With the 2018 World Cup set to begin on Thursday, players and coaches from Edinburg’s RGV FC Toros and UTRGV Vaqueros offer takes on their favorite sides and World Cup memories, plus the teams, matchups and players to keep an eye on.
Kyle Adams, RGV FC defender
Which team do you want to win?: Probably Germany. It would be kind of cool just to see them go back-to-back. They’ve been pretty successful, and they have a lot of young guys.
Which team do you think will win?: Germany.
Will you be keeping an eye on any individual players in particular?: Honestly, no. I just enjoy watching good soccer. So not really any individuals I guess. But it’s always fun to see (Argentina’s Lionel) Messi and those guys score some amazing goals.
Do you have any specific matchups you’re looking forward?: Spain is playing Portugal. A game like that will be kind of cool. Or a rematch of Argentina-Germany or something like that. Even France-Germany.
What is your favorite World Cup memory?: Honestly, the first soccer game I can remember watching would’ve been 2002, when (Brazil’s) Ronaldinho chipped that free kick from 40 yards out against England. Probably that memory. It’s my first soccer memory.
Todd Wharton, RGV FC midfielder
Rooting for?: I don’t know. I watch a lot of (English Premier League), so probably England. I think everyone on their roster plays in the EPL. I’m most familiar with them. It’s a young team and is fun to watch.
Winner?: Spain, obviously. They’re going to be a favorite every year. Spain and Brazil, I think, were my two picks.
Players?: I’m a big (Manchester United) fan, so I’m going to watch all the Man U players I can. Especially (England’s Marcus) Rashford.
Matchup?: Argentina-Portugal would be fun just because of Messi and (Portugal’s Cristiano) Ronaldo. I just want to see Messi get on a big stage. I want him to do well. I would like for him to win a World Cup. I just don’t think he will. Any time he’s in a big game, he’s going to be fun to watch.
Memory?: That Landon Donovan goal. I think it was against Algeria that he scored in stoppage time (during the 2010 World Cup). That’s obviously pride for most Americans — the memory they have. That’s mine.
Conor Donovan, RGV FC defender
Rooting for?: Iceland. Underdogs. Small country. They captured everyone’s heart in Europe.
Winner?: Germany. I just think their system and then obviously their players, they’re going to be hard to beat. It shouldn’t be a problem for them.
Players?: Not too many individuals exactly. Obviously Messi and Ronaldo. I’m excited to see how France does with their lineups with all the talent they have.
Matchups?: I’d like to see a Germany-France final. Or an Argentina-Portugal game would be pretty cool.
Memory?: Landon Donovan’s goal. Oh my God, I went crazy.
Victor Garza, RGV FC defender
Rooting for?: Of course, I would like Mexico to win. I’ve always been part of the U.S. soccer national team, but my family is Mexican. I’ve always supported Mexico. I know it’s very tough for Mexico to win.
Winner?: I would go with three. I would go with Germany, Brazil, or Argentina.
Players?: I just love to watch every game possible. I focus on any game, even small countries. … I try to focus on the World Cup in general and learn from the game, learn different aspects of the game and enjoy and have fun with each game.
Matchup?: Obviously, everyone expects Mexico to be second of their group and Brazil first of their group. And if that’s the case, the possibility is they would face each other. In the (2012) Olympic games, Mexico beat Brazil (2-1 in the Gold Medal match), and everybody is expecting if Mexico and Brazil go through, there’s that upset of Mexico beating Brazil. I know it’s tough, because they’ve got great players, but I would love to see Mexico play Brazil early in that stage of the tournament and obviously winning that game.
Memory?: I did a couple interviews before the last World Cup, and people were telling me that Brazil was going to win. It’s going to be in Brazil, and they have a strong team. There are three interviews, I actually have them recorded, where I mentioned Germany would be champions. The point of view I had of why they were going to be champions was when Spain won the World Cup in South Africa (in 2010), the two top club teams at that time were Barcelona and Real Madrid. They were all top notch. And the year right after, the Champions League was Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, who were the top clubs in the world at that time, and they had excellent players. So that was my point of view of why Germany was my top team to win the World Cup, and they won.
Gerson Echeverry, RGV FC coach
Rooting for?: Colombia. Colombia is the team. It’s the place where I was born. Unfortunately, the U.S. is not in. Usually, those are the two countries I root for. The U.S., and Colombia.
Winner?: Right now, the team that I really think is the most dangerous is Germany. Germany traditionally is either always in the finals or the final four. After their performance after the last two or three years, they could make two or three teams that can easily compete at this level. So I think they’re the favorites. If there’s another team, I guess it would have to be Brazil. Especially with Neymar coming back. They’ve been playing wonderful soccer. So those are the two teams.
Players?: (Colombia’s) James (Rodriguez), because he’s from my country. I love watching James, obviously. I think still the big players, you have Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Those guys are tremendous. But obviously we have a very good player in James, and hopefully he can cut loose like he did at the last world cup.
Matchup?: I enjoy every game. Whoever is playing, it’s something I really enjoy.
Memory?: There are two. I remember the first one in ’78, with my dad. I was 8 years old, and I still remember, because we had just gotten a TV, and there was maybe about 40 or 50 of us watching it. And I remember being in front of it and watching the finals and watching Argentina beat Holland. That was my first memory that I recall clearly about the world cup, and just the excitement about it. We were rooting for a South American team to win. And then another memory that I thought was tremendous was when Colombia scored, and they were able to tie Germany in the ’90 World Cup in the last minute, and we were able to quality for the next round. That was an exciting time. That was fantastic.
Isidro Martinez, UTRGV junior forward/midfielder
Rooting for?: I want Argentina to win, because they have to make a comeback from last World Cup. Also, I would like to see the best player lift the trophy for his country.
Winner?: Football could be very tricky at times, but I believe that Spain has the squad to win it all, just the way the play. They move the ball side to side to move their opponent and attack the open spaces in between lines.
Players?: Lionel Messi, (Spain’s) Andres Iniesta, (Belgium’s) Eden Hazard, and (France’s) Antoine Griezmann.
Matchup?: England vs. Belgium and Argentina vs. Croatia. Good matchups between these countries. Very talented players in England vs. Belgium. Both teams have very young players, and I would like to see how do this World Cup.
Memory?: The goal Argentina’s Maxi Rodriguez scored in extra time against Mexico to send them to quarterfinals in the 2006 World Cup.
Michael Faber, UTRGV sophomore defender
Rooting for?: I would love to see Argentina win, because I think they deserve it after last World Cup. I believe they are a relatively complete team, and of course I’d love to see Lionel Messi lift the cup.
Winner?: I think that England will win. Providing they get through their bad luck in the group stages, I believe they will push on with the amount of big names and strong players in the team.
Players?: I am excited to see players such as (Egypt’s) Mo Salah play after his fantastic season with Liverpool and Andres Iniesta play in what will be his last World Cup, but I am most excited to see (Belgium’s) Kevin De Bruyne play, because I love the way he plays and think he is a very complete, hardworking player.
Matchup?: I am most anticipating seeing Portugal vs. Spain from Group B. I think this will be huge game between two of the biggest powerhouses in world football.
Memory?: Being from New Zealand, I did very much enjoy the 2010 World Cup, as New Zealand attended. But definitely a memory which has stuck with me, and that is also close to my heart as I am half Dutch, was Robin van Persie’s diving header in the 2014 World Cup.
Paul Leese, UTRGV men’s soccer coach
Rooting for?: Since I’m English, I have to say England! Last year, England won the U-17 and U-20 World Cups, so it would be an incredible achievement to do the same in 2018 with the full senior team. If not England, I have a soft spot for Spain, since I grew up there as a child, and so I always root for them.
Winner?: The traditional European powers (Germany, France and Spain) are my favorites to win the World Cup. Spain have now passed their peak, and France may be too young, so I think Germany have the strongest chance to win, with Croatia being my dark horse pick. Brazil will make the later stages, as they have fantastic talent within their team as always, but I don’t think they will win it all.
Players?: I have been following Mohammed Salah all year with my hometown team Liverpool; and so would love to see him have a strong performance at the World Cup. I think a player that is sometimes overlooked is Luka Modric from Croatia. I am always impressed at how he can control a game and make his teammates play better; and with a talented Croatian team this year, I am excited to watch him play and hope they go far in the tournament.
Matchup?: I enjoy watching games in the World Cup between teams with noticeably different playing styles. Croatia vs. Nigeria, England vs. Panama and Germany vs. Mexico are three games that I will be watching and studying closely. If I was to pick my dream final, it would be Croatia vs. Brazil — two strong and talented teams who play with a great deal of creativity… and I would like Croatia, a nation never before to win a World Cup, to take the 3-2 victory!
Memory?: My favorite World Cup was Italia ’90. I was 15 years old and was able to watch almost every single game; and this was the year that England had possibly their most creative side with Paul Gascoigne, Chris Waddle, Peter Beardsley and Gary Lineker in the team. I remember England vs. Cameroon like it was yesterday… we scored early and controlled the first half easily, but Cameroon scored two quick goals in the second half, and it needed two dramatic penalties by Gary Lineker to earn us the win and make it to the semifinals. Unfortunately, we lost on penalties to Germany, and England’s World Cup disappointment continued!
Glad Bugariu, UTRGV women’s soccer coach
Rooting for?: Sweden. Both my native country (Romania) and my adopted country (United States) did not qualify. My wife is Swedish. Fortunately, they have qualified, so at least I have someone to support.
Winner?: Historically, European teams win the World Cup when it takes place in Europe, but the margin between winning and losing the World Cup is so small between the top nations, so it is difficult to pick a winner. If you look at quality of players, consistency and mental determination, my pick will be Germany. My dark horse will be Argentina. World class squad, good preparations, and of course Messi. Maybe this will be the final piece of the puzzle for him.
Players?: There are, of course, the obvious world-class players such as Messi, Ronaldo, (France’s Paul) Pogba, and Neymar — my favorite player at this moment. However, I am always (eager) to see the players from Africa with their amazing technical ability and strength. A player from one of those teams will always emerge during a World Cup.
Matchup?: Portugal-Spain straightaway comes to mind. The game where we can see if these two nations are also-rans or will have a serious say in this championship. Sweden-Mexico is always obvious. Looking forward to sitting down in front of the TV with some of my Mexican friends and also my Swedish wife! Should be a good time, for sure!