It's not that I'm not patriotic. I study American history, for Christ's sake, not some frilly bullshit that involves Krauts, Frogs, or Argies (see: cheap, vaguely quaint jingoistic slurs are helping establish my credibility as a red-blooded American). I pull for the U.S. of A. in the World Baseball Classic. I've rooted like mad for the Dream Team, the Redeem Team, and every other group of basketball players in American shirts. Stomp those slimy Spaniards by forty, damnit! OK, after his third race in 2008, I did quietly hope that Michael Phelps would accidentally drown during the butterfly. But didn't everyone?
In soccer, though, it's different. I still cheer gamely for Team USA in most matches -- against Germany, say, or Paraguay, or Slovenia. But against the international teams that I really like -- England, the Netherlands, even France -- the passion evaporates. England most of all is the problem. When I studied abroad in Norwich in 2002, I developed a real... Hey, hey, stop rolling your eyes, damnit! I have English cousins, fucker! Really, I do! One of them is named Barnaby! That's more than I can say about some Italy fans I know.
But not only would I genuinely like to see long-suffering England catch a break and make a run in this Cup, I'm strangely ambivalent about American success, generally. Why? I can think of a few possible explanations:
* The culture of U.S. soccer fans. The Onion does a good job with this one. So does David Wallace-Wells at The Paris Review: "our homegrown fanatics may be even worse--the Europhile bunch who insist that the true mark of a fan is not how obsessively he follows the pubescent midfielders of the under-14 youth national team, but how obsequiously he praises Lionel Messi..." American soccer fans, or Northeastern ones at least, tend to be an unprepossessing mix of hipster and prepster -- polo-shirt wearing dudes who are a little too anxious to prove how cosmopolitan they are. No one in America just grabs a beer and puts on a World Cup game. Or, rather, that's exactly what they do, but that beer is an Allegash Tripel Reserve, or a North Coast Scrimshaw Pils. Ugh.
* The culture of U.S. soccer players. Just like the fans, only with nicer polo shirts and more cardiovascular endurance. I mean, seriously, is it possible to conceive of a prissier, preppier name than "Landon Donovan"? Let's face it: outside of the Latino immigrant community, marginalized anyway in the USA Soccer development matrix, there's no authentic base of blue collar players to draw on. I don't mind my tennis stars to flounce around like langorous aristocrats, but one of the beauties of international football is precisely its simplicity, its universality, its working class appeal. But over here we treat it like some kind of genteel pastime -- lacrosse without the sticks.
* The quality of U.S. play. Donovan is the best player we've ever developed, but he's still about 2-3 notches below the better players in Europe or South America. We just don't don't have the dribbling creativity, the field vision, the virtuoso instincts that make the elite players so glorious to watch. What do have is a lot of fast, in-shape guys who run hard and tackle well and occasionally kick it accurately. Two cheers for industry and perseverance, I guess, but I'd prefer at least a wrinkle of genius. Aren't we Americans supposed be good at that, too?
So you'll have to pardon my snobbish ambivalence for US soccer. Actually, I pretend to see it as a noble, anti-snobbish, anti-bourgeois crusade, but what could be more bourgeois than that? And snobby too. Yes, I know I've completed the Great Circle of Douchebag.
But don't worry, I still want us to qualify for the knockout stage... and reach the quarters.... maybe. Anything more than that and the Scrimshaw Pils people win.
If I'm wrong about US soccer culture, on or off the field, please enlighten me in the comments. Really, I'd like to hear from some ripsnorting patriots out there. Just don't try to get me to say something nice about Alexei Lalas.