Friday, June 11, 2010
USA win would be England tragedy
It was pleasing to note that USA coach Bob Bradley has played down recent talk by defender Jay DeMerit of trying to wind up Wayne Rooney. To the English eye, DeMerit, who really should know better about such things considering his long service in English football, was last week engaging in a practice rarely seen in his adopted country. In his home country, such a thing is known as "trash talk", a practice extended by "Two Princes" hitmaker Alexi Lalas speaking of how he would love to see Rooney "act like a baby" after a roughing-up by American defenders.
• David James: I'm ready to play
• Carlisle: USA aim to banish demons
• Alexi Lalas: USA can compete
• England v USA: preview
Quite frankly, chaps, all that talk was quite simply not cricket. Such singling-out of individuals is rarely employed player on player in English football, if at all. That type of thing is left to the managers, and causes a storm whenever it happens.
But the words of DeMerit - who in mitigation backtracked on Monday - and his compatriots have a thread running through them. Team USA really fancy this one and they're prepared to get nasty too. For them, emulating the boys of 1950 seems a readily achievable target and, to that end, any deference to one of the game's perceived giants has been cast aside.
That an underperforming England may grant them the chance to write some history of their own is a marrow-chilling prospect to the average Englishman. Fabio Capello's team have much to fear in Rustenberg, and not just the loss of momentum in Group C. To lose to the USA at football at a World Cup would serve as a humiliation as deep as any since, yes, 1950, which very few of us remember. We are a nation resigned to finishing behind the Americans in most sports apart from, yes, football. Individual American sporting success is readily accepted and many a Stateside star is highly popular in England. These days, John McEnroe and Michael Johnson are adopted national-treasures. See also the raptures with which Tom Watson was received at last year's Open Championship.
Yet the sport of golf provides an example of what an Englishman can find unedifying about American success in team sport. The Ryder Cup's conversion from gentlemanly biennial procession to the partisan event of the last three decades points to what a genuine football/soccer rivalry between the two nations could be like. If you times that by ten. Over in England, images of Kiawah Island in 1991 and Brookline in 1999 still burn deep. There, Anglo sensibilities were offended by the wearing of battle fatigues and premature pitch invasions by supposed men of god. We believe that European success in that tournament can be achieved without fist-pumping and elephantine chants of "get in the hole", itself one of America's worst ever exports.
And that chant of "U-S-A, U-S-A" can set teeth on edge when it rings out. It signals a triumphalism that many an Englishman finds uncomfortable, possibly because it sounds less daft than "Ing-ger-lund" but mostly because we are a nation for whom fervent patriotism is a thing of the past, frowned on in many circles.
The brash confidence of the archetypal All-American is rarely respected either, with the English way being to shrug the shoulders and giggle at such self-assurance. John Terry, to set aside his peccadilloes and concentrate on his on-pitch persona, is the type of player who would fit in well in an American sport yet leaves many in his home country cold. If someone is to be good at something, we'll let them get away with being calm and collected though our real favourites are the combustible anti-heroes; unerring success is by no means a conduit to English affection.
In the same way, we have never much minded the USA soccer team. Their earnestness and love for football was charming to know about when it wasn't a threat. It was OK to patronise them on playing the sport we invented. We are amused by the fact that a match 60 years ago is still regarded as perhaps Team USA's greatest day. But now, with it staring us in the face, to consider losing to them again at our own game is a challenge to our haughty indifference. Make no mistake: Englishmen badly want this. This being not to lose to the Americans.