Dear People of England,
It’s over. On Friday—before Los Ticos found Cinderella’s slipper and jabbed it into Buffon’s jugular—you could almost imagine England drubbing Costa Rica, hiring a Ghanaian witch doctor to curse Suarez, and delivering Pirlo a fine glass of chianti to oil his ageless motor ahead of the Uruguay match. But Costa Rica defeated Italy, and England’s Brazilian vacation will come to a premature end next week after bowing out of the group stages for the first time since 1958. There will be no tan lines for Rooney, no beach-side caiparinhas for Roy, and, sadly, no gentle kisses for the queen.
As a free agent fan, you can now select any team to follow at this most excellent World Cup. You could bandwagon onto a front-runner like Germany or Brazil, pick a tournament darling like Mexico or Chile, or choose a country with several players from your favorite club team (I’m looking to you, Liverpool fans). But I’d like to extend an invitation to the people of England to support another team at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil: the United States of America.
While one could make cultural claims about the special relationship between our two countries, the reason you should support the United States at this World Cup has nothing to do with our common language or shared geo-strategic interests. It’s about the football (let’s call it football to ease the transition), and from a footballing perspective, the United States possesses what England has always lacked: grit, bite, hustle, heart.
English teams have always had gobs of talent, certainly more than the United States has ever had on one team. I’m certain if you gave US manager Jurgen Klinsmann the choice, he’d take Sturridge over Altidore, Baines over Beasley, and Sterling over Green. But despite great players, English teams have often lacked cohesion, failing to maximize the potential of their revolving cast of Premier League stars.
Perhaps it’s due to outlandish expectations. English teams enter every World Cup with the tabloid press barely concealing the meat cleavers holstered to their hips. After the loss to Uruguay, The Sun plastered, “Same old England…” on the front page, confirming everyone’s expectation that Hodgson’s team would falter just like every other team from the Sceptered Isle in recent memory.
Conversely, the Americans enter every World Cup with an “us against the world” mentality. Out to prove that American soccer can compete against the world’s best players, the Yanks bond over perceived slights, growing more formidable with every dismissive comment.
Watch the last 10 minutes of the United States’ opening match against Ghana, and you’ll see every American player put an extra ounce of bite into their play. You’ll see Clint Dempsey, playing with a broken nose, shield the ball at the corner flag against two Ghanaian players and Kyle Beckerman, our dreadlocked holding midfielder, dispossess one-time Chelsea stalwart Michael Essien with a deft tackle. “I had trouble breathing. I was coughing up blood a little bit from the back of my throat,” said Dempsey after the match, but “I just wanted to go on for as long as I could.”
The United States doesn’t play beautiful soccer, but they do produce riveting, end-to-end action. Donovan’s injury time winner against Algeria in 2010. The unexpected 3-2 victory over Portugal in 2002. You can assuredly add the 2-1 win over Ghana this past Monday to the growing list of scrappy American World Cup victories.
Isn’t this the type of footballing character that you want to see from England? Even when the United States loses—as we did against Ghana in 2010—the game goes into extra time, and the players have, both proverbially and literally, left it all on the field.
Against Uruguay, Suarez’s second thunderous goal deflated the English team as if they were the ill-fated victims of a storyline written long before they ever took the field. Doomed to defeat, the English team accepted their fate without contest. But wouldn’t you agree that the nation of Dickens and Darwin deserves a team that plays with energy, verve, and spirit? That team is the United States.
On Sunday, the Yanks take on Portugal and their talismanic winger Cristiano Ronaldo, and I hope to hear millions of English voices singing alongside the growing chorus of American soccer fans. As you’ll come to learn, the words to the American Outlaws’ favorite song are, “I believe that we will win.”
One day, maybe England will, too.