Since the United States men’s soccer team is not in the World Cup this year, it has left a void for American soccer fans when it comes to rooting interest in the event, which starts to today if you’ve been living in a cave. Since blindly chanting USA! USA! USA! at a bar is not going to cut it this year, let’s turn to the Cincinnati Bearcats and try to find a kindred spirit of sorts in the world’s biggest sporting event.
There are 32 teams in the tournament, including five from Africa, five from Asia, 14 from Europe, three from North America and five from South America. Picking just one will be tough, but let’s try. In this exercise, we want to pick a team that has a shot, but isn’t an overwhelming favorite. A connection to UC would be nice as well and any parallels to Bearcats athletics history will be weighted heavily as well.
With Lionel Messi, Argentina has one of the most recognizable and best players on the planet. They are the No. 5 team in the world and have made 17 World Cup appearances, winning in 1978 and 1986. They came in second in 2014, losing to Germany. So on the success meter, they score high, but there isn’t enough of a connection (forced or direct).
James Smith, the Bearcats’ punter and first-team All-American Athletic Conference representative, hails from Wangaratta, Australia, so this is a good option. The Socceroos are only 36th in the world and have only appeared in four World Cups, though, and as much as we don’t want to just be unabashed front runners, we also don’t want to settle on a team that will be finished in a couple weeks.
The No. 3 team in the world made it to the quarterfinals in 2014 after missing out on the event entirely in 2006 and 2010. Considered underachievers, their quest for a deeper run paralells nicely with the Bearcats and their attempt to make it to the Sweet 16 and beyond. Plus, red and black features heavily in their color scheme.
The Duke (basketball) and USC (football) of international soccer. They are too big of favorites to be the pick.
This is a fun team that made the quarterfinals in 2014, but have only played in four World Cups in total. If you are a big UC golf fan then you know that Bearcats Angela Lopez, Vanessa Manrique and Daniela Murcia are all from Colombia. On the strength of the number of Bearcats that rep them, Colombia is a contender for sure.
One of three teams from North America, Costa Rica has some a geographical edge over a lot of the field. They also have a great shot blocker in Keylor Navas. However, with only three World Cup appearances and none since 2004, we’ll have to move on.
The No. 20 team in the world, Croatia only gave up five goals in qualifying for the World Cup, which ranked fifth among European teams. That kind of defense is something any UC fan can get behind, but the connections thin from there.
Their colors are red and white, they are ranked 12th in the world and sophomore Mads Tranberg, who plays for UC men’s soccer, is from Copenhagen. They don’t have much history of success though, but those other strengths could outweigh that.
A red and black color scheme makes them aesthetically in tune with the Bearcats, but a No. 45 world ranking isn’t great, even with Mo Salah. This is also a team that hasn’t been in the tournament since 1990.
A blue blood in the sport, England won a World Cup title in 1966, just a few years after UC was winning national titles in men’s basketball. The English and the Bearcats have failed to get back to the promised land since and have been marked as underachievers. Plus, they only allowed three goals in qualifying and the swimming and diving team has George Epsly, Maddie Exton and Dominic Polling.
A constant World Cup presence, France has been in the last six World Cups, including this one. They won it all in 1998 to boot and Emma Wachtel of the golf team is from Rorschwihr. However, they gave up as many goals as Wales in qualifying, so the defense isn’t as elite as we like at UC.
With apologies to football recruit Lorenz Metz, picking Germany in the World Cup is akin to picking to picking the Golden State Warriors as your NBA team if you live outside the Bay Area.
A top 25 team in the world, Iceland is making its first World Cup appearance this year. They are a fun story, but not the team to latch yourself to entirely.
Iran only allowed five goals in qualifying, which is pretty good. They are ranked 37th in the world but don’t have the projected staying power we’re looking for.
Perennial bullies of the AFC Asian Cup (four titles since 1992), Japan has been in the last five World Cups and made it to the round of 16 twice. UC clearly has had its own issue getting to the round of 16 of late and since Japan is only ranked No. 61 in the world, its unlikely they’ll get there this year.
The closest team to UC geographically speaking, Mexico is ranked 15th in the world, has made the round of 16 in each of the last six World Cups and is the homeland of Antonella Bramato and Alexia Coutino on the women’s tennis team.
Known as the Atlas Lions (dope nickname), the Moroccon team shares UC‘s love for cool felines. They are currently ranked 41st in the world and gave up a single goal in eight qualifying games. That defense is awesome, but the lower ranking does make me hesitant to throw my full support their way.
They have some of the dopest kits in the whole tournament and we at DTD are big fans of strong uniform aesthetics. They are also known as the Super Eagles and went to the round of 16 in 2014. While Nigeria is ranked just No. 43 in the world, their group isn’t especially strong, so there’s a chance they could make a run.
The third North America team, Panama is making its World Cup debut in 2018. I like an underdog, but UMBC only went one round. The shelf life isn’t enough.
This is Peru’s first World Cup since 1982, but at least they are ranked among the top 15 squads globally. They’ll be going up against France, Denmark and Australia in their group, so they could get through, but the connection is too thin here.
With the No. 8 ranking in the world and two third place finishes in the World Cup, Poland has the history and enough of a shot to be a team to follow. However, they gave up 14 goals in qualifying. That is not UC-approved defense.
Love him or hate him, Christiano Ronaldo is so much fun to watch. They broke through and won the European Championship in 2016 and are the No. 4 team in the world. They only allowed four goals during qualifying, but the Navigators were compared to Louisville by our higher ups at SB Nation, so that’s a no.
This year’s hosts, Russia played in 2014 after missing the World Cup in 2006 and 2010. They’ve never made it past the group stage. UC may not have gotten to a Sweet 16 since 2012, but they usually get out of the first round.
As the No. 67 team in the World, Saudia Arabia has a long hill to climb to make any noise in this event. They have missed out on the last two World Cups.
Sitting at No. 27 in the world rankings, the Lions of Teranga are entering just their second World Cup. That’s not enough history for this time, but keep an eye on them for 2022.
They allowed 10 goals during qualifying and let up 11 in 10 qualifying games when they missed the tournament in 2014. That’s not UC defense.
Only a few spots higher than Japan, South Korea came in fourth place in the 2002 World Cup and has qualified in every year since 1986. They also won the Asian Cup in 1956 and 1960, so they were great when UC was and have managed to stay relevant past then. However, 10 goals allowed in qualifying disqualify them here coincidentally.
This is UC defense. With only three goals allowed in qualifying, Spain tied with England for the fewest among European qualifiers. Know as the Red Fury, Spain won the World Cup in 2010 and has a long history in the tournament. Adrian Valles, a five-time All-American pole vaulter for UC, is from Spain as is freshman tennis player Maria Teixido Garcia.
The No. 24 team in the country, Sweden was a touch better defensively than Serbia but they haven’t been in the World Cup since 2006.
Coming off round of 16 finishes in three of the last six World Cups, Switzerland is looking to break through as the No. 6 team in the world. Their defense is decent (seven goals allowed in qualifying), they sport red and white and Christina Gloor, a senior golfer during the 2017-18 season, is from Mattstetten.
Another team of red, white and a little black in the color scheme, Tunisia is No. 21 in the world, but is more than a decade removed from their last World Cup appearance.
They won two World Cups a long time ago (1930 and 1950) and have been trying to recapture the glory ever since, finishing fourth in 2010 and making the round of 16 in 2014. I also thought this portion of the Group A preview from SB Nation describing Uruguay could have been describing UC men’s basketball (if you replace a few names) of late:
“The fact of the matter is that we don’t know yet which version of Uruguay is going to show up for the World Cup. Will it be the quick trigger team that scores wonderful goals out of nowhere and can play with anyone, or will it be the bogged-down, slow-footed team that struggles to get the ball to the explosive attacking duo of Luis Suarez or Edinson Cavani?“
Now that we’ve taken a brief and very, slightly educated look at all the teams, I think we are left with nine finalists: Australia, Belgium, Colombia, Denmark, England, Mexico, Morocco, Spain and Uruguay. I will now leave it to you, the Down the Drive public, to pick a team we should all get behind. We’ll count the votes here and on Twitter and announce the official selection tonight at 9 p.m.