With the World Cup just a week away, it’s almost time for the most American of traditions: Briefly pretending to care about soccer for a month before completely forgetting the sport exists for another four years. With the U.S. Men’s team tragically failing to qualify for the first time since 1990, however, many Americans are left wondering who the hell they’re supposed to root for.
And since most parents are too busy actually shuttling their kids to soccer than to read about it, we put together this brief guide to help you choose which team to root for. It combines power rankings with factors such as a team’s likability, narrative, and the reputation of the fanbase. Basically, the goal was to pick a team with a nice backstory that has the talent to win it all, but isn’t an overwhelming favorite or trendy pick. That said, let’s get to it.
Teams that are unlikely to make it out of the group stage of the tournament include Saudi Arabia, Australia, Morocco, Iran, and Senegal. They’re classic “happy to be here” teams that we will all root passionately for in the early games and then promptly forget. The squads from Japan, Sweden, Egypt, and Russia also don’t have the talent or narrative to make a deep run so don’t invest too much time or energy into them. Of the bottom 16, Costa Rica, Peru, or Switzerland could make a bit of noise. That said, barring any sentimental attachment, it’s probably wise to avoid the whole group. Focus on the teams below that are likely to make it out of the group stage.
Eliminated: Saudi Arabia, Australia, Morocco, Senegal, Iran, Tunisia, Panama, Egypt, Serbia, South Korea, Japan, Sweden, Costa Rica, Peru, Switzerland, Russia.
Remaining: Brazil, England, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, France, Uruguay, Argentina, Portugal, Mexico, Colombia, Croatia, Nigeria, Iceland, Poland.
Round of 16
A case could be made for almost any of the remaining teams. Sadly though, another eight must go. Croatia, Denmark, and Nigeria may have had the heart and legs to escape the group stage, but they aren’t going much further.
This is also where some of the surprise cuts have to be made. It might seem shocking to knock out teams like France, England, and Colombia this early but they don’t match up to the talent of the remaining field. Quite frankly, with the exception of England, they also aren’t interesting enough to adopt as your one team.
Finally, there’s Iceland, “everyone’s second favorite team” since they stunned England in the 2016 European Championship. And honestly, that’s exactly why they’re not making it to our next round. The Icelandic side was so underrated that they accidentally became overrated.
Eliminated: Iceland, Poland, Denmark, France, Nigeria, Croatia, Colombia, England.
Remaining: Brazil, England, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Uruguay, Argentina, Portugal.
The superstar round. If we were to conduct a survey asking which teams the average American was rooting for, chances are Brazil, Spain, Portugal, and Argentina would be among the most popular selections and for good reason. All of these teams are stacked with talent, have massive fanbases, and feature some of the greatest soccer players of all time, including Messi, Ronaldo, and Neymar.
But that’s exactly why we’re eliminating them from our list. It’s not necessarily because they’re going to get knocked out in the quarters, but because everyone else is rooting for them too. We’re Americans. Home of the Hoosiers, Rocky, and Air Bud. We love an underdog, dammit, and none of these teams remotely fit that label.
Eliminated: Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Argentina
Remaining: Germany, Mexico, Belgium, Uruguay
Let’s start with Germany. Many would argue Germany, as the reigning World Cup champs, should have been knocked off our list in the last round. And considering they appear every bit as dominant now as they were in 2014, it’s a fair point. Still, watching Germany play is fun. It’s watching soccer at its absolute best, and since they could repeat, we gave them a pass. Nonetheless, their bandwagon is too packed to join ⏤ move along.
As for the Mexican team, you can’t argue it doesn’t have a lot of talent. And rooting for our fellow North Americans in terms of narrative is always fun. But the fact remains, Mexico has been eliminated in six straight rounds of 16. They may be able to get a bit further this year, but it’s highly unlikely they’re going to the championship game.
Eliminated: Germany and Mexico
Remaining: Belgium and Uruguay
And then there were two. For someone who hasn’t been paying attention, Belgium and Uruguay may seem like strange choices, but that’s what makes them the perfect candidates for America’s adopted team. Belgium may not have the prestige or global superstars of other European countries but they also might secretly have the deepest team in the entire tournament. They have never won the World Cup before, which makes them a dark horse with a ‘Why not us?’ narrative ⏤ by far one of the most satisfying narrative arcs for fans.
Despite that, we are going with Uruguay. Why? Because they meet almost all the criteria that Belgium does ⏤ haven’t won a World Cup since 1950, deep roster, constantly overlooked due to more popular teams ⏤ but have one key ingredient that the Belgians lack: Luis. Fucking. Suarez. While he may not have the name recognition of Ronaldo or Barcelona teammate Messi, Suarez is one of the few players who simply cannot be stopped if he is in a zone.
Combine that with their placement in the tournament’s weakest group by far (Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia) and Uruguay has just enough to edge out Belgium as the perfect bandwagon pick for anyone who doesn’t really know anything about soccer but wants to pretend like they do for a month. No matter what happens, though, just remember that the only reason any of us are picking a bandwagon team in the first place is that the USMNT couldn’t beat (or even tie) Trinidad and Tobago, a country with approximately 329 million fewer people than America.