My friend Charlie takes a much more refined view of sports rivalries than I do. He is just as rabid as anyone about his team winning against their rivals, but once that game is over, Charlie can look at the big picture, figure out what is best in the long run for his team, and then, if it comes down to it, he has little problem with rooting for the rivals when he thinks it is necessary. Me, I never root for the Dodgers or the Raiders or Stanfurd.
When it comes to international soccer, the great rival of the USA is Mexico. It is, at times, a pretty ugly rivalry, and I take great pleasure in watching the U.S. beat the pants off of the Mexicans, as they did tonight in a World Cup qualifier. There is no one I'd rather see the U.S. beat than Mexico.
But once the match is over, I root for Mexico more often than not. I mean, I don't root for them if their success would be damaging to the USA, but otherwise, I think of Mexico as my second-favorite team in the region. Nothing wrong with that, but it's odd, in my "system" of partisanship at least, because they are both my second-favorites and my #1 rival. The old joke about my favorite team being the Giants and my second-favrorite team being whoever is playing the Dodgers doesn't really hold in this case.
I don't know why this is true, but I wonder if the whole club/country thing has something to do with it. Soccer always exists on at least two levels, the club level and the international level. On the club level, I root for everyone who plays on my favorite team ... if the Earthquakes had a Mexican player, I would cheer him on. This would get confusing once the USA played Mexico on the international stage. To take a slightly different angle, both Landon Donovan and Brian Ching are hated by Earthquake fans. But when the two of them put on the U.S. jersey to play against Mexico, we rooted for them. You don't really get this in the other major American sports ... all that matters in baseball and football and basketball is the team, international play is largely irrelevant. So I can hate all Dodgers without fear that they'll play for the U.S. in something I care about.
Meanwhile, the important thing is, tomorrow I can walk into Juan's Place with pride. I predicted a 2-0 win for the U.S., and that's exactly what the final score read. My tamales are going to taste good.