Root for Mexico.
Next summer, at the World Cup in Russia, root for Mexico. I will.
The United States, as you surely know by now, didn’t make it to the World Cup. A disastrous loss in Trinidad and Tobago in October in the make-or-break final qualifier sunk an altogether shambolic qualifying campaign, meaning the Yanks will be missing out for the first time since 1986. Bigger soccer countries missed out as well, like four-time World Cup winners Italy, back-to-back Copa America champions Chile, three-time finalists the Netherlands and African powerhouse the Ivory Coast.
So now what? World Cups are more fun when you have a country to get behind. So you need a new team.
I understand. Neither of my countries made it. My birth nation, the Netherlands, is mired in a bottomless crisis that’s seen it miss both Euro 2016 and this World Cup, following a third-place finish at the 2014 World Cup. And my other country — I was sworn in as a U.S. citizen on Friday, just a few hours after the draw — is absent for just the second edition of the World Cup in my lifetime.
So as one of my very first acts as an American, I’ve decided to root for Mexico.
Viva Mexico. Vamos El Tri. And so on and so forth.
Join me as an early rider on the Mexico bandwagon. I have reasons.
For one, it’s the neighborly thing to do. Mexicans are lovely; their food is great; their country is stunningly beautiful. We only have two neighbors. We should be nice to those neighbors. In case we run out of milk or need to borrow a lawnmower.
Also, Mexico is in our qualifying region — CONCACAF — and any success it has will be helpful to its continental peers.
And really, who else are you going to root for?
Besides, Mexico was probably already the most popular men’s national team in the United States anyway. It’s hard to quantify that, of course, but it’s certainly the preferred team actually going to the World Cup. We might as well lean into it and own whatever success Mexico has next summer.
There are plenty of connections between the Mexican program and the United States. Some of Mexico’s biggest stars play stateside. Giovani and Jonathan Dos Santos play for the LA Galaxy. Carlos Vela will join the expansion LAFC next season. There are longstanding rumors about El Tri captain Andres Guardado and all-time leading scorer Javier Hernandez signing with MLS teams as well. And one-time super-prospect Erick Torres plays for the Houston Dynamo, where he might yet reincarnate his national team career.
Head coach Juan Carlos Osorio, meanwhile, went to college in the U.S. and began his managerial career here. He speaks impeccable English and his wife and children have deep ties to the U.S. as well. It’s been whispered that when, inevitably, the fickle powers that rule the Mexican national team spit him out, he could be in line to coach the Yanks.
But all of that is just circumstantial. You should root for Mexico because Mexico is incredibly fun to watch. Whereas the U.S. had mostly looked dour since the last World Cup, boring you far more often than it satisfied your aesthetic cravings, Mexico consistently played appealing soccer.
Osorio has at his disposal a cast of technicians the U.S. can only dream of — Guardado, Vela, Hector Herrera, Marco Fabian, the Dos Santos brothers, and on and on. It has a deep corps of strikers behind Hernandez. It has a sturdy back line, anchored by American villain Rafa Marquez, who will be 39 before the tournament kicks off. (Learn to love again, and start with the ageless Rafa!) It has a charismatic goalkeeper in Memo Ochoa. And a scintillating young winger, Chucky Lozano.
The core of the team is in its prime. The window on a breakout for Mexico may be closing, after winning an Olympic gold in 2012 and several youth World Cups in the last decade or so. And that’s the biggest reason to root for Mexico. It has been eliminated in an astounding six consecutive round-of-16s.
That is to say, at every World Cup going back to 1994, Mexico survived the group stage and then lost in the first knockout game — to the United States in 2002, memorably. It has been treading water for two decades. In ’94, it went out against Bulgaria on penalties. In ’98, it blew a lead against Germany. Four years later, the U.S. broke Mexican hearts. In 2006, Argentina prevailed in extra-time, and in 2010, the Mexicans ran into Argentina again. In 2014, a (valid yet somehow controversial) 94th-minute penalty for the Dutch sealed their fate.
For Mexico, it’s been heartbreak upon heartbreak. It is both a regional power and a global underdog. The talent is there to advance to the elusive “fifth game” yet the run of futility might extend to a quarter century.
On Friday, Mexico got a tough draw for the World Cup — finding itself in probably the second-hardest group with Germany, Sweden and South Korea. That also means, unlike other teams, its tournament should be compelling from the start.
So join me in supporting our soccer brethren to the south. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the (North-) American thing to do.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.