The World Cup starts in ten days, and no, the United States won’t be participating.
Without the “rah rah USA!” routine for the non-soccer fan to follow this summer, there’s another half-narrative going around, the idea that you should pick a different team to cheer for. And maybe that team should be Mexico.
Before I even get into it, I don’t understand this obsession with requiring someone to have a rooting interest. There’s this overwhelming idea that Americans need to pick a Premier League team to follow, like Everton, or Liverpool, or Fulham. I’ve always found that to be corny, especially in Philadelphia, where we totally rag on natives who go on to become Cowboy or Yankee fans. If you’ve never been to Dallas, can you really be a Cowboy fan? By the same token, how much of a Chelsea supporter can you really be if you live in Marlton and have never been to London? I don’t know, it just feels fake to me.
I always just found it appealing to watch the games and enjoy them as a neutral. You wake up at 8 on Saturday morning, make breakfast for the kids, flip on Arsenal and Tottenham, and see a high-level derby. The best part is that you don’t get angry, since you don’t have that natural rooting interest. You aren’t in a pissy mood for the rest of the day if your team loses. ACC basketball, for instance, is a lot more exciting if you’re not a Pitt fan. You just watch quality college basketball without the emotional attachment and the 18 straight conference losses.
So with the United States not being in the World Cup, some people are applying this “who are you going to cheer for?” thing to the upcoming tournament. If you’re half-German or married a Croatian woman or have a Senegalese sister-in-law, I can understand getting behind those countries. Maybe your local team, like Seattle, has a guy like Gustav Svensson, who was called up by Sweden, so you, the Sounders supporter, wanna see your player do well on the world’s biggest stage.
I can support that.
Major League Soccer has a bunch of players representing Costa Rica and Panama, one for Egypt and a pair of Peruvians. So if you’re a Philadelphia Union fan and you care about the growth of the league and the international perception of MLS, you should want to see Omar Gaber and Yoshi Yotun and Anibal Godoy perform well.
That’s different from wanting to see CONCACAF teams do well. Whereas Costa Rica beating Italy in 2014 probably gave the confederation a boost, it didn’t do anything to specifically help the U.S. national team. For example, you’ll see Arkansas fans cheer for Georgia against Michigan because they want the SEC to beat the Big 10 as part of some territorial pissing contest, but nothing tangible changes in the Razorback program. Same thing with Auburn and Alabama. Do Tide fans really care if their arch rival beats Illinois in the Capital One bowl? No, I think most Bama fans want War Eagle to get slapped around and embarrassed on national television.
That’s USA and Mexico – arch rivals. I don’t know why you would cheer for your arch rival to win anything. I’m not rolling into the World Cup pulling for El Tri. I’d like to see them lose every game 7-2, with their MLS-based players scoring the goals and their Liga MX players failing miserably. I want to see Juan Carlos Osorio get fired and the entire team disbanded and thrown into chaos ahead of the next Gold Cup and qualifying cycle. I want every Mexican-American who is eligible to play for both countries choose the United States because El Tri is a hot mess. We don’t want another Jonathan Gonzalez situation:
It’s that simple. A weaker Mexico benefits the U.S. national team rebuild. You’re competing for players and pride and continental dominance, not golf-clapping a rival program.
It’s got nothing do with xenophobia or politics or Donald Trump or brown people or the border wall or anything like that, it’s just identifying a sporting rival as such. Plus, it’s not like the USMNT is comprised solely of pasty white guys from Ohio; there are German-Americans and Mexican-Americans and the son of the Liberian president currently playing on the squad. It’s always been an amalgam of different backgrounds and cultures, which reflects a country of immigrants. Think of the contributions made by guys like Tab Ramos and Marcelo Balboa and Earnie Stewart.
But you see a lot stuff floating around out there suggesting that Americans should maybe rally for Mexico since they’re popular in the United States and they’re our neighbors or whatever. FOX and their media partners are spending a lot of time talking about El Tri. They play most of their games here and draw crazy crowds. That’s nice, I guess, but who cares? We want home field advantage in our own country, not 80,000 Mexicans booing us in Houston. We should be actively trying to change that for the good of the program, not saying, “hey wow that’s a cool story, they love their soccer.”
It’s like this; does USF cheer for FSU because of Florida pride? No. You want to be the state’s best college football team, not some passive cheerleader for a geographic opponent. You fight for recruits and bragging rights and trophies. Flyers fans don’t cheer for the Penguins because both teams play in Pennsylvania, they want the Pens to get obliterated by the Capitals, and vice versa. If you went to Penn State, you probably befriended Steeler fans but only pulled for Ben Roethlisberger when he played against Tom Brady.
FOX obviously would benefit from the “pay attention to Mexico” angle for ratings purposes. They paid $400 million for the rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and were dealt a shitty hand when the U.S. bombed out of qualifying, so they’re hoping the country’s huge Mexican/American population will bolster numbers. I don’t blame them at all for pumping up Mexico in a battle with Telemundo for bilingual viewers. When the U.S. flubbed it, FOX had to change course from a business approach, so here we are. You can’t promote team USA, so you look for alternatives, and El Tri makes the most sense.
That’s not to say that FOX or Sports Illustrated is forcing you to cheer for Mexico, because I don’t think they are. It’s more of a, “we’re going to inundate you with Mexico stories and angles,” which is a natural turn off to the loyal USMNT fan. That’s why you’re seeing pushback with the SI cover and plethora of El Tri-focused articles.
For what it’s worth, 2014 ratings were off the chart for the United States games, which pulled the following:
- vs. Belgium (July 1, 2014): 16.5 million
- vs. Germany (June 26, 2014): 10.8 million
- vs. Portugal (June 22, 2014): 18.2 million
- vs. Ghana (June 17, 2014): 11.1 million
Those are monstrous numbers that can’t be replicated this year. You’re not getting that for Russia vs. Saudi Arabia next Thursday. The most realistic/best case scenario is that Mexico scrapes a draw against Germany in their opener and positions themselves to get out of the group in second place, setting up a knockout round clash against Brazil. That gets you a ton of eyeballs.
And of course you should want the FOX broadcasts to be successful. Anytime anybody puts money into soccer, you want solid returns, returns that make them invest more in the product in the future. You don’t want this to fail. Strong TV deals are the backbone of any sports competition and one of the biggest hurdles facing MLS specifically. It’s all about $$$, so at the very least just turn on the TV and walk away.
At the end of the day we should certainly respect Mexico as a historic rival. We should acknowledge the common threads between our countries. And we should hope they get their asses kicked.