I hate soccer about 98% of the time. Of the remaining 2% of my life, I spend half of it enjoying soccer, playing pickup games or watching people get nailed by a ball to the face. The other half of the time, I love soccer like I love no other sport. I pretend to understand it, I suddenly want to play it, and I take no shame in sitting down for hours at a time rooting for players I’ve never heard of before as if I’m an active fan. I’m talking, obviously, about the world cup.
The US Men’s Team fell short last night, and after a relatively good run they are out of the tournament. It was a good game. Tim Howard set a record for saves (16; Belgium played a good game last night). The entirety of regular time was scoreless, but that wasn’t due to lack of trying. When the Belgians scored, I genuinely felt disappointment and fear; when Julian Green, a nineteen year old I’d never even seen before, scored right after the start of the second extra time period, I literally got out of my seat and danced—alone. From that moment on, I swore like a sailor at really insignificant things (“You’d better get to that ball first, you stupid piece of—”).
I was legitimately energized. My heart pounded, I paid extremely close attention to every detail on-screen, and I refused to say hi to my parents when they came home from work because I didn’t want to spoil the game for them. But most of the time I hate this sport. Hate it. What happened?
These worldwide tournaments are supposed to promote international cooperation and good sportsmanship. But I’m going to say something that nobody else wants to say, for whatever reason: the reason the world cup is fun is that we like to beat other people.
I hate to break it to all of you guys that played soccer for the Flying Unicorn Superheroes in elementary school, but only a small percentage of our culture actually loves and understands this game. Much of the world treats football, as it is usually called, like a religion. But aside from the actual fans—who keep themselves disguised, for the most part—Americans just aren’t big on soccer. That’s okay. We have countless other things we’re better at. We’ll let the rest of the world have this game.
That said, when we are pitted against a well-known country, our nation-wide patriotism level jumps as high as the fireworks we’re going to set off this weekend. And because we don’t devote all of our athletic time to this sport, like most of these other countries do, we don’t do well. We play underdog. And underdogs tend to hate their oppressors unlike any other competitor. So we do things like DECLARE WAR ON BELIGAN WAFFLES before a game.
And you know what? It’s fun.
I’m glad we’re still allowed to be aggressively patriotic on the world stage, even when we’re not the top seed. It gives the American people, who are so often divided on everything, one cause to root for. I don’t want to see any “let’s just all get along in the spirit of sportsmanship” crap. No. I want to see more of this. I want to see more American spirit, even if it means we have to go to ridiculous lengths to put down our opponents. I don’t want to see Americans fighting Americans. I want to see all walks of life get together with red, white and blue face paint while we watch a sport we usually ignore. I’m sad the magic is gone for this year, but I want to see the same show—if not better—at the Women’s Cup next year and the next Men’s Cup in 2018.
Is this perpetuating American ignorance? Maybe. But I’d rather be an ignorant American than a weak one.