You may have heard about a little tournament happening this summer, something called the World Cup. Soccer (or football, as the rest of the world calls it) may not have taken over the US just yet, but it's hard to escape the buzz about the biggest sporting event of the year wherever you live. Brazil are the host nation this time around, and if football was born in England, it became the beautiful game in Brazil. The country is synonymous with the sport and they are set to put on quite a show over the next month, with things kicking off on Thursday.
To help Let's Go Tribe readers get a better sense of the World Cup, I decided to compare each American League team with one of the national teams competing in this year's tournament. We'll begin by looking at some teams we're pretty familiar with...
The AL Central
Detroit Tigers - Argentina
The Tigers and the Argentinian team can both boast about the fact they own the best player in their respective sport. Miguel Cabrera is a consistent MVP candidate and 2-time reigning winner of the award. The Triple Crown winner is considered by many to be the best player in the game today, a man with one of the most explosive bats in baseball history. Lionel Messi, Argentina and Barcelona's four-time winner of the prestigious Ballon d'Or award, is on the road to being perhaps the greatest talent to ever grace his sport. Both superstars are supported by quality teammates that enable their teams to contend for the championships every year.
However, Argentina and Detroit have both fallen short of the final hurdle in recent years; the Tigers came agonizingly close to their goal in 2012, when they were beaten in the World Series by the Giants. Argentina haven't won the World Cup since 1986, and haven't made it past the quarter finals since 1990. Despite each team's success and the immense talent they possess, they'll both be looking to rectify their failure when it comes to crunch time. 2014 would be a good place to start...
Minnesota Twins - Belgium
The Twins and Belgium haven't had much success in recent times; Minnesota haven't won a World Series since 1991 and fielded some truly awful teams in the mid-to-late 90s. Belgium have also been pretty poor, having missed out on the previous two World Cups entirely, and haven't enjoyed any success since they achieved 4th place in the 1986 tournament in Mexico. However, both teams are on the up, with some accomplished young players coming to fruition.
The Twins currently own two of the finest prospects in all of baseball, and are counting down the days until Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano arrive at Target Field. Belgium are in the midst of a golden generation, with players like Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Thibaut Courtois giving the Red Devils their best chance of victory in decades. That being said, both teams are still some time away from truly competing for their ultimate prize, and will need a bit more experience before having realistic championship ambitions.
Chicago White Sox - Uruguay
The White Sox and Uruguay are historically very successful; Chicago were World Series champions in 1906 and 1917, and may have been 1919 champs too, if it weren't for some unsportsmanlike conduct on and off the field. Uruguay won the World Cup in 1930 and 1950, breaking Brazilian hearts in the latter, something they'll be hoping to replicate this summer.
Despite their success many moons ago, both Chicago and Uruguay have experienced a drought ever since and have only recently emerged as contenders once again; the White Sox finally captured their third World Series title in 2005, while Uruguay have become a force in the international game since achieving 4th place in South Africa in 2010, then winning the Copa America in 2011.
Both teams can call upon some elite players, as Chris Sale is arguably the best pitcher in the American League, and Luis Suarez is one of the three best goal scorers in the world (Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi being the others). Despite those supreme talents, both teams are still a step or two away from winning it all any time soon.
Kansas City Royals - United States of America
The Royals and the US Mens National Team (USMNT) share more similarities than you might think: the Royals last won the World Series in 1985, their sole championship, and have been awful ever since. The USMNT made it all the way to the semi finals in 1930, but have failed to reach that lofty height ever since, including a 40-year period from 1950 and 1990 when they didn't even qualify.
Another comparison can be made between the Royals' James Shields, one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball, and Landon Donovan, a player of superior skill not appreciated like he should be outside the US. Unfortunately, both players' days appear numbered for their respective teams: Shields is a free agent in 2015, and is considered highly unlikely to sign an extension with the Royals. Donovan has been left out of Jurgen Klinsmann's final 23 man squad for Brazil 2014, and at age 32 will probably never play in a USA shirt again.
Both teams are undoubtedly planning their futures without these men. The Royals and the USA both have some very talented players: Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez lead the way for KC, whereas Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore carry the flag for the USMNT. However those players don't have much support and both teams are long-shots to win it all. They will have to wait a bit longer to lift their respective trophies.
Cleveland Indians - England
Is this pairing a coincidence? Yes I'm from England, and the Indians are my team. Does that make this comparison between these two any less relevant? No, because I have my reasons you see. The Tribe are one of the first eight franchises that formed the American League, and the city was a hotbed of talent back at the turn of the last century. England is the birthplace of football, creators of what we now know as the modern game.
Want some more? The Indians last won the World Series in 1948 and have tortured their fans ever since. England won their only World Cup on home soil in 1966, but have found new and interesting ways every four years to disappoint an entire country. Both teams last experienced a sustained period of success in the 1990s: The Indians had one of the most exciting and powerful teams of that era, with star players like Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel leading the way, selling out Jacobs Field every night. England made the semi finals at Italia 90 and made the semis at Euro 96 as well, getting beaten by the Germans both times, but inspiring a new generation of football fans along the way (the 8 year-old me loved Euro 96!).
Unfortunately neither team could go the distance and their fans are still waiting for that elusive championship. Tribe fans, will 2014 be the year Cleveland wins their third World Series? Will England shock the World in Brazil and end 48 years of hurt?
That's a wrap for the AL Central. Tomorrow: The AL West