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Enough Already With the Anti-American Conspiracy Theories

To be just a little cheeky, the answer to your question, Frank, is Yes.

This has nothing to do with Team America's performance. We may, nay should and do, all admire their courage, their attitude, their determination to rise above their limitations and their refusal to buckle even when all seems lost. There are other sides in the tournament who could learn from Bradley's side in these respects.

Less likeable is the sense—palpable in some quarters—that if a referee (or linesman) makes a mistake or even simply rules against the United States this proves the existence of some dark, wide-ranging anti-American conspiracy.

Granted, other countries like to feel persecuted too. The Italians, for instance, are quite capable of bathing in—and being comforted by—persecution. But that is, if you will, a soccer-specific sensation. Some Americans, by contrast, seem prone to viewing these matters in terms of politics.

The logic seems to be this: there is much anti-Americanism abroad. The referee “robs” the Americans. Therefore the referee (and FIFA!) are anti-American too! Some of this is in jest for sure and some of it simply reflects the fact that the World Cup is now firmly part of the American sporting universe.

Nevertheless, you'd be forgiven for thinking that no other side had ever been on the wrong side of dubious decisions. Yes, the Americans were unfortunate against Slovenia, though not as unfortunate as they think they were. Today's “goal” looked offside to the naked eye—in my view—but was in fact, on replay, “OK.” Sometimes you lose a coin-flip just because that's the nature of a coin-flip.

That's the nature of the game, however. There's no need for people to act quite so aggrieved about it. There'll be times when the US benefits from good fortune too. And there's certainly no need to start calling for things like instant replay—see here and here, for example—on the basis of a couple of controversial decisions.

In any case, the striking aspect of this tournament has been the amount of goodwill extended to the United States. Pretty much everyone on this side of the pond is pleased they have advanced and everyone admires their spirit and attitude. This includes your correspondent.

But, again, most of the time when you're blaming the referees you're really choosing to ignore your own shortcomings. Referees can certainly influence outcomes (though in general the officiating at this tournament has been less awful than sometimes) but not nearly so much as players.

And if you spurn half a dozen gilt-edged chances—Altidore! Dempsey!—then you shouldn't really complain about a super-tight offside decision that goes against you.

So, again, this is a likeable American team and congratulations and good luck to them for the rest of their involvement in the tournament. They're likeable! ESPN's self-pitying histrionics, however, are less so.

I suspect, actually, that what we've witnessed these past few days is the difference between “high-information” and “low-information” supporters. Those who've grown up with the game vs. those who've come to it lately and perhaps as recently as a fortnight ago. Which means one should probably be nicer to the noobs and just welcome them to the party. Anyway: Good luck America!