Need a Rooting Interest in the World Cup? Tri, Tri, Again!


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This photo is not from this year’s World Cup, but from a match years ago, against Panama, because the rights the photo of Lozano’s game-winning goal against Germany probably run into the millions of dollars while this one is old news.

This World Cup is like none other that we’ve seen in a long time — not because of who’s there but because of who’s NOT there: US. (More consequentially, Italy isn’t there, nor is the Netherlands, but we’re chauvinists, so that doesn’t matter as much to anyone but the vast majority of soccer fans in the world.  Our absence is about a significant on the world stage as that of Chile: slightly bigger than Ivory Coast ot the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, but not exactly Italy), if you know what I mean — as everyone in the world except Americans does.

This means that the automatic (chauvinistic) answer to the question “who ya rooting for?” is unavailable to us. We actually have to THINK about it this time, and thus are our prejudices, ideologies, and ways of thinking revealed.

Might as well take advantage of it! Here we go.

32 teams are in the World Cup in (unfortunately) Russia this year.  It begins today (but doesn’t go into full swing until tomorrow.) You get to choose six of them that you’re rooting for.  The best part is: you get to explain why  — and perhaps make a few converts.

Here are your 32 choices, spread out among their eight four-team brackets:

Russia, Belgium, Germany, England, Spain, Poland, Iceland, Serbia, France, Portugal, Switzerland, Croatia, Sweden, Denmark; Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Australia;

…  CRASH!  BANG!  BOOM! …

… and that is exactly where my computer froze days ago, while I was working on this intended-to-be-pre-World Cup piece.  (I’ve literally been working 16-hour days (including commute) in LA this week. so I haven’t had time to splint my computer and finish it and had planned on just dropping my premise — where I had planned to explain to you why the best six teams to root for are Iceland, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, and Uruguay( the last of these because of rather than despite brilliant law professor Luis Suarez) — when this morning I find that Landon Donovan made that impossible.

Professor of Sports Law Luis Suarez, the best ever in his field.

 

Donovan, who is apparently smarter than the entire alumni of the US Men’s Soccer Team put together,  is encouraging U.S. soccer fans to root for our rivals Mexico, because: “What most people tend to do is find a team to root for,’’ Donovan said. “And for people in Chicago, the easy answer is Mexico.’’  In his interchange with both fans and former teammates, his reasoning is that they’re our neighbors and a huge freaking chunk of this country comes from Mexico and it’s one of the best squads out there not to have made it to a “fifth game” — losing in the first knockout round in each of the last five World Cups and we can be big enough people not to try to drag down our successful neighbor just because it makes us feel better about our not having put in the time, money, and effort to build a consistently winning soccer team like they have.

Nah, I made up that last one.  We’re clearly NOT big enough to avoid being squalling “BUT WHAT ABOUT US?” infants.  Graciousness towards our successful neighbors is a sort of a sin to us, unless perhaps that neighbor is ice-white Canada, or Puerto Rico, or … wait, you’re saying that Puerto Rico is part of the United States?  Who knew?

All I’m saying is this: we expect Mexico to be happy for the successes of its monster-sized neighbor ALL OF THE TIME!  Mexico is better at this sport than we are.  WE CAN ROOT FOR THEM without diminishing ourselves.  We can, most specifically, be generous with our good wishes to the vast numbers of people with Mexican heritage among us, and root for their happiness and pride as well.  Are we so screwed up that we can’t do EVEN THAT?

Well, but — some fans and former players and idiot morons say:

  • Would you expect England to root for Belgium?
  • Would you expect Lakers fans to root for the Clippers?
  • Would you expect UCLA fans to root for USC?
  • Would you expect Edison High School to root for Fountain Valley?

YES!  YES!  YES! YES! in all cases.  Except the World Cup case is clearest.  High school rivals are divided by turf, but at some level we all know that the distinctions between us at that level are artificial and can be changed by a parent moving or such (or less with the private — mostly religious — schools out there who I’m told by some have even used proxies to recruit players to transfer to their schools.)  After high school, we’re all going to be in the same pot together anyway — and people holding onto the meaningless distinctions of mid-teenage years are just being weird.  Yes, I rooted for Fountain Valley on those rare occasions when it outlasted Edison in a competition — because my friends were there and I wanted them to be happy.

Laker fans rooting for the Clippers?  Dodger fans rooting for the Angels?  Duck fans rooting for the Kings?  Sure — it happens all the time, once one’s own team is out of competition, because one is rooting for one’s community.

It’s with colleges that an argument can be made for rooting for the demise of those closest to you — because that gives them an advantage in recruitment.  But still — in a bowl game I will ALWAYS root for PAC-12 team over an SEC team (barring a relevant sex scandal or something), because even Washington State is part of my “community” in a way that Alabama is not.

And it’s at the national level where rooting for one’s neighbor is most clear, because national identity is far greater than our ties to schools or to laundry.  With minor exceptions, Mexico is not trying to recruit US players for its team (although when the rules allow it will accept them), nor is the US trying to recruit Mexicans to ours.  While opponents of rooting for Mexico say that living next to a World Champion hurts our team, they are absolutely nuts.  Living next to the champion breathes life into a rivalry; it doesn’t extinguish it.  If you want to see a big jump in interest in US soccer, then NOTHING that could happen this year could do more to facilitate that than to see Mexico win La Copa MundialSome people might then consider the cup to be sour grapes — but no real fans would, and no one else should get a vote.

What it comes down to is that Landon Donovan is willing to feel happy for his Mexican neighbors and many other so-called fans are not.  Americans don’t usually root for Russia against Canada is Olympic hockey, so this is not just about being butt-hurt — it’s that we as a nation like Canada more than we do Mexico, and that — do I really need to say this? — has everything to do with race.

I hope that Mexico wins the World Cup and that its American fans react by waving their flags with the ethnic abandon of Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, Italians on Columbus Day, and Filipinos on one of their flag-waving holidays (which I’m pretty sure, based on my household experience, may be any and  every day.)  We’re celebrating for our neighbors.  Yes, we’re embracing their culture just a little to our mutual benefit.  And we who aren’t Mexican should be gracious enough to support them.  Mexicans and Mexican-Americans have certainly shows us over the years what it means to have that degree of grace.


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose worker's rights and government accountability attorney, residing in northwest Brea. General Counsel of CATER, the Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility, a non-partisan group of people sick of local corruption. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Occasionally runs for office to challenge some nasty incumbent who would otherwise run unopposed. (Someday he might pick a fight with the intent to win rather than just dent someone. You'll know it when you see it.) He got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012 and in 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level, nor do they now. A family member co-owns a business offering campaign treasurer services to Democratic candidates and the odd independent. He is very proud of her. He doesn't directly profit from her work and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he truly hated.) He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)