It’s been over 230 days since the nightmare of the USMNT missing out on a World Cup became a reality. This will be the first World Cup in my lifetime that won’t feature the U.S. and at first, I did not handle that fact real well. Am I over it yet? Hell no. I probably won’t be until they are celebrating clinching a World Cup berth again. Despite the never-ending grieving process, I’m very excited for a USA-less World Cup this summer.
The USMNT is the main reason I became a soccer fan. However, during these last eight months, I’ve come to the realization that I love the sport of soccer more than I love the USMNT right now. The thought of watching world-class soccer on the biggest stage throughout this summer is a very exciting prospect. You may not agree. You may be boycotting the entire tournament or your grieving process may be different. All of that is perfectly fine. But I’m here to tell you why I’m excited to watch the World Cup without the U.S. being involved.
This World Cup will be my fifth as a hardcore soccer fan. In each of the previous four, the USMNT has been my main concern. I would hang on every second of play, every sliver of news and would live and die with each result. The stress of having your beloved national team in a World Cup borderlines on unhealthy. The pre-match nerves, the adrenaline of 90 minutes of non-stop agony, and (in most of our cases) the inevitable depression that follows watching your team get knocked out. Watching a World Cup with the USMNT involved is a true roller-coaster of emotions.
Those emotions would often blind me from being able to appreciate the competition as a whole. After a loss I wouldn’t care about any of the other matches that followed. After elimination, I’d still watch, but it wouldn’t be the same. Without having to focus my attention on the USMNT, perhaps consuming the entire tournament will be more enjoyable? As a neutral, I get to fully appreciate competitions like the Champions League or the European Championship. Surely the World Cup will be the same now.
One last chance for the G.O.A.T.
One of the coolest things about living in this day and age is getting to witness the greatness that is Lionel Messi. For me, he’s the greatest soccer player that’s ever lived. As we all know, the one blight on his amazing resume is the lack of a World Cup title.
Logic tells us that this tournament is likely his last chance to capture that elusive prize. While media outlets and fans are trying to figure out which narratives will dominate this World Cup, for me, this is the biggest story by a mile. Messi winning a World Cup would end the “Best Ever” debate for the foreseeable future. Without it, there will always be that cloud over his head no matter what he does for the rest of his career.
Having been able to watch Messi’s entire career of insane moments, being able to watch him win a World Cup would shoot to the top of the list. With all due respect to Jerome Boateng’s ankles, should he pull off this feat, it would be the top moment on every Messi highlight reel for the next 50 years.
There are two countries that I’m particularly interested in watching this summer: Belgium and France.
While the narrative of a “Golden Generation” is often over-used, I believe both of these squads can confidently claim that label. While France has had arguably better crops of talent, there’s no law saying you can’t have more than one Golden Generation. I’ve gone on record multiple times that France is my pick to win the World Cup. The simple reason for this is the ludicrous amount of talent that they possess.
From young guns like Kylian Mbappe, Thomas Lemar and Ousmane Dembele to world-class players like Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Raphael Varane. France has arguably the deepest and most talented squad in the entire tournament. While their history at World Cups of late has been sketchy, who’s to say they can’t put it all together and replicate what they did in 1998?
On the other hand, Belgium is so laden with talent that their manager, Roberto Martinez, decided to not even include Radja Nainggolan in their preliminary roster. Their list of talent is almost as impressive as France, but unlike their fellow Europeans, they’ve never had this much quality. This is undeniably their Golden Generation and if they are to see something out of it, this World Cup might be their only chance.
These are my reasons for being excited about the World Cup. I love the sport of soccer and I can’t wait to watch the best players and best countries play some hopefully entertaining matches this summer. You may have others or you may not even watch. Whether you’re cheering for your parents’ birth country, your favorite players from your club team, or just a random team you picked out of a hat, there’s a lot to be excited about in this World Cup. Feel free to share your thoughts down in the comments on either side of the discussion.