Here we go again.
It's the World Cup again, and we shall all rejoice, for it is a time of rejoicing! Let us also encourage those Americans who still require said encouragement, and translate World Cup teams into US sports teams, for easier digestion. It's like soccer pro-biotics.
There are those who frown on the concept of this blog, those who rage at the notion that Americans are so unrefined as to require local cultural analogs for a sport whose greatness is a singular truth held to be self-evident, one that can represent itself on its own merits far better than this clumsy attempt at sporting translation ever could.
There are still more who dislike it merely for the implication that there could possibly be people left in this country who gaze upon the World Cup in all of its magnificence, and still, after all these years, just don't quite get it.
I know this, because when I wrote the first version of this blog four years ago, I heard from a handful of these types of folks. I must admit, I was shocked to learn that this blog's central idea, one that came to my head so purely, and with such good intention, was in fact not so original; that it could be seen, in some circles, to be a bit of a hoary old chestnut, or even, dare I say it: hack.
I have heard these protests, and I see their validity, and I shall ignore them for the nonce.
As we nonetheless go back to this quadrennial well, to those who would find ill in it, I can but say: lighten up, Francis.
There are many things about the World Cup to take with deadly seriousness; this blog is not one of them.
The fact remains, shocking as it is to the initiated, and despite the wonderful strides soccerball had made in our variegated land, there are still millions of people in our country who just haven't quite got the bug yet. Quite a few of them want to, though.
I heard from these people as well last time, and many of them appreciated the push. As Brazil has grown near, I have even heard from some demanding a sequel of a sort, that they may be pushers for this gateway drug, that it may help them spread the debilitating addiction that is football crack cocaine. Paying it forward, if you will.
So, screw it. It's just a bit of fun. Who doesn't like fun?
Here's how it works:
- for each of the 32 national teams headed to Brazil, I tried to find the US team that most resembles it.
- do not expect exact matches, for these teams are too unique to be categorized perfectly. Some pairings are along historical terms; some are more based on current affairs. None are exact.
- I have occasionally paired a team that has won trophies with a team that has not. Don't sweat those details. It's just, like, a vibe, bro.
- I have endeavored not to repeat any teams that I used in the last blog, even though I think some of the pairs from that time are either still applicable or even, in some cases, superior. So if, for example, you prefer Italy being compared to the San Antonio Spurs over whatever I've affixed to them this time around, just know that you may damn well be right. But for the sake of exercise, I'm mixing it up.
And now, presenting, for amusement purposes only (please, no gambling):
Your 2014 World Cup Teams, needlessly corrupted into American!
Everyone knows that they’re bad, but they’re all like “No! Guys! Check it out! We’re good now!” But you’re all like, NOPE. Not only are you not fooled, you also suspect you’ll never see them again.
THE CHARLOTTE BOBCATS
The story with this team is that of their leader, who, despite still being active, has already put together one of the best careers of any player ever. This guy is already a champion other places, but not here yet. He just needs that one more trophy to really put him in the uppermost echelon. His whole team knows it, knows how few chances he has left, have built everything they do around him- they want it for him that bad. So does the team's previous legend, the one who actually did win the big one here, the one to whom the active player is most compared, the one who, despite having retired years ago, is around ALL THE TIME. Which only makes the pressure all the more enormous. Nonetheless, this could very well be their year.
THE DENVER BRONCOS
THE TULSA SHOCK
A young team, including a proper superstar or two, that appears to be gelling at just the right time to take on the big boys. Exciting times for the fans of this relative backwater, because historically, this team has no particular track record of success. But now, with so many people are calling them a dark horse, it will be impossible to surprise anyone; every team they face will know they have to rise to the occasion. These young players are full of confidence, sure; but do they know yet that that’s not enough? Can they overcome their own inexperience, or will they become another cautionary tale? The only thing that can stop them is themselves.
THE INDIANA PACERS
(as they were four months ago, before it all went south)
A new team, but not the first team to represent its area. Not expected to get far, but capable of beating anyone, so long as they get a big night from the big man up front.
THE NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Basically a lock to at least be one of the last four teams standing. Great history. Stacked on offense. Stacked on defense. A coach whose acumen is belied by his insane sideline behavior. And one young, uniquely gifted player, ready to lead them to their sixth trophy.
THE SAN FRANCISCO 49ers
What the hell happened? Ever since the 90s, they've been a team to be reckoned with, fearing no overdog, kicking your ass and having fun doing it. Today, they are a readily domitable shadow.
THE DETROIT PISTONS
(minus all the, like, titles and stuff)
What’s not to like? Dangerous, offensive-minded young team that only gets a little tougher and smarter every time someone actually manages to beat them. It's a team full of weapons; not a favorite to win it all, but who knows? If they catch a couple of breaks...
THE TORONTO RAPTORS
A sentimental favorite, no one would object to this team rising to the heights of their much-loved 90s teams (who actually weren't quite as good as people remember, but still). A dark horse favorite this time around, as long as injuries don't curtail their hopes. Possibly noteworthy: no matter what you've heard, not everyone who lives there is high.
THE GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
10. COSTA RICA
Plucky! Fearless! Big fish from a small pond that just might get further than you expect them to! But they probably won’t! Let's enjoy it while it lasts! And fly, damn you, fly!
COSTA RICA =
THE DAYTON FLYERS
Get ready for an onslaught of fundamentals, with a light sprinkling of flash, and more white dudes than should be demographically possible.
WISCONSIN BADGERS BASKETBALL
Owners of one of the best home-field advantages in the sport. Often, that’s just enough to get them into the tournament, if usually not much further than that. But on the rare occasions that they bring their home scoring form to the road, they are very tough to stop.
THE COLORADO ROCKIES
Supposedly, this is the land where the game is sacred, where the old values are protected and revered. The problem for them is that their own subscription to that mythology, by both players and fans, has driven unrealistic expectations from the latter and brought ridiculous pressure down on the former. It’s been a dark couple of decades. Now, however, it seems like they’ve learned their lesson; players and fans all appear to be level-headed and even-keeled as everyone starts all over again. As such, this is an appealingly young squad, unlikely to get too far, but unlikely to embarrass anyone either, as they get back to basics.
INDIANA HOOSIERS BASKETBALL
THE MIAMI DOLPHINS
A truly dominant team, and when they are hoisting trophies, it’s rarely because they have the best player; they have the best squad, all the way down to the end of the bench, and this year’s group is very much along those lines. But for a demanding team such as this, too many years have passed since they last won a title. Despite the team's nimble ability to recycle the roster, a window may be closing. Their calculating coach will try to get them back to the mountaintop. Not only is he one of the most respected tactical minds of the game, he also retains his own inimitable sense of sartorial style.
THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Look, I get it. We’re all supposed to have a soft spot for the over-achieving small-market team. But, well, this particular underdog has had their chance, I say. Time to restore order. Just a totally objective thought I've been having.
THE TAMPA BAY RAYS
They don't have the firepower on offense to come out and score at will against superior opposition. But that's not their style, anyway. They're perfectly content to be tough to beat, and see what happens from there. Susceptible to sneak attacks.
MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS FOOTBALL
The team of choice among esthetes and intellectuals, responsible for a whole new way of playing the game, whose influence is seen still today. It’s always been just enough to get to the championship game and then lose. The claim is that this year they’re going to ignore their history and their traditions and change things up. I’ll believe it when I see it.
OREGON DUCKS FOOTBALL
It’s not always about winning. Sometimes it’s about trying to make friends, and maybe learning a little something about yourself on the way.
FURNITURE ROW RACING
Another team whose wins come from more than a single superstar, but from a roster filled with talent and sporting intelligence at every position... and Italian management.
THE ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
(FUN FACT- in three of the four years that Italy was won the World Cup, the Cards have won the World Series.)
22. IVORY COAST
They haven’t really gotten anywhere in the last decade, but can you blame them? When they do make the tournament, they always come up against the biggest squads in the sport. Such are the perils of a (relatively) small-market team, of course; but this may be the year that everything lines up, as there are indications that they are peaking at the right time. Talented and eccentric, it’s an easy team to like. Also: elephants!
IVORY COAST =
THE OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Always formidable. Never a team whose efforts can be doubted. They tend to be the story of the one great player who can almost win a game by himself, but then doesn’t get enough support from the rest of the team, and it all ends in tears. Also: Nintendo!
THE SEATTLE MARINERS
Another once-threatening team reduced to a shambles. Their local rivals surpassing them in every way. Their sacred home ground, once a fortress, has begun to lose it's luster. Can new leadership get them back in track? Or are they still searching for rock bottom?
THE NEW YORK KNICKS
Every once in a while, this team- a big player in a small conference- is pretty damn good; not good enough to win the whole thing, just… good. "Once in a while" is now. They have a young, exciting team, capable of big surprises; just probably not the biggest surprise of all.
FRESNO STATE BULLDOGS FOOTBALL
A team that has never won it all. The current side is composed mostly of goons, except for their main man, a gifted forward who is without a doubt one of the two best scorers in the world. But he’s not as young as he used to be. He’s running out of chances to win the big one, and cement his argument as one of the greatest of all time. For too many years now, we’ve been hearing this is their year. Powerful Americans will be watching closely.
THE WASHINGTON CAPITALS
Unspectacular team from a cold, cold place, unabashedly focused more on the future than the present. Run by a classic curmudgeon of a coach, who will make sure they are at least fundamentally sound.
THE MINNESOTA TWINS
28. SOUTH KOREA
Will they win? No, definitely not. Probably not ever. but the fans don’t care, because right now they can’t believe their luck: the team is being coached by their most beloved player ever. Just like the teams he graced as a younger man, the favorite son has this team playing the right way. Unflappably. Relentlessly. No matter how overmatched they seem to be.
SOUTH KOREA =
IOWA STATE CYCLONES BASKETBALL
Spain is just the best right now, and possibly the best ever. Spain wins all the trophies that matter. You can’t stop Spain. Spain is in the middle of historical run. People keep saying Spain's gonna stop, and then Spain doesn’t. Spain just keeps on kicking ass and breaking records. People feel lucky to take one game from Spain. There is nothing like Spain, there is only more Spain. Spain-Spain-Spain, Spain-Spain-Spain-Spain-Spain. Spain.
It’s not that this team has never been good… but that is the perception, and it is pervasive. Year after year, this is a team from whom there is nothing to expect. This time around, they have a high seed, sure, but that’s easily dismissed as stemming from the good fortune of facing weaker competition. Until you look a little more closely. Check out their roster. Lots of interesting young players on this team; for the first time in a long time they’re actually fun to watch. Are they too young to be this good? Or is their youth getting in the way of everyone realizing how good they actually are?
THE WASHINGTON WIZARDS
After years- yea, decades- in the wilderness, this team seems poised to finally return to the echelons of greatness they occupied in the earliest days of the game. Unfortunately, their most famous player is known as much for his prodigious talents as he is for being possibly the biggest heel in the sport. Their passionate, blue-collar fans couldn’t care less.
THE DETROIT LIONS
Yeah, sure, this team has been around a long time. Lots of ups and downs. Mostly downs. But for our purposes, let's ignore anything that happened before, say, 1990. Let's just look at where they are today.
There is a cloud over this team. And there doesn't need to be.
A team doesn't win like it should, so it makes a change and brings in a new coach. In this case, they bring in an intellectual-type with bold new ideas about how to run things. His first big decision: casting aside an aging fan favorite, a legend who brought the fans so much joy for so many years.
In the sober light of day, sure, the fans realize that for all that joy and all those highlights, he didn't bring a title. The fans also know that the current roster wasn't going to bring a title whether that legend was still around or not.
The hotshot new coach- all of whose previous coaching success came in a whole other country- claims to respect the legend and all that he's done for the team. But does he really know how much this player meant to the fans? Or to his teammates? Is the intensity with which he practices the only measure of an icon's value? Is finding out worth the risk?
We shall see.
THE CHICAGO BEARS
(minus all titles; again, it's like a vibe, bro)
And there you have it.
So then, who will win the World Cup?
Here are all the groups, in translated form. Every team plays every team in its group once; top two teams advance to the free-for-all of the knockout stages.
San Francisco 49ers
New York Knicks
Golden State Warriors
Michigan State Spartans
St. Louis Cardinals
New Orleans Pelicans
Furniture Row Racing
Fresno State Bulldogs
New England Patriots
Tampa Bay Rays
Iowa State Cyclones
Really wish the US had drawn Group H. We totally could have taken the Twins. Sigh.
I will try to keep the blog more consistent this time around. Time zones being what they were in 2010, it was hard to stay on top of things, since I was drunk by noon every day.
But this time, I will be in Brazil, and shall report from there.
May you enjoy the World Cup, new fans and old, no matter who you support.
- Brendan Hunt