Patriotism has always been an awkward subject in my life, especially in regards to the United States of America. In part, I feel that this is due to my upbringing, which involved moving around quite a bit to different countries prior to my middle school years. Sure, I always attended American or International schools instead of local schools but regardless, I spent many impressionable years in places where American culture was not the dominating force that it is in places such as, well, America. At times, I have thought about how odd it is that I have ended up living in this country and becoming an American citizen, as our family had a choice of places to immigrate to during the early 1990s. My parents have always maintained that we decided on coming to the States since my sister and I loved the United States so much.
I love this country, I really do, but I never am very open about my patriotism. I don't own an American flag, don't particularly celebrate Fourth of July in any way that ties into my love of this country and never sing the Star Spangled Banner, except at hockey games. I think that as an insider of a country, you tend to get a view of the bad parts of a country and perhaps that turns you off in regards to being all "rah rah" about your patriotism. There are many other countries I am a fan of, such as Canada, Denmark or the Netherlands and since I don't know as much about those places, I can filter out the bad and just think positively about them.
I'm sure my readers are wondering why I'm talking about patriotism in late August. There are no big national holidays this weekend, nor have I just received my citizenship. I'm talking about patriotism because I want to talk about the one thing in this country that does really help me reinforce my love for this country in a very loud, brash and mainstream way. I am talking about the United States men's national (soccer) team, which I will intermittently refer to as the USMNT from this point out.
I've often felt that people are sometimes a little surprised that I cheer for the USMNT so passionately. I spent my early teenage years as a massive Anglophile, yet never felt like cheering for England. Sure, I have my other national teams that I cheer for, but that's only when the US are not involved. After all, outside of football and hockey, I don't cheer for the US in anything. I could care less how this country does at the Olympics, although part of that is probably rooted in my overall dislike of the Olympics but that's a topic for another time. I'm not sure when I started following the USMNT as I know that I wasn't a passionate fan of them during World Cup '94. Sure, I was pissed off when Leonardo destroyed Tab Ramos' face but I wasn't devastated when the US lost on that Fourth of July. It must've happened sometime between that World Cup and World Cup '98, which was a complete farce. But even then, I distinctly remember following the fortunes of Scotland and somehow only catching the United States' opening defeat against Germany.
The run up to World Cup 2002 was definitely when I started to become very passionate about this team. Perhaps it was sensing that we were actually decent and while facing Portugal in our opening match scared the crap out of me, it turned out to be one of the happiest sporting moments in my life. Even when we went up 1-0, I thought I was going to cry but going up 3-0 was just beyond the realm of possibility.
So, I've cited examples of watching this team through the years but I don't feel like I've properly explained why this team means something to me, why outside of Les Canadiens, this is the team that I get most worked up watching, that gives me the most joy and the most anger. Perhaps it comes down to cheering for "my team", that as an American, this is the team I get and that it would be folly to willy nilly pick a random country. I'm a Canadiens fan because I've never lived anywhere near an NHL team, thereby giving me the freedom to choose whomever I'd like to choose. Perhaps another part of this is that this matters. Major tournaments for the United States only come around every couple of years and the matches matter, unlike a mid season game against the worst team in the league in hockey, basketball or baseball.
Maybe I'm really only here to say that I still have no idea exactly why this team makes me feel so patriotic but it really does. Oh, and they frustrate me at times, which is a great sign in sports as it means that I care.