Dear friend in the U.S.,
The world’s biggest quadrennial sporting event is upon us: World Cup 2018 in Russia. As an American, the World Cup is a unique international sporting event in that we are far from the dominant, foreboding favorite as we are in the Summer Olympics which gives us the rare opportunity to put on our underdog, feel-good story mentality. Sadly, that American dream ended in October of last year at the hands of Trinidad and Tobago.
So, you still want to take part in the world’s largest sporting event and have a horse in the race? As someone who has lived in Colombia almost two years, I am obviously biased. However, I would like to offer you the objective case as to why as a neutral American, Colombia should be your team in Russia for the next month (and perhaps beyond).
1. You don’t want a perennial powerhouse but you don’t want a total shot-in-the-dark
If you’re looking for a team that will make some noise, you could go with a historic behemoth with a plethora of other bandwagon riders (e.g. Germany, Spain, France, Argentina, Brazil, or Belgium). You could choose an underdog story like an Iceland or a Panama but you’ll probably have your heart broken and be team-less after just the first two games. Colombia, on the other hand, lies at the perfect balance of being a team likely to make it out of the group stage while not being a sell-out homer pick that everyone else is supposedly pulling for. Just look at the team’s 2014 run (the country’s first World Cup appearance since 1998) – James (pronounced “HA-mez”) Rodriguez rose to international superstardom by leading the team out of the group stage and into the quarterfinals all while the team’s best player at that time, Falcao, was injured. This year bookies have the team at around 25-1 odds to hoist the trophy, placing them 11th of 32 teams.
2. You want a U.S. connection to go along with your choice
The obvious choice for most Americans looking for a team to support is Mexico. Of the 32 teams in Russia, it is by far the country with the most U.S. connection whether it’s international trade, geographic proximity, or citizens of Mexican descent. In fact, you may not know that the Mexican national team is actually the most popular national team IN THE UNITED STATES! So why go with our biggest rivals (the team that arguably conspired to keep us out of Russia 2018 by losing to Honduras on the last day of qualifying) and the homerist of homer picks? Colombia, on the other hand, has long been the U.S. government’s biggest ally in South America, you won’t be cheering alone at the bar as there are over one million people of Colombian descent in the United States, and you can even make cheesy Narcos, Shakira, and Sophia Vergara references while they play.
3. You want a team of truly international stars spanning the entire world of soccer
You name a predominant soccer league in the world and there is guaranteed to be a key Colombian player on a team near the top of the table. Premier League in England? Defender Davinson Sanchez at Tottenham Hotspur or goalkeeper David Ospina at Arsenal. La Liga Santander in Spain? Defender Yerry Mina plays alongside Messi at Barcelona, and Luis Muriel at Sevilla and Carlos Bacca at Villareal are scoring loads of goals. Bundesliga in Germany? James is making waves and winning trophies at Bayern Munich. Calcio A in Italy? Juan Cuadrado just won another league title at Juventus. Ligue 1 in France? Falcao is a league leading goal scorer in Monaco. Eredivise in Holland? Santi Arias is the best wingback in the league playing for PSV. Primera Division in Argentina, Liga MX in Mexico, Brasileirão in Brazil or Liga Dimayor in Colombia? They’re all loaded with Colombian talent. There’s even a MLS connection with Colombian legend Carlos Valderrama having been a founding member of the Tampa Bay Mutiny. No matter what team you suit up with in EA Sports’ FIFA 18, there’s more than likely a Colombian in the mix.
4. You like a little locker room drama
Maybe you don’t care about what happens on the field or soccer at all, and you are more interested in some soap opera juice. What if I told you that the two most important players on Colombia’s team recently became ex-brothers-in-law? In August of last year James got divorced from Daniela Ospina, sister of starting goalkeeper David Ospina. While all is publicly well between Ospina and James, this story line has enough material for a full season of a telenovela.
5. You want a passionate, die-hard fan base
You could choose our fellow English speakers across the pond and go with Harry Kane and England as your choice. However, did you know that most Brits actually care more about their individual professional club teams than their national team? Why not go with a country that takes the afternoon off from school/work for their national team games, a country where professional dress code on mornings of game day is the beautiful, bright yellow national team jersey (even the President ditches the suit and tie on game day), a country that doesn’t say ‘goal’, but rather ‘gooooooooooooooooooooool’? I have been fully swept up in the worship of ‘la seleccion’, and I promise it won’t disappoint.
So there you have it, whatever you are looking for in your adopted team this summer, the Colombian national team will surely provide it.
Colombia kicks off its World Cup against Japan in Saransk, Russia, on June 19th.
P.S. If you really get into it, I am happy to bring you Colombian soccer jersey in November when my Peace Corps service is over! They’re only around $10 (shipping & handling: negotiable)