Showing respect to the neighbours
Even a Canadian can shelve hostilities and get behind this American side - but don't push it too far
I grew up in the shadow of a behemoth. A mere 10-minute drive from my front door and you were in the United States of America.
Of course, we were always a little more reserved and a lot less ambitious on the Canadian side of the border. Global domination? Nah, let the Yanks have at it. We didn't need to rule the world, we were happy to merely enjoy it. And when it came to international sports, like Olympic gatherings or even the Ryder Cup, it was not only easy to root against the all-conquering neighbour to the south, it was the natural thing to do. Basically, everybody outside of the US roots against them and if you are an American of any degree of enlightenment you know this all too well. When you are the pre-eminent civilisation of your era with an imperialistic bent, then you come by the disdain naturally.
For most Canadians going abroad, it's natural to be mistaken for an American by the international glitterati, most of whom are sadly lacking in proper refinement. If you try and correct them and explain that you're actually a Canadian, they grunt and say, it's the same thing, you are merely a frozen Yank. And just like that we inherit the sins of everything from the Vietnam war to the Iraq invasion.
Of course, it might be easier to show a little neighbourly love if the Americans were kind of likeable and endearing in their sporting endeavours. But they could be doing something as mundane as beating Luxembourg in water polo and the Stars and Stripes will still be waved wildly, followed by that alarmingly aggressive chant that slices right through your soul: Yew-S-A!
Traditional animosity towards big brothers flows on both sides of the Atlantic. As the world gathered for a month of festive footy down in Brazil, a BBC reporter wandered into a Scottish pub just before England were ready to kick off against Uruguay. He asked everyone in the pub who they were supporting and to a man they all claimed to be pulling for the Uruguayans.
If that same reporter had wandered into a Canadian pub just before the US were ready to take on Germany, he might find that those inside were actually feeling a little neighbourly. The US soccer team have fans in places that most of their other national teams can only dream of and for most Hosers who are supporting them it usually comes with a caveat: I can't believe I am rooting for the US, however…
I mean in all honesty, what is not to like about the American team at this World Cup? They are certainly not the most talented or dynamic crew and even the most optimistic American fan will tell you that it would be a miracle if they won. But after a couple of weeks of watching so much diving and dramatics, it's kind of refreshing to enjoy a team that play with some integrity and grit with a likeable and progressive coach in Juergen Klinsmann.
They are a rare species: an American underdog. Playing a sport still yearning for mainstream acceptance in their home country, on the eve of their match with Germany last week they were pushed back in the domestic sporting firmament by the news that NBA superstar LeBron James is opting out of his contract with the Miami Heat.
I guarantee you there was not a single story, no matter how big, in the German media that stole any thunder from the national team. But that is the pecking order in American sports and the players know it all too well.
However, this time around, the country seems to be getting firmly behind them, as well they should. Ratings for their game against Germany were some of the highest yet for a soccer broadcast in the US. Sadly, what most of the country saw were a team playing cautiously knowing they would basically move on to the group of 16 with a decent, not great showing. And that is what they did, losing 1-0 but qualifying for the knockout round and a very winnable match against Belgium.
For Klinsmann, getting his team through will basically guarantee job stability for another four years. Beating Belgium, which they are eminently capable of doing, almost ensures him a job for life as well as endless free drinks in his adopted hometown of Newport Beach, California. And much to my surprise, I will be pulling for him and his team every step of the way.
Still you will never, ever hear that Yew-S-A chant out of me. Some things are just non-negotiable.