If Canadians are honest with themselves they will realize that our soccer rivalry with the United States is more than a little bit one-sided.
Whereas we Canucks can work ourselves up into a fury of indignation over Atiba Hutchinson being robbed of a good goal in the 2007 Gold Cup or Americans overstating the importance of scraping by Algeria at the last possible second in South Africa, Americans are pretty much indifferent about us.
It’s classic little brother stuff: I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, but why won’t you pay attention to me? The truth is Canada has given the US very little reason to pay attention. While they have gained a foothold in the sport in the 18 years since USA 94, Canada has spun its wheels. Once a proud soccer nation that punched above its weight class, Canada is now a punch line.
Actually, if it wasn’t for America opening its league up to Canadian expansion in 2006, we’d probably be in worse shape than we are already. If anything the Canadian soccer fan should be thanking their American cousins, not cursing them.
Neither sports nor the complicated relationship Canadians have with the United States works that way, of course. Whether logical or not, cheering against Uncle Sam is deeply encoded in Canuck DNA. As stated, American reaction to Canadian soccer has mostly been to make the odd “America’s hat” joke, or to walk around saying “A-boot” in exaggerated tones. However, there hasn’t been much evidence of the deep rooted, mutual hate that makes sports rivalries so damn illogical (and fun!).
But, maybe that’s changing. During Canada’s U23 game against Cuba Monday in Nashville, it was clear that the American fans that were at the game were cheering for Cuba. Part of it was strategic—a Cuban result could help the Americans get out of the qualifying group—but there seemed to be more too it.
The crowd wasn’t just cheering for Cuba (a bizarre geopolitical phenomena on its own, it must be said).
They were cheering against Canada. Loudly. Out of spite. Maybe big brother is finally paying attention to us after all!
It makes sense. The biggest factor in the creation of a rivalry is familiarity. Ironically, the more alike two nations are the more likely they will hate each other on the sporting field.
Additionally, when fans interact a lot it’s natural that bad blood will arise. Although Canada and the USA don’t play each other a lot at the senior level, it’s a different story with the youth teams. There, the match-up is quite common. It’s also less one-sided, which contributes to American fans seeing Canada as something closer to an equal and thus worthy of scorn.
The biggest factor, however, lies outside international soccer. It’s MLS play, where three USA versus Canada match-ups take place almost every week. A US national team fan from Columbus dislikes Canada because she dislikes Toronto FC. The Timbers Army member cheers against the Canucks because he has issues with the Southsiders.
Some fans may protest that this isn’t a good thing. We all know how fan rivalry can get out of hand and we understand why the game in North America cannot allow for some of the uglier aspects of fan culture to creep into our experience. The thing is most fans are able to compartmentalize sports hate from real hate.
We shouldn’t allow the actions of a small minority dictate our overall attitudes. The truth is sports needs rivalries. It’s good for the game and it helps drive interest. In turn, Canadian soccer needs the Americans to treat us as rivals.
Having the big, bad Yanks as a target can only improve the game here as we work to overcome them. The emergence of the USA v Mexico rivalry over the past 10 years has likely benefited both countries as they both drive each other to get better.
Canada needs the USA to be its Mexico. Hopefully the jeering in Nashville was just the start of a long and hateful relationship.