wherein DF travels to Deutschland for the 2006 world cup to follow the US men's national soccer team

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Eurodissed and loving it

Anyone who follows US soccer closely enough knows the following pattern: the US manages a decent result against a European foe; the press throughout Europe (and in England) responds with measured rather than effusive praise; and the nerdtastic soccerphiles stateside go into a tizzy, bemoaning the lack of respect US soccer receives.

Now some of this is understandable, if unwarranted. Reputations take a long time to change, and for many decades, the US was rightly considered a soccer backwater. Nor are we as good at soccer as we are in many other sports (even the Winter Olympics; can you imagine the shock if the US finished second in the World Cup as they did in the recent medal count?). On the other hand, when some sass-mouth reporter suggests that the Yanks' win over Poland was lucky, Bruce Arena has every right to call out this opinion as dead-ass wrong.

But American fans might not be so quick to read the Euroresponse to the rise of the USMNT as merely condescending. It's partly that, sure (though I think the condescenscion is less a sincere belief in the inferiority of US soccer than a desperate attempt to hold onto that belief in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary). But it also reminds me of a story I heard from a Germany-based friend, who responded to the US success in WC2002 with a sense that the inevitable had come to pass, and now the US had started to become good in the last area that they'd long ignored. "You've got everything else," this response seems to say, "And now you have to have soccer too?"

Thus it's not just a rude dismissal, this tendency of foreign press to underrate the US soccer team. It's also a desire to deny that the US has arrived in one area that they could long have for themselves alone (like the Simpsons episode where Homer becomes good at art, one area in which Marge has always felt superior).

So I say let them have their illusions. In fact, I hope the foreign press does continue to think poorly of the USMNT. As we saw last time around, when top-rated European teams underrate us, it tends to work to our advantage (US 3:2 Portugal). So if any coaches of our World Cup opponents are reading this, then yes, your national sports press has it exactly right! The Yanks don't even know how to kick a ball, let alone play soccer. It would be best to focus your efforts on the other teams in the group and forget all about the pathetic footballing backwater that is the US. Trust me.


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