stage. What’s the point of that? Likewise, I don’t really want to hitch my wagon to a front runner. Not my style.
Question 2 (Star Power): How important is teamwork to you?
- I don’t mind a one-man army
- I’m all about squad goals
No man, soccer is a team game.
Question 3 (Offense vs. Defense): Do you want a team that’s stronger on offense or defense?
- I want a lot of goals or I’m going to fall asleep
- Why not both?
- I love a good 0-0 draw
I don’t think a proper soccer match should have a score higher than 5, 6 tops. That doesn’t feel right to me. Soccer matches should be tight like a tiger, intense and close. There’s a good chance that if the score is above 5, it’s a blow-out and that’s not why I’m watching soccer. On the flip side, I’m cool with a 0-0 draw, but I definitely don’t love a 0-0 draw. There’s a chance that that 0-0 draw was an epic match, but there’s also a chance it was a rock fight. Let’s have a 3-2 match or a 1-0 match and be on our way.
Question 4 (Passing): Halfback passes to the center, back to the wing, back to the center…
- Please just shoot the ball
- Real teams set up their shots
I am a person who enjoys the majesty of movement and a person who enjoys putting together statements like “I am a person who enjoys the majesty of movement.” So with that being said, I love me some ball movement, whether it’s soccer, basketball or in the case of hockey, puck movement. It shows a well-run team, organized and methodical. I’m not here for hero ball. Let’s see some movement, some intention boys!
Question 5 (Physicality): A whistle blows, and the game stops…
- If I wanted to see guys tackle each other, I’d watch the NFL
- C’MON REF THIS ISN’T CROQUET!
No, it’s not croquet, but that doesn’t mean I want to see dudes beating the shit out of each other. A few bumps here and there, a good ol’ slide tackle…sure. Let’s do it. But come on. Soccer is a finesse sport. It’s an artistic sport, whereas football is a brute sport. Each have their place in society and in the grand scheme of things and elements of both came make cameos in each sport, but they are who they are for a reason. A little blood? Sure. But that’s it for me.
Question 6 (American Fanbase): At a bar, watching a game…
- I’m OK being the only one who cares about a match
- I’d enjoy meeting some expats wearing the same jersey
Heck yeah I want to be in a bar watching a match with other people who are watching. No one wants to be the only one doing something in a crowded place. That means you’re going to have to ignore people, shush people, pretend to listen to people, all while trying to keep track of the game. That sounds terrible.
There are few things in life more enjoyable than being in a crowded bar full of people watching the same game or match on TV. It’s infectious. I was in Detroit once when the Red Wings were in the Stanley Cup and was in a bar during one of the games. I very quickly became a huge Red Wings’ fan. Didn’t even have to try. It came over me suddenly and forcefully and before long, I was high-fiving people and cheering on the team, a team I had never cared about before that moment and wouldn’t really care about once morning comes.
This is a ridiculous question.
Question 7 (Goal?)
Please, this is an easy one. Subdued reactions have no place in any sport, let alone soccer.
And the final result is…
Okay, okay. England. Let me think about this for a minute.
I’m cool with this. England it is.
So why England? Well, according to FiveThirtyEight, England is a middle of the pack team, has balance scoring, as well as a balanced offense and defense, passes a lot before attacking, doesn’t rack of penalties and fouls and has a good-sized fan base here in the states. The only answer I had that doesn’t match England was the last one, the level of enthusiasm for when a goal scores. But I think that’s just semantics and I’m not going to dwell too much on that one.
So hey, go England. I enjoyed the Royal Wedding, like the Beatles and miss Downton Abbey.
Let’s do this.