Already miss the World Cup? Your guide for picking a new favorite soccer club
The World Cup is over, but there's still a whole lot of soccer to watch
With the World Cup now over, a lot of the U.S. will go back into soccer hibernation mode, eagerly awaiting the women's Cup in France next year or the men's tourney in Qatar in 2022 to see how the stars and stripes will be represented.
Soccer can be difficult to follow in the United States, and European club soccer in particular can be daunting. Between the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A, it's tough to answer one question: "Who should I follow?"
If you still watched the Cup even with the United States not qualifying, it was an incredible tournament by any metric. Franceover Croatia in the final, , , but above all else, we saw some great soccer.
So, if you want to continue to ride this wave even though soccer's biggest stage is over for the time being, here's a guide to help you know who to follow (and a bit of their history and what league they play in).
'I'm a fan of the Golden State Warriors'
Team: Barcelona (La Liga)
Key players: Lionel Messi (Argentina), Philippe Coutinho (Brazil), Luis Suarez (Uruguay), Gerard Pique (Spain), Yerry Mina (Colombia)
This isn't a drag on Warriors fans, it's just an acknowledgment of the Warriors' recent success. If you just want to watch a team win, Barcelona in La Liga is for you. This team's superstar corps took a bit of a hit when Neymar Jr. was bought out by Paris Saint-Germain for a whopping $263 million, but it's still as stacked as ever. Barcelona has won three of the last four La Liga titles, and 25 total.
You're also going to recognize a lot of names from Russia 2018. Of course there's Argentina's Lionel Messi and Uruguay's Luis Suarez. However, there's also the likes of Colombia's Yerry Mina, Brazil's Philippe Coutinho, Ivan Rakitic of the runners-up Croatia, Gerard Pique of Spain and Samuel Umtiti of the champion French team.
This team is utterly stacked, and one of the more fun teams to watch in soccer right now. It made huge waves when it bought Suarez from Liverpool in 2014, and it's once again the odds-on favorite to win La Liga next season after Real Madrid lost Cristiano Ronaldo. Which brings us to ...
'I like the Boston Celtics'
Team: Real Madrid (La Liga)
Key players: Luka Modric (Croatia), Sergio Ramos (Spain), Marcelo (Brazil), Isco (Spain), Keylor Navas (Costa Rica)
Frankly, this could easily be the Cleveland Cavaliers -- especially due to the fact that arguably the best player in club history (sorry, Alfredo Di Stefano) just left when Ronaldo went to Juventus -- but Real just has entirely too much history of winning. In fact, in La Liga, if it isn't Barcelona winning, it's generally Real Madrid. Real Madrid has a record 33 La Liga championships; Atletico Madrid has only 10, but that's good enough for third place all-time. In addition to La Liga success, Real has also won more UEFA Champions League titles than any other team with 13, including three in a row and four of the last five.
And much like the Celtics, whose 17 NBA championships lead the league, this team has a storied history. The Celtics have Bill Russell, Larry Bird, John Havlicek and Kevin Garnett. Real has Cristiano Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Raul and Pirri. No matter how good Barcelona gets, Real Madrid is always hanging around, and this rivalry is one of the most storied in all of soccer. Even with Ronaldo's departure, this team still holds Golden Boot winner and World Cup favorite Luka Modric, excellent defenders Sergio Ramos and Marcelo, a top-10 keeper in the world with Keylor Navas and the scoring threats Isco and Gareth Bale.
'Give me some parity' (alternatively, 'Belgium was fun')
Team: Manchester United (Premier League)
Key players: Romelu Lukaku (Belgium), Paul Pogba (France), Marouane Fellani (Belgium), David de Gea (Spain)
The Red Devils aren't as stacked as they once were, but a big part of that is the competitiveness of the Premier League stepping up. There's still plenty of talent on this team. It has one of the most exciting attacks in soccer, featuring breakout Belgian star Romelo Lukaku and France superstar Paul Pogba. Marouane Fellani is going to give fans some headaches, as is David de Gea, but they're still some of the best in the world at their positions.
Manchester United hasn't won a Premier League title since 2013, due in part to the emergence of Manchester City, but it's still very much in the mix each year. The club also has a history fans can be proud of. Twenty titles and one of the deepest squads in all of the Premier League gives fans plenty to talk about. Even when it isn't dominating, Manchester United isn't far from the top.
'I want to hate another team indiscriminately'
Team: Liverpool (Premier League)
Key players: Mohamed Salah (Egypt), Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland), Dejan Lovren (Croatia), Sadio Mane (Senegal), Alisson Becker (Brazil)
Liverpool has a long history of success. It has 18 Premier League titles, some phenomenal players throughout its history, five Champions League wins and a very bright future. But none of that matters unless Liverpool beats Manchester United. While the hate is very much mutual, it also tips towards Liverpool in terms of vitriol. These teams truly hate each other.
However, Liverpool's history is very independent of Manchester United's. While it's far removed from its utter dominance of the 1980s, Liverpool is trying to claw its way back to the top. It's currently second to Manchester City among oddsmakers to win the Premier League after a runner-up finish in the UEFA Champions League to Real Madrid, but it all comes back to rivalry. The Liverpool-Man U rivalry is like Michigan vs. Ohio State in the sense that it's always circled on the calendar.
Also, if you're in the Midwest, you can get a taste of the hatred yourself. These two teams will play at the Big House -- home of the Michigan Wolverines -- in Ann Arbor, Michigan on July 28. But if you go, make sure you're smart. If you're not ready to talk trash, don't wear one team's colors over the other.
'Just drop me into a dynasty'
Team: Paris Saint-Germain (Ligue 1)
Key players: Kylian Mbappe (France), Neymar Jr. (Brazil), Angel Di Maria (Argentina), Edinson Cavani (Uruguay)
Of its seven Ligue 1 championships, five of those have come since 2012 for Paris Saint-Germain. It's won five of the past six titles, and that's due largely in part to a crazy influx of talent that's only gotten better over time. While Marseille and Saint-Etienne remain at the top of the France league title chase with 10, Paris Saint-Germain is quickly closing ground when it comes to historical dominance.
The team added Neymar last season in a record purchase from Barcelona, and it still has young talent like Kylian Mbappe, the breakout star of the World Cup. Add to that the unmatchable goal-scoring ability of Edinson Cavani, and you have a team that's utterly stacked.
The turning point for Paris Saint-Germian came in 2011 with a change of ownership. When Oryx Qatar Sports Investments took over with Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the team went in a totally different direction. Zlatan Ibrahimovich -- now on the Los Angeles Galaxy -- took the team to the top. And even though he left this past season for the MLS, the culture of winning is now ingrained into PSG.
'I want to see the future of U.S. soccer'
Team: Borussia Dortmund (Bundesliga)
Key players: Christian Pulisic (United States)
While Bayern Munich is forever the team to watch in Bundesliga, there is one very specific reason that USA fans would want to take interest in a team that hasn't won a title since 2012: Christian Pulisic. Pulisic is the future of American soccer, a prodigal 19-year-old from Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Pulisic became the youngest American to score in an international qualifying match when he did so at 17 years old in September of 2016. Although he was the youngest player to represent the U.S. at qualifiers, he was considered by many to be a leader.
Fans have high hopes for Pulisic. If the United States is to make waves moving forward, this is the guy that's going to help do it. It's a ton of pressure to put on a player still in his teens, but he certainly seems to have the drive to be a success.
'Give me a team early into a possible dynasty'
Team: Manchester City -- Premier League
Key players: Leroy Sane (Germany), Kevin de Bruyne (Belgium), Sergio Aguero (Argentina), Gabriel Jesus (Brazil)
One thing any fan has to admit about the current state of Manchester City soccer: It's fun as hell. It's only won the Premier League five times, but two of those have come this decade and one came last season. Leroy Sane may have been left off of Germany's international team, but make no mistake, he's a prolific scorer who will only get better. Kevin de Bruyne is coming off of an excellent World Cup, Gabriel Jesus is a steadily good striker, and Sergio Aguero only serves to complement him.
Pep Guardiola really only knows success as a manager. He's managed Barcelona and Bayern Munich, two legacy teams, so Manchester City allowed him to come in with a relatively blank slate. The team is utterly stacked -- perhaps more so than people imagined when Guardiola joined -- but it added de Bruyne in 2015, Sane in 2016 and Aguero in 2017. The team is building something steadily, and in recent seasons has only gotten more fun to watch.
'Who's a dark horse with a shot at winning?'
Team: Chelsea (Premier League), Atletico Madrid (La Liga)
Key players: Eden Hazard (Belgium), Thibaut Courtois (Belgium), Willian (Brazil), Diego Costa (Spain), N'Golo Kante (France)
So maybe you'd like to be pleasantly surprised by a great season out of your team. That's understandable. Not everyone likes starting out by winning everything. Chelsea and Atletico Madrid certainly aren't quite up to the tier of the Manchester Uniteds or Barcelonas, but that doesn't mean that they don't have great talent.
Atletico Madrid boasts talent such as Antoine Griezmann, who is coming off of a phenomenal World Cup, Diego Costa and Lucas Hernandez. Chelsea, meanwhile, has players such as Eden Hazard, Willian, N'Golo Kante and Golden Glove winner Thibaut Courtois. Chelsea is also in the midst of a regime change, ousting Antonio Conte in favor Maurizio Sarri. The last time Chelsea had a new coach in Conte, it won the Premier League in its first season. And that was a year ago.
Both of these teams are fun and have a lot of potential to make waves. Even though they're in leagues that don't necessarily favor them right now, they still have all of the talent in the world to make a run.
'I want a fun team looking to break a title drought'
Team: Tottenham Hotspur (Premier League)
Key players: Harry Kane (England), Dele Alli (England), Kieran Trippier (England), Mousa Dembele (Belgium), Hugo Lloris (France)
Oh Tottenham, the one team that escapes the vitriol of the rest of the Premier League because it's just so damn likable. With two Premier League championships -- the last one coming in 1961 -- no team has enjoyed a more astounding run of bad luck than the Hotspur. Harry Kane and Kieran Trippier represent their country of England, while France's Hugo Lloris plays in net, and yet it's never enough.
The team has been a runner-up five times, including as recently as 2017. It has the Golden Boot winner, and it's still trying to make its way back to the top. If it does, get ready for a party the likes of which you've never seen. With that being said, if Tottenham enters a Golden Age at the same time as Manchester City and Man. City goes on to dominate, that would be -- as they say -- "so Spurs."
'An exciting young team trying to recapture bygone glory?'
Team: Arsenal (Premier League)
Key players: Lucas Torreira (Uruguay), Mesut Ozil (Germany), Granit Xhaka (Switzerland)
Rounding out the Premier League's Big 5 is Arsenal, a 13-time Premier League winner with a current average age of about 27 years old -- meaning that most players on the team weren't old enough to remember Arsenal's early dominance. The team has enjoyed bouts of success since its 1991 title -- titles in 1998, 2002 and 2004 are a testament to that -- but Arsenal fans prefer to be perennial contenders.
While the team has fallen a bit behind the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool, it's still an ever-present threat in the Premier League. You also won't be alone in rooting for Arsenal. The United States has a massive contingent of Arsenal fans, one of the biggest of any Premier League team. If you go out to watch a match, whatever bar you go to will have plenty of red and white jerseys.
'I want to follow the LeBron James of soccer'
Team: Juventus (Serie A)
Key players: Ronaldo (Portugal), Gonzalo Higuain (Argentina), Paulo Dybala (Argentina)
Keeping up with the NBA comparisons, you must have seen this coming.
Juventus has been dominant throughout Serie A history, but this isn't about Juventus. If you're reading this, you know that. This is all about Ronaldo, the legend himself, being bought out of his Real Madrid contract to go to Italy to play for a Serie A title. He's already won in both Spain and England, so this was the next logical step. Juventus has 34 Serie A titles (AC Milan and Inter Milan are second with 18), so he couldn't have gone to a better spot.
Serie A isn't full of pushovers, but it's hard to bet against Juventus for the moment. While the likes of Roma or Napoli might challenge Ronaldo, he's the best player in the world -- let alone Serie A. If you want to see Ronaldo chase another title, this is the team to do it with.
'What about the homefront?'
Team: Anyone local in the MLS
Key players: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden), Carlos Vela (Mexico), Jozy Altidore (USA), Tim Howard (USA)
If you want to support USA soccer, it all starts on home soil. The MLS isn't new, but it's definitely trying to work towards relevance. There are currently 23 teams, with another three coming -- FC Cincinnati in 2019 and Miami and Nashville in 2020. Once those teams are added, there will be 26 total teams, with nearly every major city being represented.
LAFC joined the league this year (with some phenomenal kits, I should add), and is second in the Western Conference behind FC Dallas. Jozy Altidore, a top USA forward, plays on defending champs Toronto FC. Then, of course, there's Colorado Rapids captain Tim Howard, who had his legendary World Cup match against Belgium in the 2014 round of 16. Zlatan Ibrahimovic made waves by not only joining the MLS, but retiring from international soccer. His arrival to the L.A. Galaxy was a huge affair.
The league has been around since 1996, but it's never expanded this quickly. If you want a bandwagon to latch onto, Toronto FC or LAFC may well be your teams. You can find a list of teams here.
The best part about following locally (besides supporting USA soccer)? You don't have to deal with time zone differences (although going to a bar in the morning to catch a Premier League match can be incredibly fun), and it's right in the middle of the season. You don't need to spend one week without soccer after the World Cup; it can start right back up again.
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