Thursday, March 4, 2010

My most Controversial post - EVER

2010 is a World Cup year! I've already washed and pressed my 3 Italian soccer jerseys and 1 USA Jersey and they are ready to go. It's in June.

Someone asked me who I would cheer for if it came down to USA v Italy in the World Cup Final. Now I haven't examined the brackets to see if this is even possible but let's talk theoretically here...

Country of my birth versus country of origin (1st generation)? Hmm.

First of all, this was in a bar. In Raleigh. So the NASCAR fan who asked me doesn’t know soccer from bocce. But I did give it some thought. For all of 30 seconds.

Italy. Of course.

Here is why:

There are 300 million Americans, roughly. Maybe 10% will notice there is a World Cup this summer. Well, a lot more will notice if it’s on network TV and pre-empts the Bachelor or Desperate Housewives of Onondaga County. Maybe 5% can name a player on the US Men’s National Soccer Team (50% of which will say Tony Meola) and maybe 1% of can name all 12 starters*.

There are 60 million Italians. 100% care about the fate of the Italian National Team. And by care I mean enough that a loss ruins their day, their week and maybe their month. Even the old shrunken Nonnas with their socks bunched around their ankles and their black shawls raise a gnarled fist of joy when the Azzurri win a national team game.

Why am I a traitor to the country of my birth? Knowing full well that if my parents didn't leave Calabria I'd be living above them in the same house with my 3rd-cousin husband and 3 kids in the village I was born in and will never leave? I should bemore grateful.

Because maybe 10 million or so Americans will even notice a USA World Cup Victory for all of 5 minutes. Maybe 1 million will dance around like idiots for a few hours dumping beer on their USA jerseys (barring meeting Italy in the final, I’d be one of those). Then on Monday, it’d all be forgotten except for a dull headache…

It would mean more to more people for a longer period of time in Italy then it would here - national hero stuff for them. While for us Americans, even die-hard fans need to admit, it’s the 5th sport or even 6th or 7th if you throw in golf and NASCAR (which now that I live in NC, I think it may be ranked higher than that).

In Italy, 60 million Italians are still celebrating the 2006 victory.

Case in point - my earliest memory. I'm 6 years old. We were visiting Hamilton, Ontario - a very Italian town and it was a world cup year - 1982. I remember the adults all being very excited but very tense about something. I was 6, I didn’t care, I wanted to go play outside. It was eerily quiet. Then the neighborhood exploded. A guy came running out of his house waving a huge Italian flag screaming ITALIA! ITALIA! I was terrified. I thought Italy had declared war on Canada. What actually happened is that Italy had just won the World Cup. Whatever it was, the joy was infectious and I caught the soccer bug right then and there.

Fast forward to 1994 – my nose is an inch from the screen watching as Roberto Baggio misses a penalty kick and loses the Cup for Italy to Brazil. I was mentally and physically exhausted. I felt like I had played in that game.

Now to 2006. I’m AT the World Cup in Germany - USA v Italy game. Tie 1-1. The cosmos aligned. I was neither happy nor sad but disappointed in both my teams. All around - a typical soccer fan mood.

Watching soccer is emotional. Most people don’t get the game. Its 90 minutes of pent up energy broken up by a goal or two or 3 or 4 if you are really lucky. Each team can only substitute a couple of players. It’s a HUGE field, a football field fits inside. No time outs. One short halftime. Refereeing is still pretty subjective thanks to the way the laws are written (yes, soccer has laws not rules). It’s grueling to play, and when the World Cup is on the line, grueling to watch your team.

I can’t wait till June. Go Ameritaly!

*That was a trick, you see...there are 11 players on a soccer team. Outside of soccer crazy lands of DC, Boston, LA or places where there are lots of immigrants, I still hold to my premise that most American’s don’t have a clue about soccer past their own or their kid’s house league days.

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