A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
The Squad, El Enemigo and the meaning of US
The US National Team begins its final round of qualification for the 2018 World Cup tonight (8pm EST; FS1, Univision) as it steps into the Hex with El Enemigo at its preferred venue for these battles, Columbus Crew Stadium, in Columbus, OH.
Though qualifying for the FIFA World Cup is never a straight forward affair for the US National Team, The Squad is almost always assured of going through. The US remains amongst the three best, and at times has been THE best side in CONCACAF. With apologies to Costa Rica, who finally showed the quality heretofore only seen in CONCACAF to the rest of the world, at the World Cup two years ago, there are two games that well and truly matter above all other in the Hex.
US-El Enemigo in Columbus
El Enemigo-US in Estadio Azteca.
Moments and results from this rivalry are plentiful and stick out like vivid family memories, both good and bad. Dos a Ceros, again and again. 23 wins in every conceivable fashion in Azteca for El Enemigo; Un punto dorado in ’97 and a courageous display for the US in 13. Gooch’s stare in 05. Israel Castro’s golazo in 2005 and Run DMB finishing El Enemigo off 9 months later. Rafael Marquez getting sent off (again), Jeff Agoos’ inexplicable elbow in ’97. Brian McBride’s eye during the original Guerra Fria in 2001 as well as the smog and heat that seems to accompany every match in Azteca. And those are just from the World Cup qualifiers. When you add the Gold Cup Finals and the World Cup meeting in S. Korea from 2002; Feilhaber’s volley that made Hugo Sanchez sit down in 2007 and Giovanni Dos Santos’ ridiculous chip four years later; Paulo Aguilar’s dagger last year and all of the tackles, groin kicks, headlocks, calls and non-calls, disrespect/respect and everything surrounding Landon Donovan, this has simply become one of the fiercest rivalries in world football. Every installment raises the question “Quien son los reyes de CONCACAF? Who are the kings of CONCACAF?”
Tonight’s match will be undoubtedly be more of the same. Both sides are bringing their deepest, most experienced squads to the showdown. Though this will be first time in 15 years that neither Landon Donovan (international retirement) nor Clint Dempsey (heart ailment) will be facing their rivals to the south, the US will be at full strength with the exception of Geoff Cameron whose starting center-back spot will probably be filled by Omar Gonzalez of Mexican side Pachuca. Jozy Altidore is scoring goals again and everyone is anxious to see Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic be unleashed against a Mexican defense that will be seeing him for the first time.
El Enemigo, for their part, has all their guns. Dos Santos has been called back into the team, Chicharito Hernandez is of course here and the team down south has recalled one of their great but inconstant talents in the form of Carlos Vela. Andres Guardado is still a top player for Mexico and the Surface to Air Missile himself, Rafa Marquez, is back within the fold.
This match up has become so big for American soccer supporters that you have to win a lottery to buy tickets in the same way you would with the Final Four. And no, I didn’t get a ticket. Fans from all 50 states and DC converge on Columbus every four years to ensure the US has a true home field advantage against its greatest soccer rival.
In these parts, and again, apologies to Costa Rica, there is simply no other bigger match. It is the ultimate US vs. Them.
What is US, now?
Am I part of US? Have I ever been a part of US?
Ok, you can argue that The Squad represents all US soccer fans but it’s also supposed to be representing the country.
But is that me, a Black American living in the Old Confederacy, anymore?
Was it ever?
As I said, I tried, unsuccessfully to get tickets to this match. One of the great moments of any international match is when the National Anthems are played. But I honestly have no idea how I would have reacted upon hearing it.
Certainly not after whatever that was that happened Tuesday night.
After stump speeches deriding “political correctness” demeaning Mexicans, women and Muslims to roaring applause; after hearing him boast of putting Islamic places of worship under surveillance or refer to Black neighborhoods as “hell” where you walk out of your house get shot (?); after being referred to as one “The Blacks”; after hearing him talk about using his fame and “power” to perform what amounts to sexual battery; to receive the endorsement of Ku Klux Klan, the President-Elect who suggested that the Nation’s First Black President really was not an American and demanded to see his papers as if the year was 1811 and not 2011, this same man who once called for the execution the wrongfully accused and convicted Central Park 50 and balked at their compensation; who hated that Black people were counting his money; THIS man rode what CNN’s Van Jones perfectly described as Whitelash…to the White House.
And people are asserting, with straight faces, that he wants to be President of everybody. Since when?
This man’s candidacy and now stunning victory goes way beyond a change in policy. It emboldened the White racists who saw in this candidate, someone who would allow them express themselves in a ways naïve Americans thought had long past. One only need to see how more vocal movements like alt right and racist lunatics like Ted Nugent have become. Or how groups of Whites would intimidate visiting high school athletic teams with players of color by shouting racial epithets along with the President-Elect’s name. Am I the only one who saw The Make America White Again signs and proclamations of “Take Back Our Country”? The way Black protesters at his rally were physically attacked and how even his Black supporters were singled out as “thugs”? How nooses were put around effigies of President Obama and or other random Black figures next to the signs of the President-Elect and his running mate? Those participating in protests after Tuesday night aren’t doing so because they’re upset about not getting they want as myopic, sheltered conservatives suggest. This isn’t about policy but rather dignity.
In just the few days since Election Night, David Duke (DAVID DUKE, people!!!) stated he is pleased with an outcome that is good for “our people”, Muslim women’s hijabs have been ripped off, Black students were told they would have sit in the back of the school bus, Hispanic kindergartners were told they were going to be deported and a Black law student here who represented Tallahassee as a pageant winner was told that she and all the other niggers were going to have leave the country, now that this man was going to be President.
And her Mexican friends too.
But to 59 million of my fellow Americans, this affront, this THREAT to me, my wife and daughters, to my basic humanity…well it just doesn’t matter.
Because, you know, emails.
So where’s the US that I’m supporting tonight?
I get it. The system was never made for Blacks. Half of the “Founding Fathers” owned slaves and forged a “compromise” that deemed people blessed with my beautiful skin tone to only 3/5 of a man.
I get it. Roger Taney, the Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of the United States in the famed Dred Scott decision said that Constitution afforded Blacks “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Wars had to be fought for Blacks to even be recognized as people. Amendments to the Constitution were needed for us (and later women) to even vote. Court cases had to be brought for basic things such as voting, equal education, access to public transportation, to marry whomever we wanted. I get it all that.
But US told me that was all so long ago. US told me I should never forget 9/11 but to let bygones be bygones when I talk about 9/15. US told me that racism was dead because we had a Black President and that we can make a lot money playing football.
So why did US choose a President that been endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan who will march in a victory parade in his honor in North Carolina?
One of my favorite quotes about America comes from Robert Kennedy, shortly before he was assassinated. He said
“I think we can end the divisions in the United States. What I think is quite clear is that we can work together in the last analysis, and that what has been going on within the United States over a period of the last…years. The divisions, the violence, the disenchantment with our society — the divisions, whether it’s between blacks and whites, between the poor and the more affluent, or between age groups, or on the war… — is that we can start to work together. We are a great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country.”
Tuesday night’s results demonstrated none of RFK’s vision from that night 48 years ago.
Players of all ethnic and racial backgrounds, including Mexican who represent the US in a way that shows that the ideal America, (the one that is advertised to other countries around the world when we want to brow beat them about THEIR human rights record) does exist somewhere. The America of RFK’s vision is found in Michael Bradley, and Josmer Altidore who is Haitian like my wife and Bobby Wood from Hawaii. It’s found in German born John Brooks and Omar Gonzalez who could have played for Mexico. It’s found in the multi-ethnic Deandre Yedlin and the Icelandic Aron Johannsson. Christian Pulisic whose family hails from Croatia. It’s even found in Jurgen Klinsmann who believes in the fight and potential of this squad.
My faith in US was shaken to its core on Tuesday and tonight’s result won’t change that. But it will be nice to see a group of Americans bringing their individual skills together to work toward a common goal. This group of men is the true illustration of what America is supposed to be.
So while I won’t be at the game, I’ll be doing what everyone once does at home when the National Anthem comes on. Sitting down and waiting for it to end so that the game can start. But thereafter, it’s about US. The US that I choose to belong to because my very presence is the raised fist in defiance to those like Taney and everyone, before and after, who try to keep me from US in every way.
The Squad may succeed or fail but what they represent is something for US to believe in.
And learn from.
And THAT is what makes America Great.
Based in Tallahassee, Andrew L. Dixon, III has contributed soccer articles to BASN since 2004. He previously authored a column for the US Soccer Players.com website.