How you can enjoy the World Cup without Team USA
The United States failing to make the World Cup is a disaster.
The biggest sporting event in the world — that's not hyperbole; that's truth, my friends — is about to get under way, and Team USA won't even be in the field.
The Absent Americans.
Who are we supposed to cheer for now?
American sports fans are always excited to cheer the Red, White and Blue. Always ready to root, root, root for the home team. But when that isn't an option, what do you do?
Because it's always more fun if you've got a rooting interest, adopting a team for this tournament is a must. Maybe you have family living in a country with a team in the World Cup. Perhaps you have visited and come to love a place that will be represented. But if you don't have a tie to a team, there are still good options.
Just ask Oklahoma City's resident soccer experts.
Energy FC has players from five of the countries playing in this summer's World Cup, so before the team left on its current road trip out west, I asked several of them to tell me why American sports fans should adopt their team.
"They always play with heart," Miguel Gonzales said of his home team. "They've never reached a final, but we have heart. We have that desire."
Scrappy is always a good quality in a team.
So is being hot going into the tournament.
"They're doing well," Gonzales said of his team's World Cup warm-up matches. "They're scoring goals. They're playing well. I feel like the team has a lot of confidence."
If that sounds good to you, Mexico is your team.
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If you're looking for a team that could win it all, Jaime Siaj has a suggestion. In addition to being one of the top 10 teams in the world rankings, his homeland has a roster with a blend of established and emerging stars.
"I like a lot of how they want to keep the ball in their half" of the field, Siaj said. "I love how they move and want to keep the ball, then press when they lose it.
"I think they will be a tough team to beat."
If the soccer talk doesn't sway you, Siaj believes the land where he was born is worth loving for reasons that have nothing to do with sport.
"Our food is amazing and our country is beautiful," he said, smiling. "But hopefully they don't only like us for the sangria."
Not that sangria's a bad reason to cheer for Spain.
Food and drink weren't among Callum Ross's selling points, but his homeland still has a lot going for it. Like Spain, it has an interesting mix of young and old players, but many of them will be names and faces that American soccer fans know from matches televised here.
"Hopefully," Ross said, "you can root for your guys."
He believes they're playing a more modern style, a "prettier style of football than everyone's used to seeing" from his country's national team.
What's more, his is a team playing without the burden of great expectations that have never been reached in the past.
"Everyone's kind of in the past seen them as potential winners," Ross said. "This time, everyone's writing them off. Hopefully, that can be an underdog situation and a little less pressure."
If you like an underdog with potential, England is for you.
Truth is, any team in the World Cup could be your team. If you like megastar power, go for Argentina and Lionel Messi or Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo. If you prefer powerhouse teams, defending champion Germany or five-time winner Brazil are worth considering. If a feel-good story is your thing, Iceland is the smallest country to every qualify for the World Cup.
There are teams with cool uniforms; check out Nigeria's chevron and Croatia's checkerboard.
There are players with awesome hair; looking at you Paul Pogba (France) and Roman Torres (Panama).
No Team USA in the world's biggest sporting event is a complete and total bummer — but your World Cup experience doesn't have to be.
Just pick a side.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.
2018 World Cup
•Opening match: Russia vs. Saudi Arabia
•When: 10 a.m. Thursday
•Where: Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow