You might have heard that the World Cup starts Thursday. You also might have heard the United States isn’t playing in it for the first time since 1986.
This will inevitably cause some people to ignore the tournament. It will also cause some people to spend a month lamenting the Americans’ failure to be there.
But even without the U.S. playing, there are a lot of reasons to watch. It won’t take you long to find one.
Maybe you’ll root for a country where you have ancestors. Germany perhaps, or Mexico, or South Korea. Or any team, really, because they all have immigrant populations in the United States.
(If you’re an Italy fan, condolences. They aren’t in Russia either.)
Speaking of Mexico, maybe you’ll root for North America’s most popular soccer team. El Tri has some great players this year, including Carlos Vela and Hirving “Chucky” Lozano. There’s also Jesus Corona, whose nickname “Tecatito” comes from another big Mexican beer.
Or maybe you’ll root against Mexico, because what’s the point of a rivalry otherwise?
Maybe you’ll root for a player whose club team you support. If you follow Barcelona, for example, you’re backing Lionel Messi’s Argentina. You could also go for Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, Colombia, France, Uruguay or Spain. Barcelona will have 14 players at the World Cup, topped only by Real Madrid (15, including Cristiano Ronaldo) and Manchester City (16).
Maybe you’ll root for England, because you watch the Premier League on TV and guess rooting for England is hip. It isn’t, but hey, at least you’re watching.
Instead, root for Belgium, with Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City), Eden Hazard (Chelsea) or Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United). Or France’s Paul Pogba (Manchester United), N’Golo Kante (Chelsea) and Olivier Giroud (Chelsea).
Pogba is one of the game’s great personalities, Kante anchored Leicester City’s miracle 2016 title run, and Giroud has the Premier League’s best hair.
(Giroud also might be the only soccer player who’s liked by both Chelsea and Arsenal fans.)
Major League Soccer will have a record 19 players at the World Cup, even without the U.S. playing. They come from six countries: Costa Rica, Egypt, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and Sweden. (The full list is below). Root for them, especially those from countries that haven’t been at a World Cup for a while. Peru is in for the first time since 1978, Egypt for the first time since 1990, and Panama for the first time ever.
Like rooting for a powerhouse? Reigning champion Germany has you covered. Like rooting for an underdog? Go for Iceland, making its first World Cup appearance after an epic run at the 2016 European Championship.
Like being fashionable? Nigeria’s jersey is one of the coolest ever.
Like being a rebel? Rooting for Poland at a Russian World Cup fits the bill (and striker Robert Lewandowski is really good). Like a villain? Uruguay has one of soccer’s biggest, notorious biter Luis Suárez. (It also has the quite likable Edison Cavani.)
Looking for the new young phenom? Watch France’s Kylian Mbappé. Looking for the beautiful game? Colombia plays it, led by James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado. And the team’s goal celebrations are just as pretty.
Here’s one more suggestion: Just have fun. Go to 15th and Locust Streets and hang out at Philadelphia’s soccer bar epicenter. Go to a Brazilian bar in Northeast Philadelphia, or an African restaurant in West Philadelphia, or a Mexican taqueria on South 9th Street.
Even without the U.S. playing, the World Cup is still the world’s biggest party. Why not enjoy it?
MLS players at the World Cup
Costa Rica: Francisco Calvo (Minnesota United), David Guzmàn (Portland Timbers), Ronald Matarrita (New York City FC), Marco Ureña (Los Angeles FC), Rodney Wallace (New York City FC), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps).
Egypt: Omar Gaber (Los Angeles FC).
Mexico: Giovani dos Santos (Los Angeles Galaxy), Jonathan dos Santos (Los Angeles Galaxy), Carlos Vela (Los Angeles FC).
Panama: Harold Cummings (San Jose Earthquakes), Fidel Escobar (New York Red Bulls), Anibal Godoy (San Jose Earthquakes), Adolfo Machado (Houston Dynamo), Michael Murillo (New York Red Bulls), Roman Torres (Seattle Sounders).
Peru: Andy Polo (Portland Timbers), Yoshimar Yotún (Orlando City).
Sweden: Gustav Svensson (Seattle Sounders).
Belgium also has Laurent Ciman (Los Angeles FC) on standby as a reserve. If injured defender Vincent Kompany can’t play, Ciman will be called in as a replacement.