"Traitor," my high school sweetheart's father scoffed when I admitted to rooting for Mexico against the U.S. "Ingrate," my college boss said. "Fool," an ex-colleague remarked after some Dos a Cero match.
Throughout my life, I've had to explain to exasperated U.S. fans why I side with Mexico against their team. You know, Mexico, our fiercest rival in soccer and beyond, whose corrupt government forced my parents to flee 50 years ago to el Norte, where they created better lives for my siblings and me. "You should support the U.S.," these people whine. "You were born here."
"Exactly," I reply. "That's why I root for Mexico."
The reasons are simple: Mexicans on both sides of the border like winners (how American of us, right?), and Mexico has historically dominated the U.S. in soccer. And this World Cup, Mexico is in and the U.S. isn't -- for the first time since 1986.
Yes, we Mexican fans will blow our vuvuzelas extra loud this year, just to annoy the U.S. that much more. I feel for you, my fellow Americans, the humiliation is real. But I've got a simple solution: Join us.
Wake up and smell the tacos. With the U.S. out, El Tri are the only team that should matter to anyone who bleeds red, white and blue. So, Americans, be turncoats and repeat after me: ¡Viva México! With those easy words, you took the first step toward the most patriotic thing you'll do all year.
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Granted, rooting for Mexico is always political. But the agenda I offer isn't liberal or conservative. It's all about making the U.S. better -- by helping Mexico when it needs us most. And that means acknowledging some fundamental truths that Mexicans, Mexican-Americans and Americans have long avoided.
The most important one: Mexico is by far the most popular soccer team in los Estados Unidos. El Tri get twice as many TV viewers as the USMNT, and Mexican first-division matches whip MLS games by nearly the same margin. Because it often sells out NFL stadiums, the Mexican team has been forced to play four times as many friendlies in el Norte in the past decade as in Mexico, 61 to 15. On the same March day when El Tri played Croatia in front of a sold-out Cowboys stadium, the U.S. was lucky to get 10,000 in a stadium outside Raleigh, North Carolina, against Paraguay.
U.S. companies also desperately want a slice of the Mexican-American quesadilla. El Tri count as official sponsors an airline (Delta), a soda (Coca-Cola) and even a sour cream (Daisy) -- and sour cream isn't even Mexican!
Fox Sports, which paid $425 million for the English-language rights to el Mundial, created a #rootforyourroots campaign in an obvious play for Mexican-American viewers like me. Never mind that we'll all be watching Telemundo just to hear Andres Cantor's melodious goal call.
To support Mexico, then, is to support America's team. And what a team! Maybe the best Mexican squad ever. With exciting young wingers Hirving "Chucky" Lozano and Jesus "Tecatito" Corona, it dominated qualifying: six wins, three draws, one loss.
There's more! A successful Mexico means CONCACAF could finally boast its own World Cup champ, which would improve U.S. soccer culture and create a better squad. The next generation of U.S. players would learn from the El Tri way, not from the plodding side that couldn't even beat Trinidad and Tobago to qualify.
Americans love when chronic underachievers finally win it all, and Mexico offers a particularly good case. It has made every knockout stage since 1994; only powerhouses Germany and Brazil have done the same. But then Mexico goes on to lose in each round of 16, nearly always in heartbreaking fashion: 2-0 to the U.S. in 2002; a 20-yard golazo by Argentina in extra time in 2006; in 2014, two goals by the Dutch in the last six minutes.
Anguish doesn't begin to describe what fans like me have felt all our lives. Our only solace all these decades? Being better than the U.S., but even that's getting old.
Mexico is ready for victory, Americans. It can do without your support, but I'm confident your cheers will push El Tri over the top. And as FIFA officials mull which country will host World Cup 2026, there's a good chance a joint bid by Mexico, the U.S. and Canada could win. If we get it, we must show the world we can work together (with the Great White North serving as our mutual good-humored friend, as always).
And if the bid isn't successful? Let's show FIFA what it missed at this World Cup.
Maybe soccer isn't your thing, or my argument didn't sway you. Perhaps this will? If you join Mexico for the Mundial, you'll help patch up the most frayed relationship since Drake and Rihanna.
And we need to. Latinos are now the largest minority in the U.S., with Mexicans constituting a big chunk of that burrito. It's not good for Mexicans and Americans to keep viewing each other with skepticism. Only fútbol diplomacy can thaw our eternal cold war; nothing else has worked so far: trade agreements, Señor Frog's, Guillermo del Toro. Rooting together becomes an exorcism for both parties to forget the past.
Americans need to take the first step. They owe it to Mexicans, you know? There's that whole stole-half-our-country thing, and then there's Landon Donovan. Some things are unforgivable.
Gringos, jump into the fiesta! Enjoy a fantastic Mexican tailgate: the succulent carne asada tacos, the ice-cold caguamas (40-ounce beers), the brass bands we call banda sinaloense. Mexican fans will teach Americans every Spanish insult imaginable, including all the conjugates of madre (mother), the most vulgar word in our arsenal. (In exchange, may gringos teach Mexicans to stop using that homophobic chant during goal kicks, por favor.)
I confess: I root for the U.S. against Mexico from time to time. El Tri can get too complacent, and who better to offer a reality check? See how easy it is to cheer for your frenemy? So follow the Mexicans, Americans. The U.S. can only improve with an ascendant Mexico and vice versa. Let's have a great time together and hope the USMNT returns in 2022.
And if it doesn't? ¡Viva México!