In a couple of hours I’m going to throw on my DC United jersey and scarf and head to a bar, making sure to get there extra early to watch the insipid pre-game show (without sound) and let pessimistic thoughts bubble over a Smithwick’s. On Sunday, when the US plays Mexico for our regional championship, I’ll probably be sleeping.
The reasoning for a tiny group of US fans isolated in a cavernous stadium is pretty obvious: soccer, for all our efforts, is still unpopular. But that same group is also a surprising minority in the world of American soccer fans in general. In a stadium of American soccer supporters dressed in their team colors, a Argentinian group would probably outnumber Sam’s Army by good margin.
The face of our diverse culture of support is usually the Latino immigrant, probably first or second generation, clutching a Mexican or Honduran flag and ignoring his adopted country’s team for pretty obvious reasons. And of course, this face is accurate but highly misleading. Being a newcomer in the arena of serious sports in America, soccer has multiple points of entry in a way that football or baseball doesn’t. Teams aren’t passed down through generations or supported from birth. The quintessential opener to a life of rooting for soccer in the US? “Help me pick a team.” No tribalism here, no fathers and sons bleeding for the shirt, at least not yet. And so in the aforementioned stadium of American soccer fans, the Argentinian group is pretty likely to be made up white suburbanites named Jim and Dave.
The truth is that today’s traitorous American soccer fan is the white guy with AYSO kids and disposable income. At some point (like me) he got intrigued by this sport in the constant periphery of his life, fell in love with some game or team or player, and (unlike me) had the cash to shell out for the dish and the broadband that allowed him to stay connected. If that moment was seeing Thierry Henry or watching Brazil demolish someone, why break allegiance with the things that brought you to soccer? And why settle for Landon Donovan when you’ve got Germany-Italy on the DVR?
Thus, the irony of the Great American Soccer Boom: in an intensely patriotic country, American fans are enthusiastic free agents seduced by Euro 2008 on ESPN, English sports pages on the Internet, and a Vegas buffet of games on Fox Soccer, Setanta, and GolTV. Had the boom somehow happened in the late 80s, before satellite TV and The Guardian Online, fueled by a long-awaited grassroots explosion of impatient high school soccer players, things might have been different. But as well-off America discovers that soccer is good for more than a kid’s distraction, the US national team is merely a lesser option in a readily accessible sea of greatness.