In the sea of multiculturalism that surrounded Saturday’s Gold Cup between the U.S. and Mexico, Elliott Turner writes, some things are still simple.
My thoughts on the Gold Cup final? I got my wish. Kinda.
Throughout the week, as a pochito soccer blogger, I was pounded over and over by the same question: “What team do you root for?” “Who do you want to win?” “Con que equipo vas?” I endured phone calls from my father, giddy about the raza’s chances and the guaranteed demolition. I received tweets. I received emails. At my modest soccer blog, I received comments on long dormant Landon Donovan posts. Despite this lingering question, a few things crystallized before the game.
First, Americans probably hate Landon Donovan more than Mexicans. In fact, Americans may love young Mexican star Javier Hernandez, a.k.a. Chicharito, more than our own balding former prodigal son. Why? Well, to paint things in a favorable light, Americans are meritocratic. MLS, our domestic league, has improved, but is no English Premiership. Donovan’s LA Galaxy is a good team, but is not Manchester United. Thus, Donovan is a very good player on a good team, but Chicharito is a great player on a great team. Americans like Chicharito in the way you covet your neighbor’s brand-new lawnmower. We say we want to borrow Chicharito for just a few hours, but really long to keep him. Or at least lock him in our garage, never again to see the light of day.
Second, I was not alone in my seleccion conundrum. My chicano friends all seemed to lean toward the U.S. of A., if only to root for the underdog-that-is-soon-to-lose-underdog-status. All my friends born south of the border rooted for Mexico. My father’s generation rooted for Mexico and were generally shocked that a) the U.S. fielded a team and b) white people continue to play soccer after the age of eight. Some earthly plates only move at tectonic speed. Same with perceptions. As for my own preferences, well, about once a year, I get a free jersey as part of a promotion for my blog. And I alternate between a U.S. and Mexico jersey. In sum, I just wanted a good game.
And a good game was got. The U.S. has fielded a powerful lineup all tournament that had a glaring Achilles’s heel: speed. The American’s early goals reflected the positive side of power: one was a header off a corner, and the other was a counterattack. Rather than wilting, Mexico shifted from a midfield-less but positive 4-3-3 to an all out bum-rush 3-4-3. It was vintage Pitino-Kentucky basketball full-court press. They stamped on the accelerator with both feet. To complicate matters, Chicharito hung on American defender Goodson’s shoulder, forcing him and teammate Bocanegra to pray for offside and constantly step forward. And speedy Mexicans Dos Santos and Barrera blew by them like a hurricane shaking a palm.
Post-game, neutrals and novice fans cannot complain about the lack of goals: six in total, the equivalent of 42 points in that sacrosanct of sports, American football. But can they complain about neutrality? The Rose Bowl was a sea of green and the NAFTA-appropriated “Mexican” wave shook Pasadena like an aftershock. Of course, the Gold Cup is a regional tournament, so the U.S. should not expect home field advantage. Plus, U.S. fans had an equal opportunity to gobble up entradas beforehand. In the semi-finals, Honduras played Mexico in Houston and took the game to overtime, despite the raza filling up Reliant Stadium. Fingers should be pointed elsewhere.
But I can understand Tim Howard’s frustration at the Spanish-only awards ceremony. Multiculturalism does not mean “Spanish only” replaces “English only”—it means a positive space for co-existence. As someone who’s Pandora playlist alternates between Bon Jovi, Pitbull, Mana, Journey, and Don Omar, switching between English and Spanish is not a linguistic concept for grad students to study, but a way of life. Others, however, feel excluded. And there’s no good reason for such exclusion.
So I breathe a sigh of relief that the game is done. In the back of my head, I block out the dread at upcoming qualifiers and the inevitable Gold Cup final re-match in a few years. For now, I reflect on some great goals and let the ravenous online American soccer community blame a coach despite a rattled crossbar, an unexpected injury to a defender, and the pleasant re-birth of a forgotten prodigal son.
—Photo William Holtkamp/Flickr