Not sure how much context needs to be included here, so I’ll go with the basics, as I posted them on Google+. Non-soccer fans, don’t worry, this is about more than that sport you hate:
2001 in Columbus, World Cup Qualifier: USA 2-0 Mexico
2005 in Columbus, World Cup Qualifier: USA 2-0 Mexico
2009 in Columbus, World Cup Qualifier: USA 2-0 Mexico
2013 in Columbus, World Cup Qualifier: USA 2-0 Mexico
(oh yeah, 2002 World Cup match in South Korea: USA 2-0 Mexico)
As you can imagine, this remarkably coincidental set of results has resulted in a long-lasting meme for fans of the U.S. men’s team: “Dos a Cero”.
More context: CONCACAF is the region that includes the U.S. and Mexico, among others. Those two nations have been top of the CONCACAF heap for a long time. Costa Rica isn’t bad, Honduras is on the rise, and Panama can surprise. But the #1 battle in the region is USA-Mexico. In the early years of the rivalry, Mexico had their way … between 1937 and early November 1980, they played each other 24 times, with Mexico winning 21 and the U.S. winning none, with 3 draws. In the 21st century, things have evened out, with the U.S. winning 12 and Mexico winning 5, with 4 draws.
As is usual in serious rivalries (and USA-Mexico is the top soccer rivalry for both countries), the fans of the better team enjoy their position, gloating whenever possible. There is also a “real world” connection. When Mexico was on top, it was irresistible to see the Mexican fans’ joy being part of the overall experience for Mexico and the United States. At least on the soccer field, the Mexicans could defeat the imperialists with glee. (This is obviously not the only time world affairs lent an extra angle to a match … think of the 1998 World Cup, when Iran defeated the USA, 2-1, eliminating the States from the tournament. One writer called it “probably the most politically charged match in the history of the World Cup.”)
But when the imperialist nation starts winning on the field as well, things get ugly in a different way. When the underdog was doing the preening and sniping, it meant something different than when the Kings of the World did the same. While they are in the minority (a point that deserves making again and again), some U.S. fans now have yet another way to release their racist feelings towards their Mexican neighbors. (And for those who would point out that the reverse is also true, I again mention that the dynamic is different when the powerful are doing the gloating.)
USA fans love to chant “DOS A CERO!” during matches with Mexico played on U.S. soil. I don’t think it’s inherently racist, or imperialist. I let out a few myself during yesterday’s match (which ended, ironically, when the U.S. missed a penalty that would have made the score 3-0).
My nephew, who is the biggest soccer fan I know (he works for a professional soccer club) roots for the United States. But he likes the Mexican team, as well (as do I … there was a time when Mexican league matches were pretty much all I could watch on TV). He doesn't care much for the rivalry angle when the two teams meet. And he isn't a big fan of the victories of the imperialists. He struggles to separate the USMNT from the American presence in the world.
I don’t have any disagreement in the abstract. Best I could do was point to something I wrote back in 1997:
I am not exactly a fan of the United States of America. You could say I am a fan of things American, but that's not really the same thing. I believe that many bad things have been done in the name of the United States of America. I believe that nationalistic fervor, enlivened by the Powers That Be, can be used to support the most nefarious of governmental deeds.
When I attend soccer matches of the national team, I bring an American flag with me and wave it gleefully.
More than one player has stated that when they play for the national team, they love to see a crowd full of fans waving their flags, the fans make the players feel special, make them ready to give their all for their fans. And once you've seen the outlandish brilliance of Mia Hamm, America's greatest soccer player (and coincidentally a woman), you're ready to do pretty much whatever she tells you if it will make her happy.
Does this make me … a bad revolutionary? Have I been co-opted? When I wave my flag, have I given naiveté the upper hand?
Of course, in this country, there is something appealingly non-mainstream about being a soccer fan. Americans don't like to watch soccer; I know, people tell me that all the time. When I wave my flag, I am not honoring the United States of America as much as I am honoring Americans like Hamm or Eric Wynalda. And, since soccer-as-spectator-sport seems to be the anti-America of team sports, perhaps I could claim that it is I who am co-opting them, rather than the reverse.
The San Jose Clash, our local professional team, features a Nigerian, a Hungarian, a Salvadoran, a Honduran, a Brazilian, and Eric Wynalda. When Ronald Cerritos of El Salvador, the team's best player last season, scores a goal, he races over to the group of fans carrying huge El Salvador flags and celebrates with them. Meanwhile, the club's front office works overtime trying to sign a good Mexican player, because, as one Chicano said on a gigantic banner he brought to the team's first-ever match, "Sign a Mexican, we'll be back!" Last year they succeeded in bringing Missael Espinoza to the club. The first time he scored a goal, he ran to the corner where Mexican fans were gathered and did a somersault of happiness. The fans poured out of the stands carrying a humungous Mexican flag, under which they buried their beloved Missael.
Who are we rooting for here? Are we naive? Co-opted? Is this merely contrived exploitation?