With each fallen snowflake on a blustery Friday night just outside of Denver, the United States men's soccer team gave American fans a crucial 1-0 victory in a World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica—and a memory none of us will soon forget.
With three points in their pocket, Jurgen Klinsmann and his squad must turn all their attention to Mexico and the chance to create another unforgettable memory this Tuesday. Still, that scene—that moment—in Denver was pretty special.
There have been games in wind and snow before, but it's hard to recall a game with so much wind and so much snow, with so much on the line for both teams.
Surely the game became more memorable for American soccer fans after the final whistle, as the result for the U.S. meant the team—and fans—could exhale a bit before the nearly impossible task of trying to defeat Mexico at the Azteca just four days later.
As the playing conditions worsened on Friday night, the game seemed to draw more and more interest from both casual soccer fans and curious looky-loos around the country, many of whom turned away from the NCAA tournament for a few moments to watch the snowy spectacle.
ESPN's Bill Simmons tweeted, "Who would have thought a World Cup qualifier would be today's must-see sporting event? SNOWY SOCCER IN HD!"
Soccer fan or not, the game was one of those crossover events in sports that had people tuning in just for the wow factor of it all.
Of course, when any sporting event crosses beyond that game's core fans to include the general sports-viewing populous, the haters, malcontents and trolls invariably find their way into the conversation.
ESPN columnist and Around the Horn yapper J.A. Adande decided to play the role of soccer contrarian on Twitter Friday night, in a repeated attempt to joke at the expense of those who care about soccer in America.
In most cases, when an epic duel is being waged in front of you, it's easy to ignore the jester on the edge of the grandstand, jingling his bells for a modicum of personal attention and self-satisfaction.
On Friday, Adande's comments did not warrant more than a pithy quip back. In advance of the enormous match against Mexico on Tuesday, however, his comments deserve a bit more dissection.
It's one thing to rip the sport of soccer for being boring, or not having enough scoring, or for the flopping—things fans of the sport dislike as well—but it's another issue altogether to rip on American soccer fans by calling them snobs.
It's not 1985 anymore. Find a new insult.
Adande's discourteous assault on the American soccer fans—during a match with so much on the line and so much general interest because of the blizzard in which the game was played—was a feeble attempt at trying to get people like, well, me, to take our attention away from the game and onto him.
It wouldn't have worked if his insults weren't so antiquated and wrong-headed. Calling an American soccer fan a snob is like making fun of a basketball player for wearing short shorts.
The idea of real American soccer fans being snobs is a remnant of a bygone era in this country where, yes, fans were snobs about their sport being the most popular in the world but barely noticed in their own country.
The snobbery of the previous generation was an adaptation of European (read: British) sports sensibilities and a hackneyed defense mechanism that backfired on those who used it, setting back the growth and development of the sport in this country for more than a decade.
Those people still exist, somewhere on the fringes of the growing group of supporters in this country, but they are far outnumbered in today's American soccer culture.
In truth, American soccer fans are not snobs. American soccer fans have too big an inferiority complex to be snobs.
American soccer fans are ostensibly sports outcasts in their own country, mocked and pilloried for years by fans of more traditional, ahem, American sports like football, baseball and basketball. The American soccer fan is, at best, a fourth-class citizen in this country, up from seventh or eighth class less than a generation ago.
Whenever soccer is on ESPN or NBC or FOX or one of the other major television networks in lieu of more traditional American sports, the barrage of hate toward the sport and those who care to watch it is enormous.
Despite being the most popular sport on the planet, the old American bully mentality, perpetuated by Adande and others like him, has made most soccer fans in America go to great lengths to specifically avoid those arguments that created the snob mentality of years gone by.
Very few people are putting up the "you just don't understand the sport" fight anymore. It's a waste of time, and a hopeless argument in the first place.
There's nothing about soccer to not understand for anyone willing to pay attention for five seconds. One team is trying to score in that goal while defending this goal. After 90 minutes, with a short break halfway through, the team with the most goals wins. If both teams have the same number of goals, in most cases, they shake hands and call it a draw.
Oh, and only the guy with the gloves can use his hands.
That's soccer. It's not hard to understand, and those "snobs" who used to tell people it was as a mechanism to defend a sport they had grown to love have by-and-large disappeared.
Soccer fans today see through the gambit that non-soccer fans are playing, and don't care to buy in. Yet some of Adande's replies served to perpetuate those stereotypes of American soccer fans, including the old adage that soccer fans want the rest of America to watch the sport, then complain when they don't know anything about it.
That is utterly ridiculous and patently false. For starters, current American soccer fans could not care any less about those fans who don't like the sport. As I wrote last year, TV networks care about soccer now, so American fans of the game no longer need to convince casual fans to watch so they will put more matches on TV.
The matches are there, and there's plenty to watch on the other networks when they are on.
Second, there is not one soccer fan in America who would not embrace a new fan who wants to learn the game or root for the country's national team.
These "snobby" fans who mock new supporters for not knowing enough about the game simply do not exist in today's soccer society. Especially with the national team, if you want to hold up an American flag and join in, by all means hop on the bandwagon. There is plenty of room.
As for MLS, America's professional soccer league, they have swarms of people working in the league office and stationed with each team who are expressly concerned with growing the game in this country and finding new fans.
Nobody in American soccer is turning new fans away.
Fans' Inferiority Complex
Defensive? Sure, American soccer fans are defensive, in part because they have an inferiority complex in both their own country and their own sport.
American soccer is, on level of quality, inferior to the traditional powerhouse nations around the globe. No wins in friendly matches in Italy or strong showings in France will do much to change the world's perception of American soccer until they can consistently do it on the world's stage in matches that matter.
In 2009, the U.S. men's team had a real chance to send an international message at the FIFA Confederations Cup. After beating Spain 2-0 to get to the tournament final, the U.S. held a 2-0 halftime lead over Brazil before giving up three goals in the second half, falling 3-2 in defeat.
Sadly, what looked like the start of something special in American soccer turned out to be a bit of a mirage, with the men's national team needing a miracle just to get out of the group stage of the 2010 World Cup before flaming out in extra time of the first game in the knockout round to Ghana.
Since then, the U.S. has changed coaches, styles and most of the players, all while plummeting in the world rankings (the United States was 11th in the FIFA World Rankings in August 2009 and are 33rd in the same rankings in March 2013).
No country around the world truly fears playing the United States these days, and fans of the traditional powers have been given little reason to consider the American product on their esteemed level.
While MLS is markedly better than it was a decade ago, it's still viewed as a lower-tier league around the world, not close to the European power leagues or even the top South American leagues, all of which get better ratings on American television than our own domestic soccer product.
If soccer is a fourth-class citizen among American sports, American soccer can only hope for that standing within its own sport.
Real American soccer fans understand this. We wear this around our necks like a scarf.
Oh, right, the scarves. The snobbiest of all outdoor garments. I'll give you that.
"Field" vs. "Pitch"
I can't really defend the scarves as anything but snobby when worn in the dead of summer, but the supporters scarf is unique to the sport and a bit classier than, say, putting a tank top over a shirt. Besides, other soccer (sorry, football) traditions are often misunderstood as snobbery when they are really just a simple sign of respect for those traditions that have been in place for generations.
A field is still a field, even if it may be called a pitch or a park. Soccer cleats are often referred to as boots, even though you can't do much shoveling or digging in them. A jersey is a kit, and no, it doesn't come with a needle, thread and thimble.
A game here is a match elsewhere. What we call soccer the rest of the world calls football because, well, that one just makes sense.
When we play the game here, we put on our jerseys and our cleats and get on the soccer field. When we watch an European or World Cup match, they put on their kit and boots and head out to the football pitch.
Calling the field the pitch or soccer football isn't being a snob—it's respecting the traditions of the game (sorry, match) we are watching. That's what they call it, so that's what we should too.
Are European basketball fans not allowed to call the key the "paint" because that's what we call it and they should have their own words? Should a steal be a grip or a swipe somewhere else?
Even with that, are there truly American soccer fans out there who mock someone for calling the surface a field? Find me that American. Seriously, I'll wait.
The nature of any global sport creates a culture whereby terms assimilate across language barriers. A "golazo" is a really awesome goal no matter where it happens. Overused as it may be, it doesn't make you a snob to use the term. OK, maybe a tad haughty, but not a full-blown snob.
Moreover, do you go to another country and demand those people speak English to you or do you buy Rosetta Stone or a translation dictionary to attempt, however meekly, to assimilate to their culture? Isn't that all American soccer fans are doing?
If you go to someone's home and they ask you to take off your shoes, do you do it? If you think it's a favorable custom to what you do in your house, isn't it OK to adopt?
Would that make you a snob, or just less of a slob?
Yes, there are soccer fans who try their best to rankle American football fans by calling the sport football whenever they can. Yes, that's pretty obnoxious, but it's far from the norm these days and it's ridiculous to assert otherwise. The traditional soccer snobs in America are a dying breed.
In a rather circuitous way, this all leads back to Mexico and Tuesday's World Cup qualifier at Estadio Azteca. The last few months under Klinsmann have been a transitional phase for the national team, but also a bit of a transition for fans as well.
It's About Winning, Not Posing
American soccer is done putting on airs. There are no more moral victories, no "good result" that comes without any points. For decades, the perception was that the team was almost ready to compete with the world powers, but now, as far down as the team may have fallen, we all know what we are at this point.
More importantly, there are no more excuses—not from the team and not from the fans. The only thing that matters in World Cup qualifying is getting to Brazil.
There are no points for style. There is no need for divisiveness or, frankly, trolling fans when they're trying to enjoy an epic sporting event on Friday night, or getting nervous for an enormous upcoming match on Tuesday.
Does this happen in other places, or with other sports? Isn't nationalism through sports one of the last unifying factors we have in this politically broken country? Pardon the over-the-top nature of this question, but isn't it a tad unpatriotic to deride fans of one of the few national teams that really matters in American sports?
Who, really, is being the snob here?
If the USMNT beats Mexico at the Azteca, call us whatever the hell you want. When the World Cup comes to Brazil next year and the U.S. is representing us on the world's stage, we'll be celebrating in the South American sun.
You have fun under a bridge.