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Early Non-USMNT 2018 World Cup Rooting Guide

There will be no USMNT in Russia. Who should we root for in their stead?

England v Iceland - Round of 16: UEFA Euro 2016 Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

So you’ve probably heard the news by now about how the United States Men’s National Team pulled off the greatest traveshamockery of many of our lifetimes, dropping a 2-1 result at Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday night and officially canceling any and all plans for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. It still feels a bit unreal, but as the haze begins to settle and we realize that that nightmare was, in fact, not a dream, we’re forced to prep for 2018 without the USMNT.

After all, the World Cup is still the grandest sporting event in the world, and despite the Yanks not being there, it’s going to be fun — albeit not nearly as fun. It’s time to decide who to root for in place of our beloved USMNT, because a rooting interest always makes things more interesting.

As with any World Cup, you’ll have the opportunity to hop on board with one of the perennial powers like Germany, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, France, or Portugal, et al. There are plenty of reasons that these teams are enjoyable — watching any sport played at its highest level gives fans an appreciation of just how difficult it is to reach such heights, especially at the international level where teams aren’t able to practice together regularly and are subject to how good they can be in a given moment.

However, those teams aren’t always that much fun for the neutral fan. Germany’s Die Mannschaft, for example, has resembled the soccer equivalent to a Nick Saban-coached Alabama team in recent years, looking like the surest thing in world soccer with their efficient destruction of almost anyone unfortunate enough to get in their way.

Spain isn’t too far removed from its Euro-World Cup-Euro treble in 2008, 2010, and 2012, so they’ve got kind of a New England Patriots “you win too much to really root for” thing going on. Brazil plays a flashy, fun brand of soccer currently led by Neymar — and a possible redemption story after their 7-1 devastation at the hands of Germany — but the Brazilians have five World Cup titles, more than any country in history, followed by Italy (which has not qualified yet for Russia) and the aforementioned Bavarians with four apiece.

The exceptions at the big boy table, depending on your superstar preference, could be Argentina and Portugal. Winning a World Cup is the only major honor that has eluded Cristiano Ronaldo in his illustrious career, and that may lead a fan of CR7 to get behind his native Portugal, which is the reigning European champion. Likewise, Lionel Messi’s otherwise legendary career has only been marred by a failure to match his club successes with the Argentinian national side, with recent heartbreaks coming in the World Cup 2014 final vs. Germany and back-to-back final defeats in penalty kicks at the hands of Chile in the Copa América.

But enough about the traditional powers. Here are a few relative underdogs, some traditional and some less traditional, that could provide fun rooting interest in the absence of the United States, the perennial scrappy underdog that won’t be in Russia.


I know I said the word “fun” in that last sentence, so England seems a bit out of place here already, seeing as the English are the most underachieving, self-loathing side in recent history on the world stage. Talent-wise they aren’t an underdog, but England has seen many a promising youngster flame out and its fans are rightfully the most pessimistic you’ll find, as failure has always seemed to find them in recent decades. This is the country that couldn’t manage so much as a major semifinal with its golden generation, which included legends like Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, David Beckham, and Paul Scholes in the same midfield, with an emerging Wayne Rooney up front and the likes of Gary Neville and Ashley Cole at fullback.

Despite having perhaps the best striker in the world currently in Harry Kane and an electrifying talent like Dele Alli, England is still not playing very inspiring soccer under Gareth Southgate and it might be nice to see our English bros get thrown a bone with a deep run in 2018. After all, the English invented Association Football and provide many of us with our club rooting interests outside of MLS with the Premier League, so maybe they deserve some fun for the first time since the Euro ’96 semifinal. Think of them as a poor man’s Chicago Cubs-type lovable losers team, except with a 51-year title drought instead of 110 years. Hopefully they don’t become insufferable like the post-title drought Cubs, though.


The Belgians have only made a World Cup quarterfinal twice in their history, and their best-ever finish was fourth place in 1986. Belgium has seen an explosion of top-level talent in recent years, though, boasting some of the world’s most exciting players: Eden Hazard and his prodigious, ankle-breaking dribbling ability, the raw power and prolific goal-scoring prowess of Romelu Lukaku, the otherworldy passing and playmaking of Kevin De Bruyne, and the elite shot-stopping ability of 6-foot-6 Thibaut Courtois in goal.

Having Head Coach Roberto Martinez means that this ultra-talented side plays an attacking brand of soccer, albeit with some leaks at the back, and provides a less prestigious brand to root for that still measures up with the top sides in the world in terms of pure talent. Plus, one or two of their aforementioned studs probably plays for a Premier League team you at least kind of like. And Wondo won’t be around to assist the Red Devils in crushing our dreams this time around, either.


Don’t root for El Tri.


While the Panamanians helped drive the stake into our American hearts Tuesday, it’s probably unfair to hold our current state of incompetence against them, as all the U.S. needed to do was earn a draw at T&T. While Panama also benefited from a phantom goal, it’s their first time ever reaching the world’s biggest soccer competition, so they provide a fun, CONCACAF-related underdog to root for. Realistically, you’re probably going to hold it against them, and they don’t stand a chance of making any real noise anyway, but hey.


Despite having a population about the same size as Corpus Christi, TX, Iceland qualified for the 2018 World Cup this week. This comes on the heels of an exciting Euro 2016 run that saw Iceland topple England on its way to the quarterfinals. With national player and coaching development that the U.S. should envy, plus a notable star leading the way in Gylfi Sigurdsson, we should probably all root for Iceland. They’re fun.

These are certainly subjective, so let us know if you’ve got any other root-worthy sides in mind for Russia 2018. We’ll need them.