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World Cup Memo: U.S. Soccer Must Stop Idolizing the English

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American soccer's Anglophilia always has and always will confuse me. Take one listen to ESPN analyst and former U.S.-team star John Harkes, and you'll hear it in his lilt; that weird accent of his wasn't cultivated in his childhood home near Newark, New Jersey. Now, don't get me wrong, it's delightful to listen to, but it's peculiar for its reliance on British English for inflection and explication. And it's not just Harkes who casts his eyes fondly upon some Merseyside muse. To gin up Anglo-American antagonism before Saturday's USA-England game, then, U.S. Soccer necessarily required some truly convoluted rebels-versus-lobsterbacks retro-fitting. ESPN's promotions featured minutemen, drum corps, and even a call to arms by the great pamphleteer himself, Thomas Paine. Banners waved, and someone even unfurled the old rattlesnake Gadsden Flag. We trembled. Could we possibly pull off a Yorktown? A New Orleans?

Yet the ad played into a crucial fallacy of American soccer. As long as American soccer looks across the pond for cultural direction (this is different from tactical direction), it will remain a second-tier sport here. We Americanized cricket into baseball; We Americanized Grand Prix into Talladega, rugby union into the New England Patriots. These sports took root because we made them our own and, at times, unrecognizable as descendants of their Old World ancestors. They became ubiquitous, popular, part of society. We don't bother to compare NASCAR with F1 -- we're confident (and chauvinistic) in our perceived superiority. Michael Schumacher, seven-time F1 World Champion and driver of that circuit's #3 car, is considered the greatest driver in world history -- but in this country, of course, "3" begins and ends with The Intimidator. Not surprisingly, we have to do it our way. American kids don't play baseball and futilely wish that they might have been born in, say, Mysore, earning scores of test centuries against the hated Pakistanis as the next Salchin Tendulkar.

Yet among American soccer aficionados, Britishisms are de rigeur. It all starts with the name. "Soccer" is a British term, a somewhat tortured abbreviation of the first word of "Association Football," the game's full name. Such nomenclature heterodoxy might be heard as blasphemy in the ears of some American soccer fans who consider themselves purists, but, then, you never hear a complaint from them about the W Hotel's insistence on calling their elevators "lifts." You'll hear much talk of a player's "pace" this month during the Cup, notably whether he can or cannot play with pace; what's more, a few wingers or strikers will be deemed "pace-y." Kids are exhorted as a "lads," and when they play their crosstown rivals in the annual "derby," it's naturally pronounced "darby." And a player who fudges up didn't see a great big 'E' on the scoreboard; he is instead called "unlucky" and given a smack on the ass. Where I grew up, many of my coaches affected ersatz English accents, on and off the "pitch"; they were either unwilling or unable to launch themselves completely into Scouse -- which would find interesting ways to mesh with the San Diego Mellow that informed much of Oregon soccer in those days -- but the intent came across anyway.

So in the wake of Saturday's peculiar tie, with its "Hand of Clod" goal, do we still have to keep idolizing English soccer -- and its culture? Of course, I'm not suggesting the creation of an entirely new sport, but perhaps U.S. soccer can use this moment to establish its own lingo, its own style, its own pride. It'd be about time, wouldn't it? You'll know we're on top when you see a Bill Belichick-type prowling the sidelines, ripped sweatshirt and all.

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