During the previous World Cup in 2014, the Seattle Sounders were in dreamland. Sounders’ own Clint Dempsey led the U.S. Men’s National Team out of the “group of death,” and followed it by leading Seattle in a season that saw the club take home the Supporter’s Shield.
This year couldn’t be more different.
In 2018, the Sounders are off to their worst MLS start in franchise history, while the U.S. Men’s National Team isn’t headed to the World Cup in Russia after choking during qualifying, losing to noted soccer powerhouse Trinidad and Tobago in the final game. Worst. Soccer. Summer. Ever.
But let’s make the most of a bad situation. Since we don’t have a clear rooting interest with the red, white, and blue on the sidelines (though Trump’s favorite squad is hosting the thing), why not root for your Rave Green faves?
Here’s who Sounders fans can keep an eye on to maximize their World Cup viewing enjoyment.
1. Gustav Svensson • Sweden • Defensive Midfielder
The Sounders’ utility man was a key part of World Cup qualifying for the Swedes. Although not an attacking juggernaut, the Swedes rode their stout defense all the way to qualification out of a tough European pool. Svensson notably helped shut down a potent Italian side to help his homeland secure their place in the World Cup.
Sweden will be in Group F with Germany, South Korea, and Mexico. With Germany the expected group winners (as well as the favorites to win the entire thing), Sweden will have to duke it out with South Korea and Mexico for the second spot.
2. Román Torres • Panama • Center Back
On October 10, 2017, Torres scored the winning goal to send Panama to their first-ever World Cup (which also knocked out the USMNT). For his heroics, Oct. 10 has been made a national holiday in Panama, Torres had a soccer field named after him, and he was also elected President of Panama (OK, that last one’s a lie, but if he ran, he’d win in a landslide). Torres is not just a Panamanian center back; he is also the team captain, the heart and soul of the scrappy underdogs.
Torres and co. will have to make it past Belgium, England, and Tunisia to escape Group G and reach the Round of 16. They probably won’t, but it should be easy to root for the team as they radiate the joy of being at their first World Cup. (It also doesn’t hurt that Torres’ smile is infectious. Just watch that dude grin and try to root against him.) If Torres can lead his team out of the group stage, then he will certainly never have to buy a beer in Panama again (and that presidential gig will be a lock).
3. Raúl Ruidiaz • Peru • Forward
Although technically still on the roster for Liga MX team Monarcas Morelia at press time, this 27-year-old is rumored to be in advanced negotiations to join the Sounders. Ruidiaz is not expected to see a lot of playing time for Peru during this World Cup, but he is coming off back-to-back 20-goal seasons for Morelia. If you don’t see him score in Russia, go to his snazzy personal web page—raulruidiaz.pe/goles—for proof of his prowess.
Peru has a chance to make some serious noise in this World Cup. The team hasn’t lost a match since a November 2016 match against perennial Cup contender Brazil. That said, with France being the clear Group C favorite, Peru will likely have to fight Denmark and Australia for that second spot.
As you watch these three Sounders (well, currently two) take the field in Russia, spare a thought for their teammates Nicolás Lodeiro (Uruguay) and Kim Kee-Hee (South Korea) who both failed to make their country’s World Cup squad.
The United States’ absence is a silver lining in a way, as it gives us more of a chance to connect outside our normal set of soccer fans. Ultimately, isn’t that what the World Cup is about? (Well, that and FIFA corruption, but that’s an article for a different time.)