When Sepp Blatter claimed that soccer should be void of politics, all the while claiming that the Qatar and Russia selections for World Cup hosts had, in part, to do with international politics, the world laughed.
In reality, Blatter should have clarified, that, in fact, while soccer should not be used for political gain by politicians, the international game is in a unique position to affect international relationships, awareness and economics, and has a responsibility to do just that.
With the unrest in Egypt subsiding, the USSF should involve itself in a bit of international diplomacy, some of the diplomacy Sunil Gulati admitted was missing from their World Cup bid.
By rescheduling the U.S. vs. Egypt friendly that was scheduled for February 9, the federation could make significant gains within FIFA, for both countries' players, for their governments and for their people.
If Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, and Pele could do it for the French in the movie Victory, why can't Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and supporting cast get an entire stadium chanting?
Of course there's the possibility that the U.S. might end up playing villains for a day, but remakes don't necessarily need to be carbon copies of the originals. Still, an exhibition with Egypt gives the U.S. an opportunity to combine an international friendly against a recently competitive opponent with some positive public relations.
For good or bad, politics and soccer are inter-connected. Should the U.S...
First, the United States renews a much needed friendly against a decent opponent. The experience is needed as manager Bob Bradley combines a few of his younger players with the current squad.
Secondly, the U.S. should look to still schedule the game somewhere near Egypt, perhaps Turkey, in a difficult, away environment (even at a later date, Northern Africa doesn't seem like it will be ready to host a U.S. friendly any time soon).
And while both of these reasons are clearly sports related, the added political or "human interest" elements makes this endeavor worth pursuing.
The U.S. has a tenuous relationship with a number of Arab nations. But the young in Egypt looked to America, and in particular the White House, for support during their Jasmine Revolution. The administration took a cautious approach, and this approach combined with the United States' amenable relationship with Hosni Mubarak, leaves the U.S./Egyptian relationship with room for improvement.
What better way to improve relations than a game of soccer?
Like the 2022 World Cup coming to Qatar, such choices encourage exposure and conversation between nations. Even though Blatter bumbled his way through his political philosophies, direction and humanity-focused hopes for the international game, soccer can serve a positive, beneficial purpose in humanity's broader affairs.
Should the U.S. try to plan more friendlies with Middle Eastern teams?
It's all a matter of where, how and when.
An Egyptian friendly highlights the recent struggles and gains of people in the Middle East and Northern Africa. It reinforces the global relationships in the modern world. It invites a dialogue and opens up a public space for people that have long been excluded from an international community.
And it connects the United States—a place where these ideals gained traction, and at least symbolically, are embraced by the nation—to this momentous occasion.
Granted, it could be six months, a year, even longer, before this area gains a modicum of stability and peace. It's why Egypt requested that their African nations' qualifier be postponed. But, if and when the circumstances are right, the USSF should reach out to the nations, teams and people of this area.
After all, the rise of democracy, a voice, rights, and public space for the people, it's what the colors on the American jersey have come to symbolize.