The USA went down in a blaze of glory. That much is clear.
For those who watched USA’s Tuesday afternoon loss to Belgium, you witnessed American soccer encapsulated in a nutshell. This American team was outgunned and outmatched. They were knocked back on their heels numerous times. And still they didn’t give up. Tim Howard made a Herculean 16 saves. German-American starlet Julian Green scored a pivotal goal on his World Cup debut. And the USA showed the tenacity of champions who will do anything to win. This USA squad, while they ultimately came up short, showed a determination, teamwork, and work-rate that should make every soccer fan proud.
I’m disappointed with the loss, but I’m emphatically not disappointed with the campaign. The United States Men’s National Team should be proud of their achievements. So should we.
I’ve heard many fans talk about how excited they are for World Cup 2018 in Russia... and for good reason. This World Cup showed that the USA has a lot of promise under Jurgen Klinsmann, and a lot of quality talent waiting in the wings.
But don’t ignore soccer until 2018. In the years to come, USA has two Gold Cups to play, and will host the 2016 Copa America, sort of a North and South American mini-World Cup. Don’t forget the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada -- the USA Women’s National Team is the best in the world, and they deserve your support. And there’s numerous international friendlies, and early-stage World Cup qualifiers.
It’s okay to admit that you’ve caught the soccer fever. You’re already on the bandwagon. Might as well stay on for the entire ride.
Now that America has exited from the World Cup stage, that doesn’t mean that American fans should stop watching! USA is out, but there are still eight quality teams left in the World Cup, and you should pay attention to them. In fact, you should temporarily adopt one of the remaining teams as your “secondary team” to follow. Why? Because there’s still lots of quality football left in this competition, and even if the Americans are heading home, that’s no reason to turn away.
Let’s take a look at three teams with which distraught American soccer fans can seek temporary solace.
Let’s say you want to glom onto a really good South American team... but you’re torn between not wanting to be a typical American bandwagon jumper and not wanting to get your heart ripped out of your chest so soon after USA’s exit from the competition. Take a long look at Colombia, ladies and gentlemen.
Pros: Colombia has been one of the more impressive teams in this World Cup. Despite losing their best player, striker Radamel Falcao, they have the second highest scoring tally in this World Cup with 11 goals in four matches and have an exciting young player in James “Hamez” Rodriguez who has a Cup-leading five goals and has a legit shot of winning the Golden Boot (award for top goal scorer). Also, they haven’t qualified for a World Cup finals since 1998, and that gives them a modicum of underdog-slash-hipster cred. They’re also not Brazil or Argentina, both of which would be like choosing to root for the Yankees or Red Sox.
Plus there’s Shakira. Don’t forget Shakira.
Cons: Well, there’s the whole Colombia-is-a-haven-for-narco-trafficking thing, and the Colombia’s football team is still linked to the tragic death of Andres Escobar, who was tragically kidnapped and killed after scoring an own goal against the United States in the 1994 World Cup. But this is a totally different Colombia team. If you want a non-European team that isn’t named Brazil but that has a legitimate chance at winning the World Cup, Colombia is a solid choice to adopt.
2. Costa Rica
Did you like rooting for USA? Are you looking for another underdog with a feel-good story from the same qualifying region? The Ticos are your new team. Nobody expected Costa Rica to make it out of their group. Heck, nobody expected Costa Rica to earn a point. But they did. And then they beat Greece, praise Zeus. And now they want to go even further. Don’t you want to go along for this ride?
Pros: Costa Rica is a beautiful country in the middle of Central America. I know, I’ve been there. It has some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet (outside of Elkhart County, of course). Costa Rica is a Central American soccer power, a perennial contender for World Cups, Gold Cups, and the like. “Jurassic Park” was staged on an island off its coast. It’s the biggest feel-good story of this World Cup. I mean, look at those Ticos, aren’t they just ADORABLE? And, its flag’s colors are red, white, and blue. Come on, it’s like it’s tailor made.
Cons: Well... okay, USA and Costa Rica are soccer rivals, since they are both part of the CONCACAF qualifying region. And really, when the teams play each other, its fellow fan bases really don’t like each other that much. You’ll have to get over that you’re rooting for a former rival, but that’s okay. It’s not like I’m asking you to become a fan of Mexico.
Costa Rica also features striker Joel Campbell who plays for Arsenal (ugh) and who is best known for an egregious flop in a qualifying match that led to USA defender Matt Besler getting a second yellow card and suspended. Plus, it’s extremely unlikely that they’ll even get past the Netherlands, much less win the World Cup. But come on, you’re a soccer fan. You should be used to getting your heart broken by now.
Now, I can hear the incredulity in your voice: You want me to root for THOSE cheese-eating surrender monkeys? Yes, the French are European. Yes, they won the World Cup in 1998, which is really not that long ago, and yes, they hilariously imploded in 2010 in South Africa and were shown to be a group of self-centered jerks. But if you want a team that has a legitimate shot of making the finals, it’s the French.
Pros: Well, for starters they’re really, really good. France has scored ten goals in four matches, good for third behind the Netherlands and Colombia. Karim Benzema has scored three goals for Les Bleus, but should be up there with Rodriguez after having a couple of them either wrongfully called back or attributed to own-goals. France is loaded with other world-class players including midfielder Paul Pogba, Hugo Lloris, and Olivier Giroud. France has already proven they can beat Brazil -- they did it in the 1998 finals -- and their jerseys are awesome. Also, there’s that red, white, and blue flag thing again.
Finally, a France victory gives you an excuse to open up that bottle of French champagne you’ve been saving for a special occasion, right? Right?
Cons: Well, they’re the French.
Honorable Mention: Belgium
Whoa, whoa, whoa! Yes, I know what you’re thinking. You’re still upset. It’s too soon. But step back for a second and look at this Belgian side objectively, and I hope you’ll see that there’s actually a lot to like here.
Pros: Despite how much fun social media made of it in the lead-up to last night’s match, Belgium is known for waffles and beer. And you know, deep down in your heart of hearts, that you really love waffles. I myself cracked open a nice farmhouse saison just last night. It was tasty and refreshing. I will always love the Belgians, especially those Trappist monks (and Eric Strader, though I don’t think he’s Belgian) for giving the world the gift of good beer.
But aside from libations, this Belgium team put on an impressive display last night against the Americans. Did you like Germany? Belgium is like Diet Germany. They were sharp, incisive, and dynamic, and only the outstanding play of American hero Tim Howard kept the match scoreless into extra time. Belgium is a team that likes to score late, so if you’re a fan of excellent players, drama, dark horses and narrative, you owe it to yourself to give Belgium a second chance.
Cons: Man, they just knocked us out of the World Cup in overtime. Plus that Fellaini guy is ugly and has funny hair. What even are you thinking?