How to Watch (and Enjoy) the World Cup as a USMNT Supporter

Adopting a New Team and Buying a New Kit

Embarrassing.  Freakish.  Devastating.  Extraordinary.  Absolute Disaster.  Just a brief sampling of the words chosen to describe what happened to the U.S. Men’s National Team in World Cup qualifying.  The palpable buzz emanating from a World Cup summer isn’t all that palpable in the United States right now. 

We’ve had several months now to bicker and argue over who failed who, and those debates will continue, as they should.  There are difficult questions that need some semblance of an answer, but for now we’re still trudging in some direction without any clear leadership – a proper head coach would be nice.  Hope Solo are you out there?!

Without the beloved and beleaguered Stars and Stripes in the tournament this summer, you might be feeling lost, betrayed, and maybe even a bit apathetic about the World Cup.  

Shame on you!  We’ve waited four years for this!  This is the World Cup. 

Take your national team jersey, fold it up neatly (feel free to skip that step), and place it somewhere dark and forgettable so that it can think about what it’s done to you.  Then place your forgettable underperforming team in the back of your mind for the summer. 

Also, the Daily Soccer Digest is giving away a FREE WORLD CUP JERSEY, so the information below may help you with your selection when the time comes. 

This is a difficult time for all of us unqualified nations.  For many younger fans and Italians this is uncharted territory.  We still need to appreciate this World Cup for everything that it has to offer.  In order to do that, we need to latch onto another country’s dreams like turf pellets on old socks. 

Adopting a New Team

Other nations have experienced the pain of failure far more often than the United States and we can learn from them.  Immigration has been a contentious issue in the U.S. under the current administration, but the great fact remains that we are surrounded by people who come from countries that are participating in the World Cup this summer.

   A Team of 12 Nationalities   (@UnivisionSports)

A Team of 12 Nationalities (@UnivisionSports)

The success of the USMNT is dependent on immigrants and children of immigrant families.  Just look at this infographic and article from June 2016; 12 different nationalities were represented in the USMNT squad.  6 of those 12 nations will play in the World Cup this summer: Germany (several), Poland (Wondo/Guzan), Mexico (Orozco/Castillo/Corona), Colombia (Bedoya), Japan (Bobby Wood), and Croatia (Pulisic).  

Remember when you said you would move to another country if Trump was elected?  This is the perfect chance for a test run.  And you don’t even need to leave the country.  Supporters groups from nearly every country in the World Cup this summer will gather in local pubs and other venues around the United States to watch and support their national teams.  So buy a new kit (or win a free one!), learn a new anthem, and join them. 

One nation’s failure is another nation’s moment of glory.  Here are a few teams that you can pledge your allegiance to for the next few months, or years, depending on the severity the current situation.

(1) Egypt (Group A; Uruguay, Russia, Saudi Arabia)

Egypt punched their ticket to the World Cup for just the third time in the nation’s history.  Judging by AFCON (Africa Cup of Nations) titles, though, they’re the most successful nation on the continent (7-time champions, Runners-up in 2017). 

The Pharaohs were one win away from qualification for Brazil ’14, but self-destructed in the first leg of their playoff fixture with Ghana, losing 6-1.  Having experienced that, Egypt made few mistakes in their latest qualification campaign, finishing top of one of the more challenging qualification groups in Africa.

There are several reasons other than Mo Salah to support Egypt: 1) The Pharaohs have not participated in a World Cup in 28 years (Italy ’90) despite being one of the most successful teams in Africa, 2) The other Mo, Mohamed Elneny, is more fun to watch controlling the center of the pitch for Egypt than for Arsenal and he is another big reason for Egypt’s success, 3) If you’re bummed out that Gigi Buffon won’t set the record for oldest player at the World Cup, bum no more; Egypt’s number 1, Essam El-Hadary, is 45 years old and still an anchor for the team.

Egypt’s ride on the international stage has been a roller coaster, but Mohammed Salah could be pulling the Pharaohs toward one of the highest points in the national team’s history.  I believe they will finish second in the group, but they have a legitimate chance to beat Uruguay to go top and pull a merciful draw for the round of 16.  Egypt has a path to the quarterfinals.  With Mo, anything is possible.

And if you still don’t know how much this means to Egypt:

 

(2) Iceland (Group D: Argentina, Nigeria, Croatia)

Participating in the World Cup will be a celebration in and of itself for the smallest country (population ~340,000) to ever qualify for a World Cup. 

Business will be slow in the land of fire and ice, as about one fifth of Iceland’s population (60,000 supporters) plan on traveling to the World Cup.  I’m just about ready to quit my job and travel with them.  Where can I get a Finnbogason kit?? I’m talking about Alfred, of course, rather than the other two Finnbogasons, Kjartan and Kristjan Floki. 

In group D, Argentina, Croatia, and Nigeria could all suffer from intense pressure not to fail.  Anything less than a top-two finish will be hugely disappointing; supporters might not be very supportive after a few errant passes.  Icelandic supporters, on the other hand, will show up as the twelfth man, with the understanding that their team needs them to perform at their best. 

On drawing Argentina for the country’s first-ever World Cup match, midfielder Olafur Skulason said, “We want those big games. We want to play against Argentina. What an amazing team to play against in the first game ever for Iceland in the World Cup!"  That is exactly the attitude they need to beat Argentina.

island D2.gif

If you’re familiar with Mighty Ducks D2, you might remember the scene in which the Icelandic National Youth Hockey team shows up out of nowhere and pops the Ducks beach ball.  The Icelandic team in the World Cup isn’t as coldhearted, but we shouldn’t be surprised if they pop some beach balls this summer.

 

(3) Mexico (Group F: Germany, South Korea, Sweden)

If you’re a U.S. Men’s National Team supporter, I may have lost you at “Mexico” here.  Supporting Mexico might at first send convulsions through your spine, but allow me to persuade you that our CONCACAF rivals deserve our support in this strange and unprecedented time. 

The rivalry with Mexico is one of few things that the U.S. Men’s National Team can take pride in right now.  That is to say, it’s okay to support Mexico because we know that we’re better than them.  Alright, that’s a stretch.  But the ten most recent fixtures are dead even (3W-4D-3L).  The aggregate score over those matches, dating back to June 25, 2011, is 14-13 in favor of the United States. 

Of course, our aggregate score against Mexico in the last ten years matters less than Arjen Robben’s right foot, but it’s something we hopeless fans can hold onto.

Frankly, we should thank El Tricolor for pushing U.S. Soccer in the right direction.  The matchups between El Tri and The Stars and Stripes tend to bring out the absolute best that we have to offer. 

There still seems to be a lingering fear in the U.S. Soccer camp that we are not capable of competing with the rest of the world.  In the past few years, this fear of inadequacy brought about an untimely coaching change, dubious personnel decisions, and chronic uncertainty in World Cup qualification performances. 

When the U.S. plays Mexico, however, we typically see a confident U.S. side that plays with unity, skill, and desire to win.  That’s something that needs to be present every time the USMNT dons the nation’s colors.

In sum, Mexico brings out the best in our national team and it would look great for us, and all of CONCACAF, if they make a deep run in the tournament.  They have a tough draw in Group F with Germany, but if Ochoa stands on his head like he did in the 0-0 draw against Brazil in 2014, Mexico could top the group. 

I believe... I believe that they can win.

Investing in a New Kit

It is impossible to capture the spectacle of the World Cup in words.  Thirty-two storylines converge in Russia this summer and over the course of one month each nation will fight to keep their nation’s story alive.  As teams match up, some for the first time and some building on decades of history, there is one emblematic piece of art that transcends language: the national team kit.

The national team kit is a symbolic manifestation of the country it represents.  It is an homage to the nation’s footballing and cultural history.  A well-designed World Cup kit is loyal to the designs of World Cups past, while creative and fresh like the young emerging talent.  The kit must appeal to baby boomers, millennials, and Generation Y alike.  It’s a delicate balance that can easily go wrong, but can capture the spirit of a nation if done right. 

Seeing as my Beasley jersey will be hibernating in a cold dark place for the next couple of years (collecting positive energy) I have done some research to decide which kits are worth investing in this summer, shared below. 

Before I click “Purchase” though, a disclaimer*, which I will leave in a footnote so that you can carry on with your blissful ignorance of FIFA’s corruption if you wish (you slimy irresponsible soccer fan). 

(1) France (Away Jersey)

Among the favorites to take home the cup this summer is France.  The French side is one of the most technically gifted in recent years.  Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezman, and Kylian Mbappe are a few of the names that will frequent the scoresheets and the backs of supporters’ jerseys.

N’Golo Kanté, however, is quietly one of the most influential players in Europe.  It’s hard to make a more convincing case for oneself than winning back to back titles in England with two different teams, the first one at 5,000-1 odds. 

The depth and diversity of the squad give it the quintessential “je ne sais quoi” that has been mostly lacking since 1998.

And if the team is nearly as good as the away kit, we are in for a treat. 

France’s ’98 home kit will always be at the top of my all-time best shirts list.  It’s definitely part of the reason they won that year.  The iconic royal blue with the classic white collar and stripes resembling the flag across the front all add up to an aesthetic masterpiece, especially with “ZIDANE” and the number 10 on the back. 

  Carlos Puyol's french son, the unsung hero of kit modeling

Carlos Puyol's french son, the unsung hero of kit modeling

In 2018, it’s the away strip that speaks to me.  The simplicity of the classic all-white shirt is given a new spin with small blue and red horizontal striping, like a bunch of tiny little French flags waving in harmony with one another. 

The inscription on the inside-back of the shirt reads, “Nos differences nous unissent.” 

Translation: Our differences unite us

This is an important message in world soccer, especially as Russia hosts the World Cup.  The multi-ethnic, multi-religion, multi-talented French National team is the perfect vehicle to embrace and relay this message. 

The French away uniform is a marvel of design that honors the old and the new.  It will also look magnifique in the inevitable replay of the 1998 final.

(2) Colombia

  Then: Which is better? Hair or kit? Definitely hair but nothing beats Valderama hair.

Then: Which is better? Hair or kit? Definitely hair but nothing beats Valderama hair.

In 2014, Colombia finally had the World Cup breakthrough that the nation deserved.  James Rodriguez stormed onto the scene, winning the Golden Boot with six goals in Colombia’s five matches.  Eventually they fell to Brazil in the quarter-finals, but they made their football known and made their country proud. 

In the last four years, Colombian jerseys on U.S. sidewalks have become commonplace, which is great because it was a beautiful kit with untold power.  Be prepared for more in the next four years because the 2018 kit is so hot right now. 

Adidas is doing the world a massive favor by recreating some of the best World Cup kits of the 90’s.  Colombia makes the best case for this point, but the Spanish, Germans, and Argentines will also rock beautiful throwback strips.  The other kit recreations are understated compared to Colombia’s, but Colombia does not play understated football and their kit-designers respect that.

  Now: Still great hair, still a great jersey

Now: Still great hair, still a great jersey

The biggest question will be which name to put on the back.  Attacking players can chose between 2014 phenom James and 2014 absentee Falcao who has been in superb form for Monaco.  Behind every great goal-scorer is a great supplier.  Juan Cuadrado tied with Toni Kroos for the most assists (4) in 2014.  Yerry Mina and Davinson Sanchez present great options for the defenders feeling left out by this conversation. 

 

 

(3) Nigeria

The Super Eagles will make a statement this summer.  And if they fail to make that statement with their football, they will make it with their kit.  Nigeria has a talented and organized team that causes trouble on counter-attacks and forces opponents to perform at their best.  They are the Leicester City ’16 of Russia ’18.

  Source: footballfashion.org

Source: footballfashion.org

And they even have a Leicester player in Ahmed Musa.  Musa’s two World Cup goals ties him for the most in Nigeria’s history and he will almost certainly increase that tally this summer.  Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses, Kalechi Iheanacho, and John Obi Mikel are a few other names to consider for the back of the shirt.

The Nike-designed Nigeria World Cup collection carves out a new creative space for World Cup gear.  The kit itself is loosely based on the 1994 design, but it takes bold steps to capture the electricity and creativity of the Nigerian national team. 

For those that think the home strip is a bit too much just turn to the away kit, which is a classic and super-sharp solid dark green strip. 

And for those in need of more flare, take your pick from the full Nigeria lifestyle collection that offers bucket hats, tracksuits, training shirts, and probably socks too, all with previously unimaginable designs.

Of course, you might hesitate buying kit for a team that you don’t think has much of a chance at success, but here’s a bold statement: Nigeria and Iceland could advance out of Group D.  That would make for a lot of unhappy Argentines and Croats, but recent form suggests that this is not out of the realm of possibility.  Iceland beat Croatia in qualifying on June 11, 2017.  Nigeria beat Argentina 4-2 on November 14, 2017 in a friendly.  Argentina and Croatia will sharpen up, but the Nigerians will make life very difficult for whoever they play against.

Above are the highlights from the Argentina friendly.  SPOILER: Nigeria comes back from 2-0 down.  If nothing else, watch Iwobi nutmeg Mascherano for the last goal (5:17).

 

The Next Steps

1) Enter the Daily Soccer Digest World Cup jersey giveaway 

2) Find (or establish) the local group of Icelandic supporters

3) Most importantly, enjoy the World Cup!

Stay tuned for more coverage as we prepare for World Cup Russia 2018.


*DISCLAIMER: The commercial aspect of the game can get pretty ugly, especially here in the United States where MLS and SUM manage to channel all revenue streams toward themselves like a fifth grade bully stealing smaller kids’ Snack Pack’s and Caprisun’s. 

I can’t overlook the fact that powerful FIFA representatives, in the U.S. and around the world, have been complicit in corruption.  I just paid my taxes, which makes me especially wary of giving money to a corrupt administration.  In an upcoming article, I'll share an interview the director of a new film “The Workers Cup” that tells the stories of several laborers/footballers/fathers building the stadiums in Qatar.  

FIFA brings in enormous profits from branding and licensing rights, meaning that Nike, Adidas, and other companies pay healthy sums of money to FIFA to place the “officially licensed product" badge on jerseys and other items.  That tiny badge is what gives World Cup gear its blood-diamond-like value that is so important in the eyes of consumers.  And frankly, like that fifth grade bully who stole my pudding, I just don’t trust FIFA.  But, F*** FIFA!  As informed consumers, let’s now buy some new shirts!


Author: Nick Barron (@foot_thoughts)