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The Big Pitcher – Hate and War

Photo Credit: Eduardo Verdugo/AP

Editor's Note: Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but It bends toward justice”. Sometimes we American soccer fans get wrapped up in the day-to-day, Monday morning quarterbacking (or centerbacking), knee-jerk reactions and miss out on the big picture. This weekly column will focus on picking out the larger themes and issues of Major League Soccer and the American game.

By Eric BettsSenior Crystal Ball Correspondent

International matches have always been an opportunity to adopt a little of the jingoism my enlightened, 21st century perspective would never allow me to ordinarily feel. To hell with Brazilians, Italians are worthless, what have the English ever done for us (Apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health)?

This is a common and occasionally problematic phenomenon in international soccer, though not typically here, where the announcement of a friendly with Russia is 1,000 times more likely to set off a wave of Rocky IV references (guilty) than of proxy wars or missile crises. England still occasionally plays Germany, and when they do it seems half the populace genuinely believes it’s 1939 or 1982 while the other half is desperately waving their smartphones and pointing at the Gherkin to remind them that it’s not.

But Mexico is different, at least for me. I grew up in a part of the country that began experiencing its first big wave of immigration from Mexico and Central America right as I hit my teenage years. I heard people say and really mean of these new Hispanics coming into our small town the kind of things I would say jokingly about Belgians. Nobody I know hates Belgians, so that seemed safe. But cursing Mexicans for being Mexicans? That’s a little too close to real life. So for years, the passions of this particular rivalry seemed just a little too extreme for me. I rooted for a win and a good performance, not the utter destruction of the hopes and dreams of a nation of loathsome wretches.

Now it seems many, including Herculez Gomez, feel the rivalry is tilting that direction on its own. The cartoon villains and heroes – the Borgettis and the Lalases and the other guys who could just as easily have waged their never-ending battle for continental supremacy (Sorry, Canada) via a Saturday morning TV series – have fallen away. In a certain light, Rafa Marquez become less utter embarrassment to the game and more of the last of a dying breed, a lone-wolf commando deep behind enemy lines wreaking havoc on American soccer from the inside, a Sólido Serpiente with less stealth and more stock faces of righteous indignation.

Nowadays, the players each side collectively hates the most are really just the ones we each fear the most: Dos Santos and Chicharito, Landon Donovan and his weak bladder. Maybe this game seemed more subdued because Donovan were still off on the Spider-Man 2 phase of his career, hanging up the supersuit so he could try living life as just plain old Landon. (Even Spider-Man’s villains all like Peter Parker.) Or maybe it’s because it just seems a lot easier to work up the appropriate level of bile for a big-time international rivalry when the enemy looks like this rather than this

Part of it may be that that second face looks very much like one that could be starring for our team. The number of dual-nationals in the both the full squad and youth programs has risen to the point that stories like this one on Omar Gonzalez and mystique of the Azteca will either disappear entirely or proliferate to the point that they dominate the entire soccer media landscape, Agent Smith-style.

This could take the rivalry one of two ways:

1) A continuing cooling of temperatures like the one we’re experiencing now as players grow up together, play on youth teams in either country with one another and find themselves on the same teams in MLS, Liga MX or in Europe, or

2) The idea of two teams full of Giuseppe Rossi’s meeting in Gold Cups and WCQ’s for decades to come inspires fanbases to new levels of passion and vitriol. Either way, I’m excited for the first Mexican-media article about an American-born Mexican player and the aura that surrounds Crew Stadium.

Personally, I think one seems more likely. The goals of these teams have evolved over time., Being called the best team on the continent is something of a backhanded compliment for two fanbases who are hoping to see their teams move into the world’s elite. Mexican fans think they have a chance because they’ve won everything else at the lower levels; U.S. fans because we’re always holding out hope that the team’s just about to turn the corner. Beating each other will always be especially nice, but in order to be considered successful, they’ll have to beat plenty of other teams as well.

Like those damn, dirty Dutch. I never did like the Dutch.

About Eric

Eric Betts is a freelancer writer who lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and his dog Lando (yup). He is a contributing writer for “The Other 87 Minutes”, their brilliance featured every Tuesday on the Free Beer Movement in the form of “the Tuesday 10” or the “Tuesday XI”. While attending the Emory University he won “College Jeopardy”

Tags: Big Pitcher, Eric Betts, USMNT

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