In the past, it was easy for me to root against Imperialist teams, but that math gets more complicated as those teams change. Parisian star Kylian Mbappé is the son of a Cameroonian father and an Algerian mother. Canadian Alphonso Davies was born in a refugee camp in Ghana. Twelve of the 26 players on the American team are black, as much as the 1994, 1998 and 2002 teams combined.
One of them, Sergiño Dest, was born in the Netherlands to a white Dutch mother and an American father whose ancestry dates back to Suriname. In the 38th minute of the game on Tuesday, Dest headed the ball past Christian Pulisic, a white American considered the best player in the country, who pushed him into the goal to give the United States a 1-0 lead.
“UNITED STATES!” the crowd around me chanted, exchanging high fives and yelps. I also clapped, raising my arms in triumph and pride for the country to which my Filipino elders immigrated.
When the Iran-US match started, I estimated that I was one of three people of color in a bar filled with almost a hundred people. Then, as the second half began, two others sat down next to me, Bassel Heiba Elfeky and Billy Strickland, graduate students at NYU in Boston for a physics lecture. I quickly understood that Elfeky supported Iran. He spoke quietly, quietly at first, gradually rising to tenor as the game intensified in its final minutes, with the United States desperately clinging to their lead. When the rest of the bar groaned over a United States imposed penalty, he pumped his first. As the rest of the bar cheered for an American corner, he shook his head.
“Going to the United States doesn’t sound right to me,” said Elfeky, who grew up in Egypt and moved to the United States for college. “They have a lot of money. And men earn more than women, even though women are so much better. Then you have Iran, which is a complete underdog.
Strickland, who grew up in Los Angeles and is of part Japanese descent, said he would support Team Japan over Team USA if they faced each other. Elfeky said he still roots against the United States men’s soccer team.
“At the end of the day, they play a very boring game,” he said of their tactical style.
In the dying minutes, the United States fended off an Iranian shot that looked set to tie the game, and Elfeky let out a “fucking shit”. When the final whistle sounded, sealing the victory for USA, he sighed, shrugged and said, “It was a good game. Both teams played hard, helped each other off the grass and demonstrated the camaraderie that leads people to say sport transcends politics. In an Instagram jobAmerican player Tim Weah would call the Iranian players “an inspiration” for how they “showed so much pride and love for their country and their people”.
Elfeky bore the familiar disappointment to any fan forced to acknowledge that justice rarely prevails in sports. As others around them had celebratory glasses of whiskey, he and Strickland put on their jackets and backpacks and left. Soon, Iranian players would also be at home, to face whatever lies ahead. ●