Voices: Andrew Wiebe

MLS fan guide: What should you root for in the World Cup?

Who MLS Fans Should Root for

​​I love Major League Soccer. I love the World Cup. I love not going outside on frigid Midwestern days.

Combine all three and the next month is close to perfection for North American soccer junkies like you and me! I want the United States and Canada to shock the world. I want every player we watch week to week to either 1) make a bigger name for themselves or 2) add to their already storied place in the game.

With 36 players at the Big Soccer Dance – 37 if you count MLS Next PRO – Major League Soccer trails only the Big Five leagues in Europe when it comes to participation in Qatar 2022. It’s by far the most in MLS’s 27-year history. Make of that what you will. When you turn on matches, there’s a good chance you’ll see familiar faces in starting XIs, on the team sheet and leading from the bench.

Root for your nation of choice, yes, but root for MLSers, too. Here are 11 things for MLS fans to root for at the World Cup!

Root for Messi to make history … alongside Thiago Almada

If the United States or Canada can’t win the World Cup, let it be Argentina and Lionel Messi (perhaps a future MLSer?!?!). Let it be Atlanta United’s Thiago Almada, who got the thrill of a lifetime by being called in as an injury replacement in this heavily favored squad. Only Brazil have better odds to win the whole thing, per BetMGM!

Root for Facundo Torres to score his first goal for Uruguay

Is it likely? No, not at all. Odds are the 22-year-old Orlando City winger will watch almost all the action from the bench (of former Inter Miami manager Diego Alonso).

But it could happen! Torres started two World Cup qualifiers and came off the bench in three others, including against Brazil and Argentina. He was a substitute in five Copa America matches in 2021. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he gets into a game or three, and if Torres does…

Root for Torres to have a life-changing moment, but also root for Martin Caceres to, in all likelihood, cap his decorated international career with a deep run. Only Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Diego Godin and Fernando Muslera have more caps than the LA Galaxy defender (115) among this La Celeste squad.

Root for Ecuador to be the darlings of the tournament

No nation, outside the US (9) and Canada (11), has more MLSers in their squad than Ecuador (4). LAFC’s championship-winning trio of Jose Cifuentes, Diego Palacios and Sebas Mendez, plus Seattle’s own title-raising Xavier Arreaga, are all in Qatar. 

Don’t forget Carlos Gruezo spent a few years in Dallas and Michael Estrada (at D.C.) and Alan Franco (at Charlotte) had a cup of coffee in the league as well.

This is a young, direct team that could very well get out of Group A after getting the tournament started Sunday against hosts Qatar. La Tri could be a team we all fall in love with, with South American MLS players right in the middle of it all!

Root for Gareth Bale to ball out (against England and Iran)

Wales have been waiting a lifetime for this moment (64 years between World Cup appearances). Bale has been waiting his whole career for this moment. Wales is Bales’ team. He is the star. He is the veteran leader. He is the shining light of Welsh football.

I just hope the star forward, now 33, is fit enough to be half the player we all know he’s capable of being in this very finite and ill-timed (for his career arc, anyway) moment.

Only … don’t do it against the United States in that Group B opener on Monday (2 pm ET | FOX, Telemundo). Save all the full-field runs and slam-dunk headers for England and Iran! Then come back to LAFC full of verve and joy for the game and play one more year! Don’t stop at an MLS Cup/Supporters’ Shield double!

Root for Karol Swiderski to be Robert Lewandowski’s main man

What we saw from Swiderski this year in Charlotte (and recently with Poland) is he’s just as comfortable being a creator as he is a goalscorer. Well, the Poles have one of the best goalscorers of all time, only they’ve often struggled to break down organized opponents through the run of play. Enter Swiderski, who may just partner Lewandowski up top.

Root for Nouhou to have Nouhou moments at the World Cup

Do I really need to explain this one? Nouhou is pure joy. Nouhou shut down Mo Salah in AFCON last winter. Nouhou and Cameroon will play Brazil (!!!), Switzerland and Serbia in Group G. 

I don’t ask the Soccer Gods for much, but I ask that Seattle’s larger-than-life defender starts against Brazil in the group finale.

Root for Shaqiri to win the World Cup the Fire have been chasing since Basti

The Swiss could do it. Shaqiri could do it. By extension – and a logical leap – the Chicago Fire could make good on their quest to win the World Cup!

Root for Costa Rica’s Golden Generation to make one more run

MLS is sending Ronald Matarrita, Bryan Oviedo and Daniel Chacon (Rapids 2!) to Qatar. In my heart, I am also counting Francisco Calvo, Kendall Waston and Johan Venegas as MLSers. It’s only right given their past and depth of connection with the league.

Will 2022 be like 2014’s quarterfinal run? Highly unlikely, given they share the group with Germany, Spain and Japan … but then nobody really believed in that 2014 team either and Costa Rica can still point to Keylor Navas in net as a supreme difference-maker.

Root for Hector Herrera to help Mexico play an elusive fifth game

You either feel this deep in your heart… or you don’t want it to happen for the Houston Dynamo midfielder under any circumstances. This one really depends on your perspective and historical rooting interests.

But HH, in his third World Cup, knows all too well that “Round of 16 game” is Mexico’s World Cup bogeyman. If they get out of Group C, might that change? El Tri and former Atlanta manager Tata Martino sure hope so!

Root for Walker Zimmerman and Jesus Ferreira to become mainstream stars

Of all the MLS players in Gregg Berhalter’s squad, these two have the biggest opportunity to “break out” into the national sporting consciousness.
Americans, especially those who parachute into the game every couple of years, remember goalscorers. Both could end up on the score sheet. 

Americans, of any persuasion, remember people with memorable looks. Walker’s man bun is memorable, and Jesus is impeccably well-groomed. 

Americans, no matter the background, appreciate winners who wear red, white and blue. Zimmerman (Nashville) and Ferreira (Dallas) could be driving forces behind a knockout run…

Root for MLS present and past to power Canada

There could be as many as seven starters for John Herdman with some MLS connection, whether they currently play in the league or started their career there before heading to Europe. 

More than any other team, including the United States, Canada are fueled by MLS. They are my second team in this tournament, perhaps even 1B to the US’s 1A. Root for Canada!