No Clint Dempsey. No Christian Pulisic. No Tim Howard. The 2018 World Cup in Russia already sucks.
Yes, every American who roots for their beleaguered national team has already checked their jingoism at the door and have prepared to either not watch at all, pay attention to the superstars who will be in attendance, or figuring out the best way to gamble on the spectacle like the popular bet365-android-app.
The reality is that the real joy of watching the US Men’s National Team perform in front of the world is the inevitability that the team will eventually fail. It’s not that one roots for America to lose, per se, but until the skill level improves it would be foolhardy to expect anything less. Howard, aka Captain America, can put on one of the greatest goalie performances in Cup history, but the event is squandered by Romelu Lukaku simply being Romelu Lukaku.
America just isn’t there yet.
So it comes to pass that these moments of hope and devastation have now been taken away from us by a shoddy manager in Bruce Arena and a Trinidadian side who was up for the ultimate challenge. Who is an American to root for now? Is there anyone who can meet the standards of a nation who has insanely high expectations for their team while also being guaranteed of coming up short? Is there such a side?
Of course there is. In fact, America really doesn’t compare to this team. They’re not even close.
England, a beautifully talented team that will invariably be supremely flawed and weighed down by expectations so strong even Michael Jordan’s kids would shudder at the thought, will bring the levels of entertainment that any American could appreciate. Let’s deep dive further.
The Impossibility Of Harry Kane (And His Punchable Face)
As an Arsenal fan, it’s hard for me to be complimentary of anything in relation to Tottenham Hotspur. However, Kane’s rise to elite status is undeniable. In February, FiveThirtyEight proclaimed that Kane could in fact be the world’s best striker and only Egypt’s Mohamed Salah has tallied more goals (30) for Liverpool than Kane’s 26 for Spurs. He’s good with the ball on his feet, he moves well off the ball, he can be bullish, he can show dexterity. He’s sturdy as hell (6’2″ and nearly 200 pounds) and his teammates think the world of him.
And yet, he looks like the dude annoyingly forgets to put vanilla in my latte or the meteorologist in some podunk town who always says tomorrow will be sunny when it eventually rains and pours.
What’s worse, the dude literally came out of nowhere like Randy Orton. When someone gets loaned off by their main club four times in three years to teams like Leyton Orient, Millwall, Norwich City and Leicester City and only scored 14 goals in the process. In the last four years at Spurs? 131 goals. WTF.
To this day, I’m still baffled by everything that is Kane. Hell, who decided that a dude named Harry Kane could be good? It sounds like the name Nicholas Cage would give himself in an upcoming direct-to-DVD movie. Whatever happens with England in the World Cup, watching Kane will be a joy, for better or worse.
The Red, White And Blue
Few color combinations look as good on a uniform palette as the red, white and blue. North American professional teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers, Montreal Canadiens, New York Giants and the Atlanta Braves have uniforms that stand the test of time. Outside of the 1994 World Cup, the US Men’s National Team has always had threads that sometimes outshined their actual game.f
England’s home and away kits by Nike are gorgeous, although the red top and red socks feel a tad aggressive, I’m also here for it.
Three or four decades ago, the tossing of a banana at a black soccer player was commonplace in England. Nowadays, the act of being racist as an English soccer fan is nearly impossible, as players of African, Latino, Arab and Asian heritage all reign as stars in the Premier League. That doesn’t mean that racism hasn’t been eradicated, not by a longshot, but things are better than what they used to be.
However, it’s important to remember that having those faces in the game that are relatable to will forever be important for the generations to follow. It’s the same reason I love watching France, Holland and Belgium growing up. It’s the same reason that the 2014 iteration of the US Men’s National Team is one of my favorites. When diversity is an asset, it should be leveraged.
Few sides have ever been as diverse than England, and 2018 will be no different. Stars like Kane, Gary Cahill and Jordan Henderson will be front and center for the Three Lions alongside Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford. The crowds in Russia are as hostile as any in the world, and the sight of England’s starting XI will likely draw a few jeers when they step onto the pitch.
Per the New York Times in 2014, only 4% of England’s supporters believed their national team would win the World Cup in an international Upshot/YouGov study of 19 countries. Only one country, Costa Rica, had more doubt as to the possibility of their squad winning it all.
In America, exceptionalism is the baseline, even with their soccer teams. The women have dutifully set the bar as high as any team in any form of soccer could. The men… not so much. In England, the men’s national team has consistently rated as one of the top teams in the world, but this year marks the 52-year anniversary of England last winning the World Cup. In fact, outside of 1990’s fourth-place finish, the Three Lions have yet to get past the quarterfinals since their win in 1966.
English fans are simply in a perpetual state of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Some English fans bet against their own side just to make themselves feel better about what may happen.
Will this World Cup be any different? Probably not, but if England goes on a magical run, and gets everyone’s hopes up in the process… and then flame out? I’m here for it. If England get embarrassed and don’t make it out the group stage. I’m here for it as well. The English schadenfreude is real.
Eddie Maisonet is the founder and editor emeritus of The Sports Fan Journal. Currently, he serves as an associate editor for ESPN.com. He is an unabashed Russell Westbrook and Barry Switzer apologist, owns over 100 fitteds and snapbacks, and lives by Reggie Jackson’s famous quote, “I am the straw that stirs the drink.”