Americans have a unique way of separating themselves from anything they don’t understand. Being one of those Americans I can say, with some authority, that we have a disdain for a sport where a tie is permissible. We believe that if you tie there is no winner and the world knows how much we like to win. Mention the word aggregate and their eyes glaze over. I find this logic to be self-serving, flawed and generally elitist. Now many of my friends would say to me; “Soccer is slow, it’s boring, it makes no sense. How can you stand to watch such a sport?” These are the same people that watch gold on television. Talk about slow, fun to play, but nonetheless slow. “Have you ever sat through a baseball game where the score was 0-0?” They would just scoff and walk away.
But when the World Cup comes around, well that’s a whole other story. I mean how else can you explain a nation passionately supporting a sport that it has apparently no interest in during the in-between years? We Americans can be fickle people. We couldn’t hold a candle in comparison to other sports’ fan base during the non-World Cup years. Interest and fandom in America suddenly comes to life at the sight of seeing the red, white and blue take on the world. Have I mentioned that we are fickle? Whether watching the men or women’s team, Americans find themselves sitting on the edge of their seat during every World Cup game. It’s a phenomenon that I like to call The Temperamental American Malady.
So why is it that when we are competing in the World Cup, the sport has our full attention? Have I alluded to the fact that we are temperamental? Sports fans that couldn’t care less about football suddenly have up-to-date knowledge of the sport and suddenly believe themselves to be expert analysts, strategists and tacticians. Non-sports fans are suddenly intrigued and delighted to participate in “expertly guided” conversations at work. So often these people are misguided by various sports sites on the web. Each fan has become a “long time” supporter and “have always loved the game.”
We begin to see non-sports fans rise from the dead during the World Cup, but there also isn’t another sporting event that ignites such enthusiasm and fervor among them. Save the random “true football fan”, as they call themselves. You know the one I am speaking of. The guy that says, “Football is played with pads, by guys that hit hard and take no crap from anyone. And you score actual points and there is a winner!” I can't count the number of times I have been speaking to a fellow American and felt the urge bang their head against the wall so it gets into their head that they are wrong. But it won’t have a lasting affect anyways…I think the term is single-mindedness.
Football is a very powerful term. When used, it asserts the cultural predominance of the game it is describing; for all intents and purposes, Americans can’t seem to grasp the fact that the game is not called soccer. I would have thought that David Beckham coming over and all the travel fixtures would have convinced them otherwise, but we still don’t understand that American football is a misnomer. It’s a sport that rarely uses the foot and English football, for the majority of the match, uses the foot. Now, don’t go confusing us further by talking to the Australians, because if you talk them about football, most Australians will assume you are talking about Rugby. If you are talking about another game this usage could be seen as a threat or an insult.
So what exactly is it about the World Cup that gets America watching?
Well, it definitely has nothing to do with our love for the sport, that’s for sure. The World Cup is vastly different in our eyes. Our undivided attention is focused on football and football only. The competition electrifies our whole nation, creating an inextinguishable unity. It comes during group stage matches, we fans are preoccupied by football, glued to our televisions. We set our alarms late (or early depending upon where you live) just to catch a match. And during elimination round games, American flags and USA jerseys can be seen draping even the most casual fans. We watch because it unites us. We like to be united.
In unity, we all watched the men’s national team lose 0-2 to Ukraine, it was a crushing blow and it was the first time we drop a two goal decision since last year’s World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica. Then we watched with excitement and trepidation as we played our rivals to the south, Mexico. We watched as we went all square 2-2. This was a feel-good story for us as we increased our unbeaten streak to five games against Mexico (2-0-3 during its current stretch). The U.S. had held Mexico scoreless for 392 straight minutes until Rafael Marquez’s 49th-minute goal. For Mexico, the draw was emotional and seemed to lift the spirits and hopes of a nation that had been crushed by economic disaster for some time now. It brought immense joy to a country that hasn’t had many reasons to smile as of late.
So maybe there is something mythical about this tournament after all.