For some Canadians, deciding whether to support England or the USA in their opening Group C match this Saturday will be the easiest choice they'll make all year. The "anybody-but-the-Americans" crowd is sure to be out in force across Canada on June 12th, especially with the Olypmic Gold Medal hockey game still buzzing in the collective sporting memory. And the "anybody-but-England" Scottish ex-pats will have the extra motivation of Glasgow Rangers' DeMarcus Beasley and Maurice Edu playing for the US (Celtic supporters will hesitate for a moment before kick off, then pick up the Stars and Stripes).
Canadians of course are wedged between the two national identities: the British one that writes the 'u' next to the 'o' despite resistance from Microsoft Word's spellcheck, and the American one that has to get out a calculator to figure out what time '19:30' is supposed to be. Who we are at any given moment depends on context; Canadians in the US tend to cling to a haughty, socially-concerned Englishness, while overseas we enjoy screaming out baseball box scores between ordering Dr. Pepper at the local pub.
When it comes to soccer though, Canada has traditionally leaned toward England. Canadian newspapers featured English First Division tables as far back as before the turn of the last century, often under the heading "Old Country Soccer." Today the Premier League is vastly popular in Canada, having provided many younger viewers their first exposure to the professional game in Europe through programs like TSN's Soccer Saturday. For a long time, lower league English clubs were the number one destination for young Canadian soccer talents. Plus they had, you know, Owen Hargreaves.
Times are changing though. With the advent of Major League Soccer in 1996, Canadian soccer players like Dwayne De Rosario started to make their names south of the border. Many Canadians play for US colleges in the hope of professional careers either in America or overseas. And since Toronto FC's first season in 2007, our ties to US soccer have strengthened; Americans like Sam Cronin and Chad Barrett are well-liked in Toronto (that is when they score, Chad), and TFC has featured US-capped players in the past, like Marvell Wynne and Maurice Edu. A significant American contingent will also play for both the Vancouver Whitecaps in their first season in 2011 and the Montreal Impact in 2012.
It doesn't hurt that the US and Canada are in the same FIFA confederation, CONCACAF. We play together under the same odd WC qualification format (now under review), and we've both grown to both hate it as friends. And many Team Canada fans, forced to suffer through Canada's floundering attempts at qualification (including those ever-pleasant losses to Honduras), eventually decide to support the US as our North American World Cup stand-in.
Still, supporting the US over England is for many Canadians akin to taking the Queen off our currency and replacing her with a picture of a Big Mac. But if you're going to go for the US, this is the time to do it. They're underdogs, and Canada loves underdogs (except against us in international hockey). Plus both teams could conceivably lose the opening match and still progress; history tells us that the team that flounders in the group stages of the tournament often goes on to win the whole thing, so, really, both teams will emerge winners (except in a draw, but that won't happen with John Terry at the back, will it?).
But if you still can't decide which team to root for, may I suggest supporting the Brazilian ref? Apparently if he makes it to twenty-minutes without flashing a red card at an injured player, you'll know he's won.
Photo: Getty Images