The Real Reason There Were No American Players on the ‘Most Compelling Players’ List

June 12, 2014

I loved Tim Fernholz?s rousing argument that The New Republic should have included at least one American in its roster of World Cup players to watch. In fact, it?s exactly the sort of over-the-top, slightly myopic rant that any self-respecting soccer power should get from its fanatical supporters.

Hey, I’m rooting hard for the U.S. team, too. MLS is the league I watch and I regularly defend it against Premier and La Liga snobbery. As a Seattle Sounders fan I think Clint Dempsey is the Steve McQueen of soccer. Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore are terrific and Tim Howard is indeed magisterial. If the U.S. advances in this World Cup, it will be because Howard manages to keep his sheets cleaner than a Four Seasons. 

But The New Republic did not ask which players we were rooting for. We were asked to choose one compelling figure we thought could have an impact on the World Cup. None of us knew which players the others were choosing, or even which other writers were chiming in. Surely Tim wouldn?t suggest that, as an American, I must only be interested in American players. The U.S. is the thirteenth ranked team and we picked a total of eleven players, so is it really that shocking that no Americans showed up? (A bit more math: I wasn?t the only American writer; there were at least four.) 

But the larger question is whether suggesting that the U.S. (and therefore its players) might not have a big impact on the tournament is, as Tim argues, an ?example of the American media’s self-loathing relationship with soccer.?

Look, I’m a writer so I have no shortage of self-loathing, but it has nothing to do with soccer. Doesn’t it seem a little Fox News to blame the team?s hellacious draw and dicy outlook on the New York Times? It wasn?t the Times who said the U.S. team winning a World Cup was “not realistic.” That was their coach. And of all the things Americans have to worry about, “self-loathing” typically isn’t one of them. I don’t know, maybe it’s okay?even healthy?to remember that, sometimes, it’s just not about us

Still, let’s say Tim is right and the U.S. beats Germany, emerges from the Group of Death, and makes a deep run. No one will be happier than me. Surprised. Drunk. High-fiving my TV, but happy.

Jess Walter is the author of eight books, most recently the story collection We Live in Water and the bestselling novel Beautiful Ruins. He?s been a National Book Award finalist, won the Edgar Allan Poe Award, and had two own goals in a recent fathers-against-sons soccer match.

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