Thursday, August 21, 2008

Coming out of the Soccer Closet

Black Political Analysis' outing of himself as a soccer fan has inspired me to post about my own love for the sport. Last night the United States defeated Guatemala in Guatemala City 1-0 in the first game of World Cup Qualifying from the CONCACAF region.

This event signals the only occasion I can think of where Americans travel to Latin America, or any part of the developing world, to engage in a meaningful athletic contest. This exposes them to a good deal of Anti-Americanism when they play Central American teams. This amazing Gatorade video from 2006 captures the surreal experience of CONCACAF qualifying for the United States. I particularly like the look on U.S. player Santino Quaranta as the roof above him is vibrating from the crowd noise.

This animosity the U.S. players deal with often takes the form of batteries and urine bags tossed at the American players. It also makes for particularly intense games on the field. Here are the highlights of yesterday's game with Guatemala. The do not include the chippiness with which the contest was played.

This qualifying process is an open invitation for jingoism -- our boys having urine bags tossed at them by "foreigners." But we collectively ignore it. Heck, ESPN couldn't be bothered to start showing the game until the 12th minute, not only to wait for a baseball game to end, but to show Sportscenter highlights.

Why do Americans have little interest in these matches? Does is say something about our continued embrace of Manifest Destiny. After a century and a half of a paternalistic attitude towards Latin America and its cultures, does the idea persist in the American collective that Latin America is of little value?

I don't think it's simply an xenophobic hatred of soccer. America has become a soccer nation. The 2006 world cup final drew a 7.0 television rating. While these aren't quite super bowl ratings, they are competitive with the NBA finals and not too far from World Series ratings. The ratings for the final game of the 2008 European Soccer championship (3.1), an event in which no American team or player was participating, matched that of the average for the Stanley Cup finals (3.2).

However, this has not translated to fervent support of the American team as they engage in a competition with unrivaled passion and intensity, except when countries come to the United States to play. As the United States become more Latinized, it will be interesting to see whether the national imaginary embraces rivalries with Latin American countries and pays attention to them.

Our currrent rivalry with Mexico is perhaps one of the best in the world. After the Americans beat Mexico 2-0 in the 2002 World Cup, it has become a national obsession to best the United States. What irks Mexico most, I think, is that the U.S. consistently beats them and doesn't seem to care. There is a deep seated sense, in my view, that America has no respect for Mexico. Would a losing streak to Mexico make Americans more interested in the rivalry? Given the current squads, Mexico has far more exciting young players than the U.S. (Giovanni Dos Santos, Carlos Vela, Andres Guardado, Guillermo Franco, etc.) so it could happen.


Black Political Analysis said...

Thanks for the update. I've been so Olympic-focused, I forgot about CONCACAF. Don't know if you saw the Olympic final between Nigeria and Argentina, but I thought Nigeria outplayed Argentina for long stretches. But, they lost. Such is soccer.

Jose Marichal said...

You didn't miss much if you're a US soccer fan. I personally think its cool to see them go to these menacing Central American stadiums, it's like turning geopolitics on its head :-)

Didn't see the Olympic final but I heard Nigeria played well. Didn't the win the gold at the last olympics?