Most years, these summer months are the most boring time of the sports calendar. The NBA Finals have concluded. The Stanley Cup has been lifted. And football training camp has yet to begin.
But this year is different, because this year we have the World Cup! Millions of sports fans across the country will watch soccer during June and July for the first time in 47 months.
Many of these sports fans will have a hard time figuring out which teams to root for. Maybe you have a passing knowledge of the sport. You know that you’re supposed to hate Cristiano Ronaldo. You know that you like the Spanish strikers David Villa and Fernando Torres because they’re awesome in FIFA ‘10. But other than that, you probably didn’t know who you should have been supporting when Nigeria suited up to take on Greece earlier today.
As SB Nation DC’s resident soccer expert (or at least the closest we get to an expert on this staff), I consider it my duty to help point you in the right direction. So if you’re from D.C., and you’re a fan of D.C. sports teams, then you should feel totally at home if you root for the following five teams.
1. United States of America
OK, you probably could have seen that one coming. We are the nation’s capital, and now is a time for nationalism. If you’re lucky enough to call the U.S. your home, then you should support our country’s national team with all your heart.
Contrary to what you might have heard, the U.S. has its strongest team in years. Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Tim Howard, among others, have all had some success playing in Europe. We’ve even got some representatives from the D.C. area playing on the team. Starting central defender Oguchi Onyewu attended Sherwood High School in Montgomery County, and Maurice Edu and Clarence Goodson each went to college at the University of Maryland.
Oh yeah, and the last time this American team stepped foot on South African soil, they were 45 minutes away from beating Brazil in the Confederation’s Cup final, a tournament that invites only the top team from each continent. The U.S. is not a favorite by any means, but if they get rolling like they did against Egypt, Spain, and for the first half of the final against Brazil, they could make some noise. I just hope that you’ll be watching to see it.
2. New Zealand
If you’re like me, then the Flight of the Conchords should be reason enough to root for Australia’s little brother to do well. Clearly New Zealand is an underdog, but after a stoppage time goal against Slovakia, they may have a legitimate shot in an underwhelming group whose only powerhouse is Italy, which has been disappointing so far. The main reason that New Zealand makes this list though is that their captain is the only player in the World Cup who once played for our home team D.C. United. Ryan Nelsen helped guide United to an MLS Cup championship in 2004, and is now known as one of the better defenders in the tournament. The only detriment to supporting New Zealand is that you might feel a bit awkward when you say their nickname: the All Whites.
Here we have a team with the potentially highest scoring offense in the world (but an entirely mediocre defense) who dominated the qualifying stages. Sound familiar? Yes, Washington Capitals fans should feel right at home rooting for the Netherlands. This team is stacked with firepower, including their own big three of Wesley Sneijder, Robin Van Persie, and Dirk Kuyt. The Dutch escaped their first match against Denmark with a mostly uninspiring 2-0 victory, but now they’ll have to take on Japan, who is surprisingly co-leading the group. Will the Dutch run into a hot goalkeeper who will keep them from advancing? Caps fans won’t be surprised if these offensive juggernauts bow out early.
If you’ve been following SB Nation’s coverage of the World Cup, then you’ve seen this one before. As the Unlucky Fan points out, Argentina’s national team has a lot in common with the Washington Redskins. They haven’t won anything of consequence in 20 years, and yet supposed experts and fans alike have a tendency to pick them to do well every year. Argentina is great at winning the offseason, but are often nowhere to be found when it really counts. Redskins fans can certainly find comfort in that.
This is another sentimental underdog pick. Let’s hear it for the little guys of CONCACAF! Honduras makes this list because their trip to the World Cup was sealed in D.C. at RFK Stadium. And they weren’t even in the U.S. at the time! Jonathan Bornstein’s header in stoppage time of our last qualifying match forced a draw against Costa Rica, and consequently kept them from passing Honduras for this region’s third and final World Cup spot. Mostly, Americans are just rooting for Honduras to succeed in this tournament so we can hear another call like this one. Los Estados Unidos!