In the esteemed words of Sarah Palin, “you betcha!”
While today is Canada Day, I’m less concerned with the maple leaf, and more with the stars and stripes, as the United States takes on Belgium in the World Cup round of 16 this afternoon. As I’ve done a few times during this World Cup, I started the morning with a run, wearing my US Soccer jersey. As was the case in all my previous runs, I received looks of confusion from passers-by. It wouldn’t be strange if I, a Canadian, wore an Italian jersey or a Portuguese jersey or a Brazilian jersey or a Dutch jersey, but an American one? Madness!
In this multicultural country of Canada, and specifically in the hyper-multicultural city of Toronto, it’s no surprise to see jerseys and car flags of countries other than Canada during the World Cup. Yet somehow, an American jersey is viewed as an oddity, and I think it has less to do with soccer than national identities.
It feels as though it’s perfectly alright for Canadians to flaunt pride in their “homeland,” but somehow it’s not okay to support the United States. Why? Because we as Canadians have a hard time defining ourselves, except when emphasizing that we’re most definitely not American. We have our public healthcare and our pacifism and our gun control laws, so we can’t possibly have anything in common with those loud-mouthed, fat-bellied, armed-to-the-teeth Americans. But the truth is, we’re more like America than any other nation on Earth. Of course we have our differences in politics, culture, and society, but we’re more alike than we are different. We have similar lifestyles, eat similar food, listen to similar music, watch similar movies, drive similar cars (on the similar right side of the road), and have similar principles. We may have fought one war against the United States, but since then we’ve fought several alongside them.
I’m proud to be Canadian. I was born in this country, I’ve lived my whole life in this country, and I’m grateful for all that I have as a result of this country. Whenever Canada has played the United States, or any other country in soccer, I’ve cheered for Les Rouges, and will continue to do so. But here’s the thing – Canada hasn’t qualified for a World Cup since 1986, our only ever appearance in the tournament. That’s an abysmal record, one that Canadians shouldn’t stand for. It’s unacceptable for a nation of our size and strength to not even qualify for the biggest sporting event in the world. It’s not good enough to be good at hockey and little else.
I would love to travel to a World Cup, clad in red, and cheer on the Canadian Men’s National Team, but I’ve never had the chance (I was not yet two-years-old when Canada participated in the 1986 tournament). In the meantime, I fully intend on enjoying the World Cup, but unlike some Canadians who choose to fall back on their Nonna’s country of origin, my homeland is Canada. My parents immigrated to Canada from India and our lineage reaches back to what is now Iran, but I have zero affinity for either nation.
And so, I cheer for the USMNT, as I did during the last World Cup. I want to see America do well on soccer’s biggest stage for a number of reasons. First, I like their players. Clint Dempsey is a skilled forward, Tim Howard is a solid goalkeeper, Kyle Beckerman has incredible hair, and Michael Bradley is a quality midfielder, even though he’s been far from his best during this tournament. Second, I like the way the US plays. They don’t have the fluidity and passing rhythm of the game’s top teams, but they play with skill and grit. More importantly to me, they don’t flop and dive and whine and brandish imaginary cards in front of the referee like oh so many other teams. Third, the growth of soccer in America means a stronger domestic league, which means more competitive, higher quality soccer for Canada’s three MLS teams, all of which have academies that develop Canadian players. Lastly, more interest in American soccer means stronger NCAA soccer programs, where Canadian up-and-comers can further develop their skills – like Christine Sinclair did at the University of Portland.
I cheer for the USMNT because their success can bolster Canadian soccer. I think more Canadians should be doing the same. Put away those Colombian and German and Argentinean and Nigerian car flags, and slap on a star-spangled banner. They’re our greatest trading partner, our greatest ally, and our only neighbour, even if they don’t spell neighbour the same way we do.
Regardless of what happens today in Salvador, I’m happy and proud to say that I support the USMNT. They’ve given me some wonderful moments to relish during this World Cup, and even during their qualifying campaign, like the snow game against Costa Rica, and the “dos a cero” result against Mexico.
I’ve befriended and collaborated with some amazing Americans in the last couple of years, and I hope that today I can share with them another moment of joy.
Come on you Yanks!
Oh, and Happy Canada Day too!