I actually rooted FOR the U.S.

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

Every four years World Cup comes around, and it was only from being here in England that I discovered the magnitude of it on the world stage. In 1994, the US was the host country, but all I remember is crowd shots from matches played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, where the bulk of the audience was waving Mexican flags. The fan base for soccer in Mexico has always been huge, and it’s compounded by Southern California having a large Hispanic population. In contrast, I wasn’t even sure that the US even HAD a team, as support was so minimal.

What I also need to mention is an antipathy towards any US athletics in international competition, though most of that was ingrained in me from the 1984 Olympics. Since Los Angeles, where I was living at the time, was host city for the Games, and Reagan was president, America’s superiority complex went into overtime. As the US were winning medals at an astonishing rate, I heard too many Americans equating athletic prowess with world domination, i.e. “Of course we have the best athletes, We’re the greatest country in the world.” I heard the last half of that statement too many times in years before and after, and always wanted to ask those making that proclamation,”Was there a survey that came out that I wasn’t aware of?”

As a result, from that point on, I’ve always rooted against the US in the Olympics, and only in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing did any country, in this case China, ever match them in numbers of medals, though US still won more gold than anyone else. This sounds unpatriotic, and maybe it is, but I don’t really care. What I’ve seen from the UK’s people is rather than try to tell the world they’re the greatest, they’re content to say “We’re proud to be British.” And sure, I’m proud to be an American, especially over here, where I’m in a minority, and so many find my heritage and my accent interesting.

Once I became more aware of World Cup, I would root against the US in that forum too. I had a rough time in 2010 because England and America were in the same group and had to play each other once. Their match was a 1-1 draw only because of an own goal by England’s goal-keeper Robert Green, who played for the team I’ve chosen to root for here, West Ham. I had a gig the night of that match, and the start of the gig was delayed until the match was over. Then I was called upon to open the show and just by opening my mouth, I got booed! The audience was understandably in a shitty mood, having watched their beloved stars blow it against an inferior team. I appeased them by letting them know my fear that if the US ever wins World Cup, and realises the monetary reward, they’ll make sure never to lose it again, even if it means bribing some of the great South American players with dummied-up passports and ersatz jobs. An exaggeration, I know, but when you’re over here, they like an American doing the occasional piss-take. Both England and US advanced past the group stages that year, but didn’t last much longer.

This year, something happened to change my mind. Maybe it was down to England not really showing up at all this time around, while the US managed to advance. I felt I had to root for SOMEONE, and normally I DO root for England, but last night I decided to give my native country a chance. I watched that match last night, and though it was clear that Belgium had the better team, I had to hand it to the US team for playing one of the most exciting soccer matches I’d ever seen. There was drama in every missed shot, in every goal-keeper’s save, in every yellow card. They had the spark that England lacked this year. As I watched US’s goal-keeper Tim Howard (who also plays for Chelsea in Britain’s Premier League) make some incredible blocks, I found myself full-on ROOTING for this team. I wasn’t pulling out a red white & blue and waving it around, and I still think America’s and Britain’s are the two DULLEST national anthems in the world, but otherwise I got fully behind the team, something I’d never done before.

Over the last decade or so, soccer has made significant strides in the spectator sport market, due in part to David Beckham’s participation. It’s not quite in the league with the US’s big four (We have trouble believing that a 0-0 final score can still be exciting), but when I was in Las Vegas and hung out at the sports betting bar, I found a lot of people, definitely American, coming in to watch World Cup, even when US wasn’t playing. This was amazing too in that there were finals going on in both pro hockey and pro basketball, plus baseball season in full swing. This rise in support coincides with the US team getting a whole lot better, amazing since the US fully acknowledges that it’s not THEIR sport. Then again, all of their major sports are derivations of something that went before, but Americans will still claim baseball, basketball and football as their own.

Even though the US lost in extra time and are out of the tournament, they unexpectedly won me over, and I’m sure Belgium was surprised. As tired as the US team looked after giving up the two late goals, it was a feather in their cap that they played on and actually scored one of their own. Had there been another ten minutes, it’s conceivable that they’d have tied.

I really don’t know who else to root for over the rest of this tournament. Four years from now, if I’m still living in England, I’ll probably root for their team, just so Brit fans will have something else to talk about besides 1966. However, if I’m back in the US, it’ll be a toss-up. I don’t know that I have any second-favorite baseball or football teams anymore, so that’s a major concession.

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