The following was written between 4-11 p.m. on Saturday, June 26… I’ve cooled off slightly since then. Slightly.
Let’s make this clear right off the bat: I harbor no pretenses of being a soccer expert, soccer fan, or soccer [insert anything that constitutes caring]. Zero. I couldn’t give a damn about any of it. I’ll pass on the jacked up crowds (give me Lambeau in December), the preponderance of ties, those godforsaken blow-horns.
As an American too concentrated on sports that don’t ebb and flow in four-year cycles, it all works for me on some level – on the same flash-in-pan plain cluttered with flannel and pogs. On the fad level. And if I’ve ever been 100 percent sure about anything in my life, it’s this: the vast majority of Americans feel the exact same way.
Regardless of how “anguished” or “emotionally drained” we’re teasing ourselves into feeling this Saturday afternoon (and let me tell you, these people in Starbucks are crushed), come Monday morning, we’ll all wake on another beautiful morning in the best country in the world without the slightest twinge of anything resembling heartache.
Why? Well because we have LeBron James and pennant races. Because we watch College Football Live in June. Because soccer, or “futbol” if you want to be really elitist about it, isn’t our sport no matter how many times we try to forcefully adopt it from countries who live and breathe it. This isn’t an Angelina situation – we can’t poach our soccer baby from intensely nationalist populations that have little else to celebrate. I would’ve loved to see those Rustenburg clusters of stars-‘n-stripes-clad hooligans not look like total clowns today, but win or lose, they couldn’t possibly feel the elation or agony that’s in store for an entire African continent over the next several days.
Wait, you say, in your whiplashed patriotism. The United States built its reputation on nationalism. We’re criticized for our nationalism. Nobody has more civic pride than us!
Yeah, but its the kind that revolves around shopping malls and Chevrolets. It’s the kind that manifests itself in Super Sized Value Meals and bandwagon politics, arrogance abroad and a Bigger, Stronger, Faster mentality. In some cases, it’s totally acceptable – You can take that Smart Car back to France, thank you very much – but should we artificially apply patriotism to things in which we’re not invested in the first place, it just comes off as hollow and obnoxious. We don’t need to have our hands in everything, and we shouldn’t hope to be the best at everything, let alone expect it.
This myth, perpetuated ad nauseum by credible news outlets, that Team USA had an intrinsic advantage because Ghana is the size of Oregon stinks of American egotism. If sports worked like that, China would be a worldbeater.
No, the reason we thought we’d defeat Ghana and Slovenia is because we think we’re better than them. Not just at soccer, at everything. So what we saw with our eyes – that Michael Bradley is a string bean, that Clint Dempsey can’t hold a candle to Gyan – simply didn’t matter.
To be quite frank, ABC’s constant fan-cam shots of those drunken soccer gatherings in Kansas City, MO stirred in me a violent gag reflex I didn’t even know I had. It strikes me as odd and more than a bit off-putting that a bunch of novices in the heart of the Barbecue Belt can whip themselves into such a fabricated frenzy. And let’s not kid ourselves. That’s exactly what it was – fabricated.
If only this phoned-in fervor carried over to MLS, but alas, the KC Wiz ranked second to last in 2010 attendance.
Like you, I’ve witnessed this fairweather rah-rah bullsh*t up-close. I’ve seen the sudden proliferation of Team USA jerseys, and the 9 a.m. free Natty specials, and the car paint. I’ve heard the insufferable sports talk radio and its haphazard transitions from Donovan McNabb to Landon Donovan. I, too, have been confused for a footballer when, really, I’m just a guy who chose to wear his “Italia” shirt on the wrong day.
I’ve not once, though, pretended to be anything other than a black hole for soccer knowledge. I couldn’t pick out Robinho in a police lineup, and in fact Googled his name three times just to pull up the correct spelling. Hell, I’ve laughed at my own ignorance in conversation with a real live Brazilian.
Of course, most of America is not wired this way – neither humble or self-aware enough to see through this self-perpetuated wall of BS. And to those people I say this: spare me your condescending name-dropping and wiki-flavored expertise. I get that you played a year in youth league and caught the second half of a UEFA match last month. Doesn’t make you qualified to lecture me on the “artistry” of the game. Your façade is wearing thin.
ESPN’s Steve Levy said it best: “Even without us, the World Cup will continue.” “Without us,” as you can no doubt tell, is just fine by me. I’m tired of the scoreless draws, the laughable officiating, FIFA’s god complex, the flopping, the stretchers, the magic healing spray, the vuvuzelas, and Jeremy Schapp.
Not for one second do I apply any of these sentiments to the players themselves. Howard, Donovan, Altidore – those guys played their asses off. I’m certain that they love soccer and want to win just as badly as the most ardent Spaniard. They did their country well. Should be damn proud of it. Not withstanding, though, what Joe Barhopper told you with a mic in face Saturday afternoon, they’re not “going all the way” four years from now. Sorry Joe, our best athletes still play basketball and football, not that you’ll care either way come Kickoff Classic.
I don’t mean to paint everyone with the same brush. As Kyle Rancourt said in a similar rant, “If you genuinely enjoy watching soccer on a regular basis, then I am not talking to you.” And shame on me should this craze last until next Tuesday. I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong.
But I suspect that I’m not wrong, and that this could very well be the last time I ever write about soccer. So my plea to you is this: let’s drop the act for good and let Ghana, with its $1500 per capita GDP, have its day in the sun. I promise you we’re taking the other 364 for ourselves.