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On Soccer, Neocons Sound Like Anti-American Europeans

Posted: 06/25/2009 7:30 pm

Gary Schmitt's riff on America's victory over Spain is rightfully getting ripped. What I want to add though is how weird it is that the neocons -- the people who are all about invading foreign lands -- would adopt such an isolationist view, especially at a time when the world is beginning to freak out at the prospect of the potential rising of America as a soccer power.

What is so bizarre about this is how much the neocons sound like American-hating Europeans. Both  dismiss American talent, American enthusiasm for soccer, and American understanding of the game. Just as neocons -- and other soccer-hating sports writers of my parents generation -- insist that we don't get soccer and don't care, European soccer writers are right there with them saying that Americans don't get it and don't care.

Take for instance Football 365 a UK soccer site writing in typical British sarcasm: "Perhaps understandably, the three people that care about football in America are quite excited this morning." Gary Schmitt similarly -- using the same fact based analysis that got us into Iraq -- says that:

Thankfully, Americans are not buying it [soccer]. In spite of the fact that one can drive by an open field on Saturdays and usually see it filled with young boys and girls playing soccer, the game's popularity has not moved anywhere toward being a major sport here in the United States. It's grown for sure but not close to where folks once expected it to be given the number of youth that have played the game over the past two decades.

This is what makes being a soccer fan in the U.S. pretty bizarre, on the one hand you are constantly trying to defend the world's game to Americans, while on the other hand you are desperate to stick it to the world and show that the U.S. can beat them at their own game.

Contrary to Schmitt and Football 365, any reasonable observer would expect the U.S. soccer to be exactly where it is today. The US has a league that is rapidly expanding and is gradually expanding its fan base -- this may be a shock to some but there are often more people at DC United games then there are Washington Nationals games. The expansion of satellite tv and cable networks has also meant that -- unlike when I grew up playing -- American kids can watch professional European soccer as well as MLS. Coverage by ESPN -- while still pretty poor -- has expanded dramatically in the last five years -- and American soccer fans rely tremendously on new media for information and commentary.

As for the American team it has more and more players playing in the top European leagues and is becoming more talented and consistent. Just as Mexico -- the country with the most direct knowledge of U.S. soccer is practically in national mourning due to the rise of the yanks. Mexico used to be the dominant team in North and Central America -- they used to be the team representing the region at tournaments like the Confederations Cup -- but not anymore. And they are sick to death about it. As the Reuters UK soccer blog assesses -- which is not exactly a bastion for pro-American commentary -- "the U.S are at least on a level with the second tier nations in Europe -- the Swiss, the Scandinavians." (Contrary to George Vescey's description of the victory over Spain as a "miracle on grass" this was no miracle - a stunning upset, but no miracle. Vescey is still stuck in 90s, in the last ten years the U.S. has evolved into a solid soccering nation. If a country like Sweden (or Mexico) beat Spain it wouldn't be called a miracle.)

Steven Wells -- one of my favorite writers who unfortunately tragically passed away of cancer on Tuesday -- tracked for years the disturbingly high levels of anti-Americanism in the soccer coverage in Britain. His column on British anti-Americanism in soccer simply nails it. I excerpted a few money graphs (but the whole thing is worth a read:

Alas, Englishmen who live in desperate fear of an American soccer planet are legion... there's no shortage of stuck up limey soccer snobs who still think it's frightfully funny the ghastly Yanks play the round ball game at all. Like most prejudices, this hatred disguises fear. Recently a leading English soccer journalist told me he "really hopes football fails in America". Others are less blatant but they make their loathing plain through sarcasm, satire and snidery...

We - a substantial chunk of us, anyway -- are desperately scared that association football will succeed in America. That the USA will become a footballing power. That the yanks will develop a version of the beautiful game as irresistible as jazz, rock'n'roll or the amazing American language (and unless you've checked the English/American phrase books handed out to GIs in 1942, you probably have no idea how much American you speak, limey). Why are we scared? Because as a nation we have a desperate need to feel superior to the vibrant barbarian culture that's replaced us as top global ass-kicker.

Face it, feeling superior to Americans is about all we've got left. But the list of things we actually do better than the Yanks is slim and getting slimmer. Did you know that the bastards even brew decent beer these days? So what have we got left to be smug about? Wensleydale cheese, Ricky Gervais, Theakston Old Peculier and Helen Mirren. And, oh yeah, football. Sorry, the Yanks get it. Not all of them. Not even most of them. But enough of them. Even if Bex bombs. Even if the MLS collapses, American soccer isn't going away. It's time for a new joke.