Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Why I’m Pulling for the USA in the World Cup

John McFetridge

It used to be when the Stanley Cup playoffs rolled around and teams started to get eliminated, we Candians would cheer for any Canadian team left – even a rival would be better than an American team (even one full of Canadians) winning the Cup.
So it’s tough for me to pull for the Americans, but I have my reasons (and I’m even going to try and make a vague connection to crime fiction and publishing, so that might be worth reading on to see).

My friend Adrian McKinty wrote a blog post recently where he pointed out that the USA can never be underdogs. As he said, “The most economically powerful country in the world is a lot of things but it ain’t never gonna be no underdog.”

He’s right, of course. The USA is only an underdog in soccer because they haven’t gotten around to it yet. When they do there’s no reason a soccer game between the USA and Spain won’t look like a basketball game between the USA and Spain.

Sometimes I point out to people that when you lose a soccer game to Canada you’ve lost to eleven guys who couldn’t make the hockey team. Well, if you lose a soccer game to the USA you’ve lost to eleven guys who couldn’t make the football team, the basketball team, the baseball team, couldn’t run track fast enough and probably got cut from the lacrosse team and the bowling team.

When the LA Galaxy is in town to play Toronto FC we make fun of Landon Donovan a lot – sure, he and Edson Buddle are still scoring goals for LA even without Beckham - but take a look at him, or any American soccer player, and try and picture them playing in the NFL or the NBA.

Or, imagine how much of the soccer net LeBron James could cover if he’d taken up that sport at five years old instead of basketball. I’ve been watching past World Cup highlights of goalies (er, sorry, “keepers”) make some diving saves and I think there are a few dozen wide receivers and defensive backs in the NFL who could be just as good or better (in fact, the USA have produced some top keepers, but so far that’s really only been scratching the surface).

A lot of kids play soccer in the USA, but not the way they play basketball. Kids only play soccer in the USA if they get driven to the game in a minivan. At home they have basketball nets in their driveways. They play basketball on every piece of flat ground they can find. Soccer hasn’t become a part of the culture in the US. Yet.

But if the USA goes deep into the World Cup that’ll move it a step closer.

Now you’re probably thinking, why is that a good thing?

And here’s where I make my connection to crime fiction.

Because it integrates the world a little more.

What I really mean is it integrates America into the rest of the world a little more, makes America more 'just another country' and less isolated. Right now I’d be surprised to hear anyone who reads a lot of crime fiction say, “I only read American books,” or “I only read British books,” or Swedish or whatever. No, crime fiction is international and better because of that. Reading books from other cultures helps people understand one another a little better, see things from a different perspective and maybe even think of things in a different way.

There’s a good book called (in America) How Soccer Explains the World . Of course, an American wrote a version called (in America) How Football Explains America . They both make some good points, but America isn’t so different from the rest of the world anymore (that’s something we can see from up here in Canada). Or maybe America isn’t any more different than Germany, Nigeria, New Zealand and Chile – and the rest of the World Cup teams are from each other.

So yes, as McKinty says, America is a lot of things, but it ain’t never gonna be no underdog. And that’s probably true of soccer soon enough.

And I think the world will be a little bit better when it’s fully integrated.

In the meantime, stuff like this is still really funny:,17553/


pattinase (abbott) said...

If my kid is any example, soccer was just running up and down a field for him. He played it for a year or two around ten and hated it. Then moved on to the other sports you mentioned and tennis. Soccer was also a game where it was too easy for one kid, the fastest and most aggressive, held on to the ball and the rest of the kids watched him score goals. If this kid wasn't on your team, you lost.

Graham Powell said...

This works the other way, too. You mention USA vs. Spanin in basketball. They played each other in the gold medal game in 2008 and it was a GREAT game, with Spain nearly pulling a massive upset.

You didn't see those kinds of games before the US professionals started playing in the Olympics and other international events, and the level of basketball all over the world has benefitted.

John McFetridge said...

Patti, I wonder why one kid didn't dominate in other sports as well? It seems there is still a different attitude towards soccer.

And yes, Graham, that's what I mean, when the USA is just another team and many teams have a chance of winning it all everyone will benefit.

Steve Weddle said...

Bring this back around to crime fiction if you want --

You notice how all these Americans are running around wearing IRELAND or ENGLAND World Cup attire even though they're American and haven't been out of their state, much less their country.

Why is that? In the early 1700s, my people came over from Germany. Does that mean I have to wear a Germany jersey? Mom's family is Irish. Like many, many, many generations back. So I need to get an Ireland jersey? No. Getting drunk on St Pat's day because your g-g-g-grandfather was from County Cork doesn't make you Irish. It makes you drunk.


adrian mckinty said...


I know people have been saying this forever but the US is going to become a soccer powerhouse what with the Latino influx, MLS and local leagues.

I havent picked a team yet but I know it wont be Brazil or England.

adrian mckinty said...

Did you see this article in Slate on US soccer in the twenties?

John McFetridge said...

No, I hadn't seen that article, thanks. I like the, "streamlined and faintly apologetic MLS of today..." And the suggestion that if the ASL had copied the NFL of the time. One of the main arguments people have today is how much sould MLS copy the current NFL with salary caps and TV revenue sharing?

If you're looking for a team you might want to check out Mexico. That whole Latin American influence hasn't really been felt in US soccer yet, but it is coming.

adrian mckinty said...


The moment the LA fans started jeering Beckham is when I began to think that they were taking the game seriously and that there might be hope for US soccer.

Jay Stringer said...

I think the USA team can suprise a lot of people this time around. They're still not ready to challenge all the way but i'm tempted to put a bet on them for the quarter finals.

I'd make the argument that -with fine exceptions- it's the best TEAM that win the world cup, not the team with the best star players. Last time around was a great example. The best player of the tournament was Zidane, he carried France to the final singlehanded. But they lost to Italy, and Italy didn't have a single player to match Z's quality, but they were the better team.

France saw it from the other side in '98. Pre Zidane's rise to megesuperbrilliantidol status, they won the tournament on the back of being a solid team, and beat Brazil in the final who were built around Ronaldo.

Germany have built a tradition on this approach.

Scary thing is that this year Spain combine the two. Good team and great players. Brazil have less flair then previous generations but are a solid hardworking unit. Argentina, Portugal and England are teams who have one or two great players, but its yet to be seen if they can pull together as teams.

What has my responce got to do with crime? Ummm.....aaahhh.......hmmmm.....

Peter Rozovsky said...

Jay, your name makes me suspect you're Canadian or American, but you take an un-American approach to sport.

American sports coverage, especially insofar as sports is part of the ne celebrity culture, focuses on stars, not on teamwork.

We know our Messi and Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, but we we don't know which teams play which style, or how the teams play together as teams. The European clubs that we know about we know about less as teams than as collections of stars.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Steve Weddle said...

Check out the streaming world cup sites here