As anticipation builds around the world over the next three weeks, U.S. supporters still find themselves in the void of the unqualified nations. So what do we do? Dan Vaughn, Daily Soccer Digest Writer, has some suggestions as to who we can support, and who we definitely CANNOT support. Stay tuned next week for Parts II and III.
Part I - The Enemy of my Enemy
After the debacle in Trinidad, when our national team folded under the weight of the nation’s expectations, there’s been non-stop talk about who U.S. Men’s National Team fans should root for in this upcoming World Cup. Iceland went so far as creating a video encouraging American fans to root for their country. The consensus expectation seems to be that the nation should pull for our neighbors to the south: Mexico’s El Tri. There are already thousands of Mexican fans within the country, so why not join your neighbor in rooting for Mexico?
Allow me to preface what I’m about to say by saying that the national team you root for is complicated and often tied directly to the core of who you are as a person. I don’t judge anyone who roots for another nation’s national squad, that’s a decision that you’ve got to make for yourself.
That being said, you’re absolutely mental if you think that any true American fan would root for El Tri! Not only is Mexico our neighbor, they are our biggest rival. Boston Red Sox fans don’t back the New York Yankees, nor do Green Bay Packers root for the Chicago Bears, and certainly New York Red Bull fans do not pull for NYCFC. The suggestion that proximity should somehow give me permission to root for El Tri is short sighted and, honestly, shockingly dumb. Nothing makes my blood boil like El Tri winning a match.
Just this year, they snatched Jonathan Gonzalez from the USMNT, only to not call him up for the World Cup. How could they do that? Are they monsters? I’ll never root for them, even if they were playing against a team of Nazi robots who were set to destroy all of human civilization. I guess in that scenario, I’d just sit the match out. So please don’t tell a fan of the USMNT to root for El Tri, unless you’re taunting that fan (which, in that case, is a sweet burn).
If not US, then who?
So with El Tri out of the mix, who should an American fan root for? You can definitely take the sour grapes approach, which I’ve considered, and not root for anyone. Sit the whole thing out. But if you do that, prepare yourself for an entire world of noise from fans in every country rooting for their teams. It probably makes more sense to pick a side and just enjoy the spectacle. It only happens once every 4 years, you’ll survive.
If you want to stay close to home, CONCACAF has Costa Rica, a team that kicked our asses a couple of times in qualification, but without the hard feelings of Mexico doing the same. They have one of the best goalkeepers in the world in Keylor Navas, who protects the net for Real Madrid. It’s hard not to admire his ability and consistency, even when he’s owning your national team. Aside from Navas, there are multiple MLS players on the roster, including Portland Timbers midfielder David Guzman. This is a group of players you’ll know both from qualifiers and from watching your favorite domestic club. The downside is that Los Ticos are not expected advance out of Group E, so be ready to find a second team.
Want to root for a former colony of England, just like us? Look no further than Australia, the hilariously (or horribly) nicknamed Socceroos. Before I win you over, know that they have almost zero chance of advancing out of Group C. But now that I’ve said that, why not cheer for a team who qualified (unlike our boys in blue) but has no chance of advancing? They only lost a single match in qualifying, but Oceania is kind of known as a cake walk (so is CONCACAF, but you knew that). Australia is led by a former Red Bull, the ageless Tim Cahill. Actually, I just looked up his age and he’s a year younger than myself, which makes him really old, but also worthy of your recognition. Historically, Australia has scored 11 goals in the World Cups they’ve participated in. Tim Cahill has scored 5 of those. So why not cheer for the old guy to score another goal?
If you want a long shot, why not choose Japan? They were drawn into one of the most evenly paired groups in the World Cup and, because of this, have a good chance to advance out of Group H. Japan is a team with a great run in the last 20 years, having qualified for every World Cup in that time frame. And if you’re an American fan who has been watching a lot of Borussia Dortmund (a.k.a. Borussia Pulisic), you already know their star player, Shinji Kagawa. At 29, he’s still playing well and will lead the Japanese side into the World Cup. Their kit is “Samurai Blue” and features one of the coolest crests in the competition, a three-legged crow playing soccer. Point to a better crest, go ahead.
So the next time someone tells you to root for El Tri, laugh and say, “of course not, I’m cheering for the boys in samurai blue” or any other team that qualified. As the old phrase goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”…and a potential rooting interest.
Author: Dan Vaughn