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May 28, 2008

Don't tread on me
Posted by Max Bergmann

Today is a big day for American soccer fans - especially for the Anglophile among us. The US plays England at historic Wembley in London today at 3pm (note to bosses: I am taping the game and will watch after work).

Having lived in England for a number of years and felt the complete and utter disregard of the US national team by the Brits, a good showing by the US national team would be particularly satisfying. The British press mocking of American soccer was particularly brutal during the 2002 world cup. The Guardian ran a fake transcript of what it would be like if an American announced an England game. The BBC mocked ABC's announcers - granted they were poor, and the commentators paid absolutely no attention to the U.S. team. Alan Hansen, a BBC pundit, as I remember, dismissed our chances in the round of 16 against Mexico - our arch soccer rival that we had not lost to for a number of years.  And when Nike came out with the "don't tred on me" ad invoking Tom Paine's revolutionary war pamphlet - it hit close to him. The US team after 2002 was looking for respect...

Unfortunately, 2006 did not go so well. But US soccer has made tremendous advances. Many more American players are playing in the top European leagues, a number of young American players appear to be budding stars, and the team has been playing well under Bob Bradley the last year and half. And with games coming up against Spain and Argentina in the next few weeks and the Confederation Cup next year the U.S. will have plenty of preparation prior to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

But this is England - and a chance to demonstrate to the nation that created the sport that the US team is no longer a push over - that we have arrived. One of the great things about being an American soccer fan is that we truly get to adopt that underdog mantra. As Steven Wells wrote in the Guardian a few years back,

Despite the fact that we've taken turns to run the world via vastly superior firepower, both Brits and Yanks desperately need to portray themselves as outnumbered and outgunned. We've got Rorke's Drift, Dunkirk and Arnhem. They've got the Alamo, Guadalcanal and dogfaces firing rifles at Tiger tanks during the Battle of the Bulge.

...The US men's team is an overdog in embryo. A glance at the stats (pro-soccer in the US is already better attended than in most European countries while the grassroots game continues to explode) tells you that the US will soon be a soccer superpower. And when that happens this intensely patriotic country will - for the first time ever - have a men's sports team that can consistently kick international ass (the US women's soccer team has been doing it for years). And that's not going to be pretty. There'll be nothing 'plucky' about it. Just the brutal application of raw demographic power...

In the 1760s Britain emerged atop the imperial dogpile as the world's undisputed heavyweight champion. And it felt kinda odd. The seeds of arrogant, triumphalist jingoism existed alongside a gnawing nostalgia (among intellectuals and writers at least) for the cocky, outgunned but ingenious little England of Drake and Raleigh. Of course this reverie was rudely interrupted shortly after when the cocky, outgunned but ingenious citizens of a new country called the United States of America pluckily kicked Britain's enormous new imperial nadgers clean off - but for a while the sudden loss of underdog status caused real pain.

I suggest US soccer fans enjoy being underestimated, derided, mocked and written off while they still can. It won't get any better than this.

Until then - don't tread on me.



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Unfortunately, the US didn't do much to gain any respect yesterday at Wembley. We've made great strides in soccer during the past 20 years, but we still don't belong on the same field with the likes of England. I fear the coming games against Spain and Argentina will be painful. But we should do well in our first World Cup qualifier next month against Mighty Barbados!

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