The Stars and Stripes: A Sleeping Soccer Juggernaut

The World Cup is officially underway. Some fine games on schedule for today, the best of which is the rematch of last Cup’s final: Spain vs. the Netherlands. I admit I have a soft spot in my heart for Spain. I watched Euro 2008 from a bar in New York City. The final between Spain and Germany was epic. I loved the call, though I don’t know who was in the broadcast booth, “After 44 years, a nation of 44 million. Spain. Are champions of Europe. AGAYN!” Despite my affection for them, I predict Spain will be second in their group, to Chile. They will then lose to Brazil in the first game of the knockout round, as the window on Spain’s golden generation is closing. Though two European Championships, A World Cup, and an all-Spain Champions League final is a dominant legacy.

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The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article about insufferable American soccer fans. Jonathan Clegg, a Brit I presume, pens a polemic against the imitative posture of elitist American soccer fans:

My biggest gripe is that all of this feels like an elaborate affectation.

Instead of watching the game in the time-honored way of American sports fans—by thrusting a giant foam finger in the air, say, or devouring a large plate of Buffalo wings—your soccer fanatics have taken to aping the behavior of our fans from across the pond.

The scarves thing is an obvious example, but it’s far from the only one. There’s the self-conscious use of terms like “pitch,” “match” and “kit,” the songs lifted directly from English soccer stadiums, and even the appropriation of terrace couture.

Okay. I understand this. I am an unapologetic MLS chauvinist. I do not pull for any club overseas and I also hate the hipster appropriation of holier-than-thou Eurosnobs. However, Clegg doesn’t stop there. He not only condemns American soccer fans for copying everything from Europe, but he goes on to say we don’t copy enough:

These soccer snobs are so intent on maintaining an aura of authenticity that when they make a slip-up or use an incorrect or ill-advised term, I feel compelled to pounce on them with all the force of a Roy Keane challenge.

There’s no such position as outside back! (It is fullback.) The rest of the world doesn’t call them PKs! (It is penalties. Just penalties.)

Not to mention the fact that your fans happily refer to Team USA captain Clint Dempsey by the nickname “Deuce.” Deuce?! This is international soccer, not “Top Gun.”

Ever since a ball was first kicked into a net, it has been an inviolable law of the game that Dempsey should be shortened to Demps. Just like Michael Bradley gets cut to Bradders, John Brooks to Brooksy and Jermaine Jones to Jonesy, or perhaps JJ, at a push. (For the record, Mix Diskerud can still be known as Mix Diskerud.)

You can’t have it both ways. I wonder, I really do, if Clegg protests too much. Does Europe, or maybe just England, fear an awakening American soccer juggernaut? We have the money and the population, just not the ambition. If we ever got inspired, we could become a dominant international soccer team. Think of the Los Angeles Dodgers from a few years back: huge market, huge pedigree, mediocre team. Then the beleaguered Frank McCourt was forced to sell the team to a group of investors including Magic Johnson. The new ownership group immediately flexed their financial and cultural muscle and the Dodgers are now one of MLB’s major power players.

England feels soccer is theirs by birthright, yet have only one World Cup title from the 19 previously contested tournaments. They’d probably hate to see some Johnny-come-lately Yanks build a dynasty.

Updated: June 17, 2014 — 6:22 pm
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