Monson: Are you an ugly American? No, just inferior
Before we get started here, there will be no over-the-top preaching in this column, no disparaging mention of ugly Americans, no cramming of fanaticism down anyone's mug.
Some otherwise hardcore American sports fans won't give a flying rip about the U.S. Men's National Team facing El Salvador at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday in a World Cup qualifier.
Especially not with college football largely launching on the same day.
Even here in Utah, where spectators can watch that match firsthand, and where it has gotten daily front-page coverage in this section, the greater focus of fans will be on BYU's season opener against Oklahoma in Dallas.
No big surprise there.
But, in the specific, the National Team, as it is known, deserves to be noticed and, in the general, it's about time soccer is embraced, or at least appreciated, by the stubbornly reluctant, the haters, and you know who you are. Hey, now, don't you turn your back on me, young man.
I don't know what it is about soccer that seems so divisive. It's an endeavor absolutely adored, or minimally tolerated, by the rest of the world, and, it is loved in some corners here, too, but scorned, ridiculed and, even worse, ignored among a whole lot of other American fans.
Why so much ridicule? Why so much scorn?
Many football fans aren't too keen on baseball, but they respect the sport, even if they don't follow it closely. Ask football fans here what they think about soccer, and ... well, the discussion could turn downright abusive.
That's true among fans, and it's true among the sports media.
Maybe it's because the game belongs to the world, and in the United States we like our sports homegrown. We like to take complete ownership of the whole deal. It's a real sport when we say it's a real sport, not a second before. It's a real sport when we sell out large stadiums to watch it from purple mountain's majesty to sea to shining sea.
When we lose to Mexico or Ghana or, heaven forbid, El Salvador, then the entire pursuit becomes boring, not worthwhile, even illegitimate. When many of our best national players ply their trade in better foreign leagues than in our own pro league, when, as The Salt Lake Tribune reported on Wednesday, 14 of the roster's 24 players are employed overseas, that can be taken one of two ways: by surprise, that American players are improving enough to play in the English Premier League, or by reinforcing what fans already know, that this country remains a soccer backwater.
When it comes to sports, Americans loathe any kind of competitive backwater, particularly when comparing themselves to athletes and leagues in other countries.
If we're not better than the French, what's the use?
The sport must be flawed.
But here's the thing: The sport isn't flawed.
Well, except for too many ties and the horrendous flopping and theatrics put on by players who, if they get slightly bumped, fall to the grass as though they've been shot by a howitzer.
American sports fans, rightfully, don't tolerate babies and floppers and thespians. Be tough, play the game hard, and walk off the field with mud on the outside and dignity and self-respect inside.
I believe, and have written previously, that soccer will one day flourish in this country. The path to that point is littered though with hurdles and hatred, and rationalizations caused by a damaged psyche that can't handle inferiority caused by regular doses of defeat.
Maybe the National Team will beat El Salvador on Saturday, maybe it won't. But, even if any of us doesn't like soccer, that contest will be as legitimate as anything going on in Dallas, or in all the other college football stadiums from purple mountain's majesty to sea to shining sea.