World Cup 2018 Predictions

As an American, faced with the real­i­ty that is being a bystander dur­ing the upcom­ing World Cup. And, as I sit and think about it, I find myself still eager to enjoy the event even as a neu­tral. Sure, I want to par­tic­i­pate in the event liv­ing for each American game, but alas it was not to be. So, instead, I can focus on enjoy­ing the game for all its beau­ty and drama.

With that, I decid­ed to sit down and look at the groups in the first stage of the World Cup and make my pre­dic­tions on how they will fin­ish. The par­en­thet­i­cal next to each coun­try is their FIFA World Ranking as of May 13th.

I made my pre­dic­tions before I looked up the coun­tries’ FIFA rank­ings, before coun­tries began releas­ing their World Cup ros­ters and with­out doing addi­tion­al research. Lastly, I found an arti­cle on 538 from December 2017, with their pre­dic­tions after the groups were ini­tial­ly picked. I share their picks under mine in each group.

Lastly, my dis­claimer: I’m just some guy who loves soc­cer.

Group A

FiveThirtyEight calls this the eas­i­est group in World Cup his­to­ry, high­light­ing the lucky draw of the host nation. I believe Russia will heav­i­ly ben­e­fit from home field advan­tage, were this World Cup else­where in the world I would pre­dict Uruguay first and Egypt/Russia bat­tling for sec­ond. But see­ing as they are home they get the advan­tage and I believe Uruguay also leaves the group with them.

  1. Russia (#66)
  2. Uruguay (#17)
  3. Egypt (#46)
  4. Saudi Arabia (#70)

538: Russia and Uruguay

Group B

This group is easy. Iran and Morocco are nowhere near the same class as Spain and Portugal.

  1. Spain (#8)
  2. Portugal (#4)
  3. Iran (#36)
  4. Morocco (#42)

538: Portugal and Spain

Group C

France is clear­ly the best in this group but this one is actu­al­ly tougher than might you imme­di­ate­ly think. I waf­fled on Peru and Denmark but even­tu­al­ly gave the nod to Peru.

  1. France (#7)
  2. Peru (#11)
  3. Denmark (#12)
  4. Australia (#40)

538: France and Denmark

Group D

Argentina is the easy pick in the group, and I had to go with Iceland after wit­ness­ing their run in the Europian Championship back in 2016. Plus, how could I turn down an invi­ta­tion from the President and First Lady of Iceland?

  1. Argentina (#5)
  2. Iceland (#22)
  3. Croatia (#18)
  4. Nigeria (#47)

538: Argentina and Croatia

Group E

Brazil being the easy pick here. According to the FIFA rank­ings Switzerland is the obvi­ous sec­ond pick but I went with the dark horse from CONCACAF (the FIFA region which includes USA, Canada, Mexico and other cen­tral American coun­tries.) Perhaps it’s a bit of home region favoritism, but I think they are quite good and they also have one of the best keep­ers in the world in Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas.

  1. Brazil (#2)
  2. Costa Rica (#25)
  3. Switzerland (#6)
  4. Serbia (#35)

538: Brazil and Switzerland

Group F

Germany, the win­ners of the last World Cup, are the obvi­ous pick here. I went with Mexico as the sec­ond group to leave. I will admit I was tempt­ed to put Sweden in that spot sole­ly out of my appre­ci­a­tion for Gustav Svensson, a Swede who plays for the Sounders right now.

  1. Germany (#1)
  2. Mexico (#15)
  3. Sweden (#23)
  4. Korea Republic (#61)

538: Germany and Mexico

Group G

This group sur­prised me in their FIFA rank­ings. I thought England was high­er than Belgium, and I thought Tunisia was the low­est ranked coun­try in this World Cup. Little did I know.

This group is also notable as this could be where the US Men’s team were, had things gone dif­fer­ent­ly they might have found them­selves in Panama’s rather unen­vi­able spot. USA is ranked #24, and they would also be very hard pressed to escape the group.

  1. England (#13)
  2. Belgium (#3)
  3. Panama (#55)
  4. Tunisia (#14)

538: Belgium and England

Group H

Another one where I was off in my men­tal coun­try rank­ings, I thought Colombia was high­est in the group and Senegal was the low­est. But I am happy with Colombia and Poland’s chances to escape the group.

  1. Colombia (#16)
  2. Poland (#10)
  3. Japan (#60)
  4. Senegal (#28)

538: Colombia and Poland

Other Predictions

Final Match: Germany vs. Brazil
Winner: Germany, 3 – 2

Golden Boot: Thomas Muller
Silver Boot: Neymar
Bronze Boot: Cristiano Ronaldo

Golden Glove: Manuel Neuer

On Seattle versus Portland

Credit to Mike Donovan for his research, turn­ing up two icon­ic news clip­pings. Reported in the Oregonian on Nov. 29, 1907 is the first men­tion he could find of Seattle and Portland fac­ing off in soc­cer.

Here’s the Seattle news­pa­per report­ing on the same match, thanks to Frank MacDonald for shar­ing.

The sec­ond clip­ping Mike turned up this clip­ping which is the first match between the two rivals played in Multnomah Stadium (which is what we know today as Providence Park) from March 1929.

While those go much fur­ther back, it’s 1975 which we regard as the mod­ern era of the Seattle vs. Portland rival­ry. It was won by Seattle thanks to a Jimmy Gabriel penal­ty. Here’s the news­pa­per report­ing on it as shared by Frank MacDonald on Twitter.

This rival­ry truly is some­thing spe­cial here in the US, but don’t take my word for it. Here’s Eli Mengem, host of Copa90’s Derby Days series, shar­ing his thoughts and expe­ri­ence as he expe­ri­ences Seattle at Portland a few years ago.

In prepa­ra­tion of today’s match, the Sounders pro­duced this video fea­tur­ing the nar­ra­tion of ex‐Sounder DeAndre Yedlin. It gives me goose­bumps every time I watch it.

Let’s Talk About the Sounders

The Sounders have start­ed this sea­son off under the loom­ing specter of injuries, a bit of bad luck and repeat­ed poor deci­sion mak­ing by play­ers who should def­i­nite­ly know bet­ter. There are fans who are going to be mount­ing a #GarthOut or a #SchmetzerOut cam­paign. I’m not going to be doing that yet, and to explain why. Let’s dive in on what’s been going on this sea­son thus far.

First off, it’s impor­tant to note, with few excep­tions — the Sounders are ter­ri­ble in March.

As Frank says, who knows why this is. Out of a pos­si­ble 84 points in March, the team has only taken 32 dur­ing their MLS his­to­ry. Not good. In fact, this isn’t even our first time start­ing the sea­son 0 – 3, some­thing we did as recent­ly as 2016. A sea­son which ended rather well for us, you might recall.

This sea­son feels espe­cial­ly mad­den­ing as we went into the off­sea­son hav­ing our asses hand­ed to us in the painful MLS cup. And now, with most­ly the same squad, we sit at the bot­tom of the west. How did we go from mak­ing the MLS Cup to strug­gling to fin­ish a goal? We built our plan around this being a come­back sea­son for Jordan Morris, who suf­fered a sea­son end­ing injury right out of the gate. Our plans in dis­ar­ray and our lack of depth up top sud­den­ly high­ly prob­lem­at­ic.

As we learned in our drub­bing of a defeat in Toronto, we reached the MLS cup last sea­son large­ly thanks to the com­par­a­tive weak­ness of the west­ern con­fer­ence. And now we’re faced with look­ing at a deplet­ed, and aging, ros­ter.

Garth spoke in vague terms of his plans recent­ly. That they are look­ing for imme­di­ate rein­force­ments and look­ing to sign a new DP in the sum­mer trans­fer win­dow. This feels mad­den­ing to many fans because they ask “Why aren’t we sign­ing a DP now?” or “Why haven’t we already signed the new DP?” And the answer is, because busi­ness. Garth is excep­tion­al as a GM because he does a great job find­ing greater value in the sign­ings we make. Signing a play­er isn’t as sim­ple as pick­ing up a bot­tle of milk at the cor­ner store. It requires much more than that.

This, of course, is of lit­tle con­so­la­tion to Sounders fans fac­ing our 0 – 3 start while we see the LA Galaxy final­ly deliv­er on the long rumored Zlatan sign­ing. That, com­bined with his per­for­mance off the bench this week­end, has left many of us with intense DP jeal­ousy. Fans should keep in mind that sign­ing had been rumored for lit­er­al­ly years. It wasn’t some­thing which just sud­den­ly hap­pened. It took the LA Galaxy, Man. United, and most of all Zlatan — decid­ing to make it hap­pen togeth­er.

Soccer is a busi­ness most­ly about the future, and less about the now. Signings are not tem­po­rary patch­es need­ed for one moment or one game — they are invest­ments which have to con­tin­ue to deliv­er for sea­sons to come while not upset­ting the mix­ture already exist­ing in the lock­er room. As much as we want Garth to open the wal­let, that isn’t how a suc­cess­ful team does things.

The good news is that even with­out a DP‐caliber sign­ing until Summer, the Sounders do have the pieces to make progress and turn around from this depress­ing start. Injuries heal, mean­ing we’ll soon see Ozzie and Victor, return to the line­up. And it is best for all of us if the team takes the time in bring­ing these play­ers back — it is emphat­i­cal­ly incor­rect game the­o­ry to rush these guys back as we strug­gle now as com­pared to if it was the end of the sea­son. Now is the safest time for us to strug­gle while we let our squad heal and be 100% ready to come back.

So with the squad being what it is and changes wait­ing to be seen, the other major thing to dis­cuss is the deci­sion mak­ing.

Three Sounders match­es. Three red cards. Three poor deci­sions by Tony Alfaro, Clint Dempsey, Kelvin Leerdam. Three loss­es. Two of these play­ers are lead­ers of the team, expe­ri­enced play­ers who have zero excus­es for the brash deci­sion which led to their indi­vid­ual red card.

I’m always high­ly crit­i­cal of when a Sounders play­er gets a stu­pid red card. It is among the worst things they can do in my eyes. And Schmetzer spoke to it last night after the game. I think Sounders at Heart slight­ly over­states it with the head­line of “Brian Schmetzer issues vio­lent con­duct ulti­ma­tum” but Schmetz’s mean­ing was clear: It’s some­thing that has to stop. The team motto he’s per­pet­u­at­ed since tak­ing the helm of the club, “Next man for­ward” loses some­thing when they are forced to replace a team mem­ber due to poor deci­sion mak­ing rather than injury.

The truth is you can’t frame a solid argu­ment against the refs and these red cards. There is a small case for Dempsey, but the real­i­ty is while play­ers are play­ing the other team they are also respon­si­ble for exist­ing in the box the ref­er­ee draws. It’s one of the rea­sons Ozzie is so good as a phys­i­cal play­er, he finds the lines with the ref and stays on them in terms of his phys­i­cal­i­ty.

It is infu­ri­at­ing to see rules uneven­ly applied across the league. Referees are indi­vid­u­als and not a per­fect sys­tem, but we’ve seen our play­ers tapped on the face with­out a red card issued, or see­ing Lodeiro repeat­ed­ly tossed and tripped and sent sprawl­ing as the most fouled play­er in the league last sea­son — with only a few yel­low cards to show for it. We can’t blame the 0 – 3 start on the refs, but it is fair to say they haven’t done us any favors along the way thus far.

So with all of this said, should fans be demand­ing change in lead­er­ship? Or sim­ply clam­or­ing for some sort of change?

Garth has acknowl­edged we need help. It is now a ques­tion to see what deal he and the office staff can deliv­er. They are look­ing for a DP cal­iber sign­ing in the sum­mer, and I think it is safe to say that if we have anoth­er DP sign­ing fall through (as we did last sea­son) that I, and many oth­ers, will be immense­ly frus­trat­ed and dis­ap­point­ed. But until that hap­pens, I trust in Garth and his sys­tem.

I hon­est­ly don’t have a major prob­lem with how Schmetz has coached this sea­son. I’ve agreed with almost all of his line ups and subs given the play­ers avail­able to him. If he can set­tle the squad and stop this rash of red cards then I believe the team will turn around.

Lastly is the play­ers. Cristian Roldan spoke last night after the game tak­ing own­er­ship on the play­ers for the loss that they just aren’t deliv­er­ing despite not feel­ing sig­nif­i­cant­ly out­played. Lodeiro said “We need to train hard­er, we need to prac­tice bet­ter. We’ve been in sit­u­a­tions like this before, and we know what we need to actu­al­ly do to get out of this. We’re going to do it.” Our squad has tal­ent and should not be sit­ting at the bot­tom of the west, but here we are. The play­ers at the end of the day have to score goals and no one else is able to make that hap­pen.

The good news, I believe change is com­ing on all the axes rel­e­vant to this dis­cus­sion. It might take time and it might be that we limp into July and the sum­mer trans­fer win­dow, but I believe we’ll notch a win soon and then we will build on that as play­ers begin return­ing to our ros­ter.

Remember: It’s always dark­est before the dawn… or some­thing sim­i­lar­ly moti­va­tion­al as we sit at 0 – 3. Hang in there fans.