It’s been a historic week in our Nation’s history.
As the results of the U.S. Presidential election have shown in the days that have followed, there remains a lot of division — and it’s going to take some time and work for us to do to feel a great sense of unity as a country.
In Columbus, Ohio tonight, the United States Men’s soccer team begins its quest in the final round of World Cup 2018 Qualifying.
In the past four World Cup qualifying matches against Mexico, in nearby Columbus, home of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds 2016 Affiliate partners, Columbus Crew, the USMNT have beaten Mexico 2-0 — as the term “Dos a cero” has become a pretty cool rallying call for U.S. Soccer.
While I have been able to personally experience the home-field advantage that the U.S. enjoys in Columbus recently, reporting on U.S. 4-0 win over Guatamala, I am sitting out tonight’s clash as I do need a much needed night at home after what’s been a very busy stretch. Being that it’s just a short drive from Pittsburgh, there are a number of locals I know that will be making the trek.
If you are a soccer fan and/or player in the United States, this is our “Clasico” or Derby. This is the one match that U.S. (and Mexican) fans want to see win more than any other.
And you better believe I’ll be watching.
Of course, soccer fans in the U.S., while growing by leaps and bounds, still seem to be a secular group. In fact, many in the U.S. will barely notice that this game will even be taking place.
And that’s because as sports fans in the U.S. we are very provincial. And that couldn’t be more true than right here in Pittsburgh.
What happens in Pittsburgh — with the Penguins, Steelers, Pirates or Pitt, or with the local high school football games tonight, will take precedent over our National Men’s Soccer team playing in nearby Columbus, OH.
When Meghan Klingenberg, from Pine-Richland, became a key player for the U.S. Women’s team as they won the World Cup, more Pittsburghers took notice for a little while and that was nice.
In all, it’s a shame on some level that this game and this rivalry with Mexico is merely an afterthought in our region, because if every American experienced being at a game like this, they would feel an ever greater appreciation for our nation and this very special rivalry.
One of the main reasons why I love sports is what it can do to help bring our communities and our world together in positive ways.
Maybe we would need to have one of these games at Heinz Field.
Now wouldn’t that be something.
While in Mexico, this is the biggest sports story and its National Soccer team is one of the truly unifying symbols of that nation.
Columbus (a city with a Major League Soccer franchise) has really embraced these games. And now, for the fifth time, the U.S. will try to beat Mexico on a cold, Ohio night.
Recent history suggests that it will be tough battle, but the U.S. has its work cut out. Mexico finally beat the U.S. on our own soil in the FIFA Confederations Cup Qualifier last fall in front of more than 100,000 at the Rose Bowl. But the last time they were in the U.S., they left with a humiliating 7-0 loss to Chile in the quarterfinals of the Copa Centenario.
As the teams prepared for the game this week, the topic that couldn’t be avoided were the results of Tuesday night’s election.
“Football worldwide is a sport that connects people,” Klinsmann said. “It’s purely a sporting event. We have a lot of respect for Mexico and their people and their team. This is a wonderful side of sports that brings people together.”
In a statement issued by the American Outlaws to its 8,000 members (numerous members from Pittsburgh will be making the trip) who will be at the game is to that the theme of the night will be “to stand in support for inclusivity and respect.”
“Our organization has always prided itself on the passionate positivity that we’ve brought to our sections. Our actions, our chants, our members and their guests should focus on lifting up our team and its supporters rather than tearing down our opponents and their fans.
“As a massive 30,000+ organization we are certainly not without our flaws and our bad apples, but our group has always strived to learn, grow, and change so we can represent the best of our country: diversity, tolerance, and openness. We shall endeavor to be no different on Friday.”
U.S. captain Michael Bradley, who followed the election closely, hopes Friday night — Veterans Day — will be a special day.
“I would hope that our fans do what they always do, which is support our team in the best, most passionate way possible,” he said. “I would hope that they give every person in that stadium the respect that they deserve, whether they’re American, Mexican, neutral, men, women, children. I would hope that every person who comes to the stadium comes ready to enjoy what we all want to be a beautiful game between two sporting rivals that — again — have a lot of respect for each other.”
And while soccer has not reached the level in the United States where this game won’t galvanize all Americans, it can certainly help those watching, at the game and at home, to feel a sense of unity after what has been a tough election cycle which has produced results that have left many feeling uneasy.
Following Tuesday’s election, leaders on both sides (winners and losers — and our current President Barack Obama) have stressed unity — and coming together despite our differences.
A great way we often put aside our differences in our country, and often around the world, is through through sports.
Tonight would be a great start.