The Pettiness of North American Soccer

Mexico On Top

Yesterday the Mexican national side came back from an 0-2 deficit against the U.S. in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final, not only coming back but beating the U.S. on home soil, a feat Mexico has struggled to accomplish since the U.S. has emerged not only as a rival, but as a slightly superior one.

Very recently Mexico has experienced an influx on new blood, both on the pitch and on the sideline, that has thoroughly changed their style of play to a more South American/Iberian style. Mexico now plays an open, aggressive, athletically driven style. This is significant in more than one way. Of course, it's wonderful to watch on the pitch. More importantly, however, it's an aggressive way of play that overcomes what has been the vice of CONCACAF nation soccer for a long time.

One of the things Americans bring up when they disparage soccer is the diving and whining. And I won't argue with that. It's there, and it runs deep; the biggest part of the problem is that the rewards on the pitch are too great. And of course, if a sport that structurally rewards preciousness and whininess is your country's national obsession, that's going to affect your entire sporting (and masculine?) culture. That's given. But the whiny viciousness of CONCACAF doesn't come from that. The problem's perhaps a little subtler.

No one thinks of Germans or Brazilians diving and whining, but of course they often do. It could be argued that there's less of a diving perception because they win. But no one thinks of Scots or Uruguayans or Nigerians being prima donnas either. Although often they are.

We Deserve This

The problem is a built-in sense of injustice. Peruvian soccer fans don't suffer from a sense of injustice when they lose by five to Brazil or Argentina. They may not like it, but there's no sense that they deserve what they aren't getting.

CONCACAF nations, actually, the Spanish-speaking nations, are possessed deeply by a sense of injustice, and have been since the emergence of the United States as the CONCACAF power, surpassing even Mexico. Countries like Canada and Jamaica are not controlled by this resentment, although who knows to what degree this has to do with how much they care about soccer and how much it has to do with their shared English-speaking.

The Central American nations believe, and act like, the United States don't deserve to have the status in soccer that they do. Their teams and fan bases pout. They complain to the powers that be. They underestimate American skill and toughness consistently, convincing themselves that Americans simply don't understand soccer.

This is the attitude that José Manuel de la Torre seems to successfully stripped his Mexican side of. It is possible also that the Mexican population is softening a little bit on the whole "we're going to be bitchy about American soccer" thing, given growing multi-generational assimilation throughout the Southwest of the U.S., America's recent economic difficulties (removing the class/financial inferiority complex), and Mexico's huge difficulties in combating their hyper-violent drug cartels (impacting another favorite Latin American hobby horse re the U.S., violent crime). This is important, and could be a sign that Mexico's national team, which has only barely been the junior in a relationship with U.S. soccer in which both have together ruled CONCACAF, is about to pull ahead of the U.S. for a while to come.

Impact on CONCACAF Nations

I believe that this whininess has held back CONCACAF nations for a long time. The U.S. often beats other good teams, such as Honduras or Nicaragua, simply because the players on the field play tougher. The temptation is to dismiss American soccer as being at best soulless, like German soccer. The truth is that aggressive soccer played by tough-minded people wins out more than not, whether you're German or Brazilian or American. That's what CONCACAF needs, and it's not what they're fostering.

Instead, they seems to foster pettiness and vengefulness (not to mention greed, but that's another story).

Take American goalie Tim Howard's blast at CONCACAF yesterday, after the Gold Cup award ceremony, which took place on American soil, was held almost exclusively in Spanish.

"CONCACAF should be ashamed of themselves," Howard said. "I think it was a [expletive] disgrace that the entire postmatch ceremony was in Spanish. You can bet your ass that if we were in Mexico City, it wouldn't be all in English. But that's not why we lost the game. They've got some special players who put us in some bad situations."
 I can only agree with Mr. Howard. I've read several stories in Spanish-speaking news outlets regarding Howard's outburst, which all report his words in ways that range from neutral to sympathetic to the American goalie. The comments from readers in stories like these, however, emphasize the fact that the majority of CONCACAF countries speak Spanish. "We all speak Spanish, so quit your whining; we deserve this." The truth, however, is that concession is traditionally made to the host country when it comes to language. It just happens that this time the host was the U.S., and somebody saw this as a chance to twist the American tail.

Yo no soy hispanoparlante.
This embodies the trouble. CONCACAF nations are more interested in beating the U.S. than they are in playing winning soccer. That difference in mentality is what keeps CONCACAF on a level so far below European and South American soccer.

Respect For Your Enemy Makes You Better

When I was a kid in Brazil, American soccer teams were still largely amateur. I left Brazil during the first World Cup the U.S. had qualified for in 40 years, which they had qualified for with the "goal heard round the world", against less-than-mighty Trinidad and Tobago. Brazilians viewed American soccer with amused contempt, if they thought about it at all (it came up around me a lot, for obvious reasons). To them, it was like an amateurish version of "German" soccer, that is, soulless soccer. In those days, it was a shame to lose to the United States. Since then, the U.S. has established itself as a respectable, mid-range national side, and while most countries might add a little extra juice, there tend to be no special blessings or curses associated with losing to or beating Americans, and once there were.

CONCACAF nations are the exception to that. And sure, there are other reasons besides whininess. The U.S. took one of the slots that countries besides Mexico could fight over (there were only two slots available until '94, three since then, which because of the U.S. hosting '94, means that FIFA only allowed one World Cup to go by before they generated an extra spot for everyone in CONCACAF that wasn't the U.S.). The U.S. is  a powerful and rich neighbor with imperialistic tendencies. Blah blah blah. And so on and so forth.

If the U.S. is the preppy private school that kicks your butt, are you going to whine about all the cool equipment they have, or are you going to discipline yourself and toughen up and beat them? You can't do that until you accept that however it is they're beating you, they're doing it fairly! You cannot get better if you don't respect your enemy. You will lose when he's better, you will beat him when you're better, but you will never overcome. You need respect and honor to do that.

I hope the Mexican national program manages to hang on to this tough new way of doing things that they've displayed. It will make soccer better for all her neighbors, in the same way that American emergence seems to have finally benefited Mexico. The U.S. has a lot to learn. So does CONCACAF.


  1. Gee Whiz, what a pathetic rant of ass kissing to the US team...

  2. Don't you feel like you should sign your name to a comment like that?


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