Frankly, it wasn't a great run. The U.S. was the only team to win their group and not make the quarterfinals. It was exciting, it was galvanizing for our nation in some respect, but the actual result on the field should be disappointing. It's OK to expect more out of our team. Showing up and getting out of the group isn't good enough anymore.
Having said that, getting out of the group was immensely important to the future of soccer in this country, and had Landon Donovan not delivered on his moment in the final group game, we wouldn't be lauding the nearly 20-million who tuned in to watch the U.S. play Ghana. Many of those people have become fans and many more will forget about soccer for another four years but make darn sure they are back on the bandwagon from day one in 2014. For now, those newly-interested observers seem like a ship without a captain. With no United States to root for, what do we do? What team should we get behind? He's a brief rundown to help you choose:
Brazil: Brazil and the Netherlands are playing at 10 a.m. ET today and there's a solid case that the winner of this match could be the favorite to win the Cup. Brazil should be heavily favored, so if you don't want to be disappointed twice in the same Cup, back the Samba Kings. This Brazil team isn't like some in the past. It's not soccer's equivalent to the Showtime Lakers. They lock teams down when they need to and play a tough, physical brand of soccer. That said, the likes of Kaka, Robinho and Luis Fabiano up front make for some exciting moments in every match.
Netherlands: I just love a country that has two names. The Netherlands. Holland. And, their people are called Dutch. There's a complexity to that, I feel. This is a fun Dutch side to watch, too. They are extremely tough on defense and incredibly efficient with the ball. And unlike other European teams, they aren't huge floppers, nor vociferous complainers. Arjen Robben is a bit of a showman in that regard, but he's so good it's relatively excusable. The likes of Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and Dirk Kuyt just quietly go about their jobs. This team could give Brazil fits, so if you want to wait until that match is over and hop on the winner's bandwagon, nobody can blame you.
Uruguay: This is a tough call because Uruguay has been one of the more entertaining teams to watch in the World Cup and has some developing stars who have yet to be completely oversaturated in the international game. So this team should be an easy underdog to pull for. In addition, Diego Forlan is one of the best players in the world at Atletico Madrid, yet isn't exactly a household name outside of the soccer world like some of the other great strikers in La Liga or the Premiership. A run to the finals could change that for Forlan.
The real breakout player for Uruguay has been Luis Suarez, who plays club ball for Ajax in the Netherlands. Suarez has been dominant in this tournament, but he's also been a giant flopper, and notorious complainer in their matches thus far. You just can't root for that.
Ghana: It makes sense for the Americans to root for Ghana, as you should always want to lose to the team who won it all to make the case that you lost to the champs and therefore could have been the second best team. Nobody can prove you wrong on that one. This Ghana team is, in fact, a likeable bunch and it would be nice to see an African side make a run to the finals. It's still a shame – and amazing – that they are doing this without Michael Essien. In his absence, they've developed some young stars that are easy to pull for, even if they did combine to knock out our team.
Argentina: Diego Maradona has seemingly overshadowed every player at the World Cup. He is a fascinating character to watch, and the cameras never cease showing him during matches. So there's that, plus the fact that Argentina has the best player in the world in Lionel Messi who has set up a ton of goals, but has yet to score his own. It will happen at some point, that seems certain. People thought this team could flame out under Maradona, but thus far, they've been the most impressive team overall. Well, their central defense pretty much stinks, so their match against Germany should be fun.
Germany: Let's get full disclosure out of the way, it's incredibly hard for someone of my cultural and religious background to root for Germany in any international competition. Having said that, this team is actually rather likeable. There's no menacing Oliver Kahn on the back line or Michael Ballack in the midfield. It's a young bunch of players, with a player in Miroslav Klose up front who could conceivably become the most prolific scorer in World Cup history should they get through to the finals.
The German team has just three players born in the 70s and 13 of their 23 born in 1985 or later. This team could be around for a while.
Paraguay: Paraguay has the longest odds to win the cup at 50/1, according to Bodog. I'll be honest, I don't know much about this team as they don't have a roster full of stars like many of the other teams. Paraguay does have a lot of international experience at the club level on its roster and thus far, they've played four matches and have given up just one goal. So they could be rather boring to watch, too.
I do know that the ESPN announcers have made a concerted effort to mention the poverty rate in Paraguay that's up around 40 percent. If Americans were to root for a "people" still left in the World Cup, this would be a great choice.
Spain: Spain lost its first match and has looked, at times, incredible since. David Villa is the best pure goal scorer in the world and he, unlike other strikers who haven't done much for their national team, has been stellar during the World Cup. Their roster is as much an All-Star team as Brazil with the likes of Iniesta and Xavi in midfield and Fernando Torres up front with Villa. For my money, nobody has been playing better than Sergio Ramos for Spain. If they win, he'll likely be heavily involved rushing down the wings from his defensive position.
So it seems that Spain and Brazil are on a collision course, which would make for an incredible final. That said, if the final was the Netherlands and Argentina, or any combination thereof, it would be just as good. The field is full of great players and great story lines. It's just a matter of what angle you take for watching the matches – quality on the field, situation for the country or continent, relationship with America – to choose which side to get behind.â†µ
This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.