Where are the US soccer fans?
WASHINGTON — The US men's soccer team deserves the heartiest of congratulations for defeating Mexico and advancing to the quarterfinals of the World Cup. But at the risk of rankling the team's few true supporters (plus the soon-to-be-crowded bandwagon), let me offer the following prognostication: Not only will Team USA not win this World Cup or any World Cup anytime soon, but it shouldn't. An American victory would not merely be unlikely, it would also be wrong an egregious miscarriage of justice without parallel in the course of human events. Why? Put simply, the indifferent American public doesn't deserve to win.
Consider first the alleged evidence of the resurgence of US men's soccer. Supporters make much of the fact that Team USA has qualified for every World Cup since 1990, following decades of embarrassing absences. Of course, this view disregards the US's automatic bid in 1994 as host nation. But more important, such adulations gloss over how World Cup qualifying rounds are broken down regionally around the world.
To reach the 2002 Cup, for instance, the US competed against such soccer lightweights as Barbados, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, and Trinidad. Trinidad? Barbados? Try knocking out teams from the South American bracket, where fearsome squads such as four-time World Cup champion Brazil and two-time winners Argentina and Uruguay rule the pitch. Or take a shot at Europe, where even traditional powerhouse Holland failed to make the 2002 World Cup.
Writing recently in the Washington Post, political columnist Robert J. Samuelson trumpeted the US's No. 13 world ranking prior to the 2002 World Cup. But the oft-cited world rankings are largely meaningless to true soccer fans, who care only about the World Cup and regional tournaments such as the European Cup and Copa América. (Believe me, French and Argentine fans will find their lofty pre-World Cup rankings little consolation after being bumped in the Cup's opening round.)
Indeed, the rankings created by FIFA/Coca-Cola during the run-up to the USA 1994 World Cup were probably a marketing gimmick to drum up soccer interest in the rankings-obsessed US. All insomniacs would be well advised to visit the FIFA website. The convoluted, mind-numbing ranking methodology will lull you to sleep right through all those 2:30 a.m. World Cup matches you weren't going to watch anyway.
Which brings me to the heart of the matter. The US should not win the World Cup because the country's so-called fans haven't earned that honor (in contrast with their overachieving team). As I walked to work in downtown Washington on June 5, less than two hours after the wondrous 3-2 opening US victory over heavily favored Portugal, I saw little out of the ordinary. A few reported celebration sightings notwithstanding, most Washingtonians went about their day, oblivious to the historic upset their national team had just scored.
That morning, I fantasized for a moment how things would differ if Washington were the capital city of a civilized, self-respecting, soccer-loving country. Tens of thousands of flag-waving fans would pour into the streets, dancing, screaming, and crying. Traffic would stop. Choking down tears and pretzels, President Bush would spontaneously declare a national holiday. US star forward Brian McBride and goalkeeper extraordinaire Brad Friedel would become instant celebrities, requiring a recall on Wheaties boxes across the country. And on cable TV, talking heads would start touting US coach Bruce Arena as a possible veep candidate. But instead, Arena was left to hope aloud that "this victory will grab the attention of a lot of people in the United States."
Ultimately, a US triumph in the World Cup would be akin to Bill Gates winning the lottery: a senseless waste at best, a grave injustice at worst. And the rest of the world knows it. Indeed, if you think unilateralist US foreign policy fosters international antipathy, just wait for the global resentment should coach Arena somehow hoist the Cup on June 30.
So for the sake of cosmic justice and global harmony, join me in rooting for Germany to defeat Team USA on Friday. If you even bother to watch the game, that is.
Carlos Lozada is a senior editor of Foreign Policy magazine and a columnist for Commonweal magazine. His native Peru has missed the past five World Cups. He's not bitter at all.