The Slatest

The Case for Panama at the 2018 World Cup

This is the kind of happiness advancing to the World Cup deserves.

Bienvenido Velasco/AFP/Getty Images

The United States was eliminated from the 2018 World Cup on Tuesday, failing to qualify for the tournament for the first time since 1986.

As noted elsewhere in Slate, this is an indescribable cataclysm for the U.S. men’s national team. For any fan of American soccer—or, “snowflakes,” as Democratic Rep. Brendan Boyle called us—it was also a true sporting travesty.

While the failure to qualify is an epic embarrassment, it happens to the best of them. What U.S. soccer fans need to do now, as 2018 World Cup broadcaster Fox Sports hinted at shortly after the loss, is move on. This means finding another team, ASAP. While the temptation for some will be to latch on to a historically big soccer nation like Brazil, Italy, or England, Americans should resist this urge and go for a plucky underdog. Some have already suggested that Americans should pick up the mantle of tiny Iceland, a nation of fewer than 400,000 people that is going to the World Cup for the first time. Bjork is cool and all, but European countries have had enough success already, winning more than half of all World Cups and the past three titles.

A region that’s still never won or even reached a final? The CONCACAF region, out of which the U.S. was eliminated on Tuesday. And who is the plucky underdog out of this region? The same country that eliminated the United States on Tuesday, plucky Panama, a passing pack of players packed with pluck. Why should Americans root for the team that eliminated the United States thanks in large part to this goal that clearly was not a goal? (I mean, just watch this “goal,” really. How is this a goal? It’s not a goal. Sigh.)

A handful of data points:

1. This is Panama’s first World Cup, which has already led to one of the all-time greatest broadcasting booth moments in soccer history. I would root for Panama just to watch a live feed of this broadcast booth.

2. Not only is this Panama’s first World Cup, it ends a 10-tournament drought for the nation’s qualifying efforts. This is one of the worst since the U.S.’s own nine-tournament drought. This achievement was so important for the country that President Juan Carlos Varela‏ declared Wednesday to be a national holiday. Can you imagine Americans caring together about any sporting event as much, ever?

3. Turnabout is fair play. Panama came within seconds of having its best opportunity to qualify last time around. But then we did this to them, scoring two meaningless (to us) goals in added time to eliminate them from contention on the final day of qualifying. There’s something karmic about Panama eking through in similar fashion this year.

4. Panama’s bench performance here was glorious.

5. According to the Wall Street Journal, the country’s $5 billion investment in expanding the Panama Canal has resulted in a “trading boom to U.S. East Coast ports” and helped “U.S. exporters of natural gas send bigger loads to Asian markets.” Thanks, Panama!

The World Cup starts on June 14 in Russia. The United States will not be there, but Panama will. ¡Sí se puede!