In the past, I’ve found it easy to root against Imperialist teams, but that calculation gets trickier the more those teams change. Paris-born star Kylian Mbappé is the son of a Cameroonian father and a mother of Algerian descent. Canadian Alphonso Davies was born in a refugee camp in Ghana. Twelve of the 26 players on the US team are black, as much as the 1994, 1998 and 2002 teams combined.
One of them, Sergiño Dest, was born in the Netherlands to a white Dutch mother and an American father whose ancestry can be traced back to Suriname. On Tuesday, in the 38th minute of the game, Dest headed the ball to Christian Pulisic, a white American considered the best player in the country, who headed it in to give the US a 1-0 lead.
“USA!” the crowd around me chanted, exchanging high-fives and whoops. I cheered too, raising my arms in triumph and pride in the country to which my Filipino elders immigrated.
When the Iran-USA game started. In the U.S., she recounted that she was one of three people of color in a bar packed with close to a hundred people. Then, early in the second half, two more filled the vacant seats next to me, Bassel Heiba Elfeky and Billy Strickland, graduate students at New York University in Boston for a physics lecture. I quickly realized that Elfeky supported Iran. He spoke softly at first, quietly, gradually rising in tenor as the game intensified in its final minutes with the US desperately clinging to the lead from him. When the rest of the bar complained about a penalty being awarded to the US, he pumped his first. As the rest of the bar cheered for an American corner kick, he shook his head.
“Going to the US doesn’t feel right,” said Elfeky, who grew up in Egypt and moved to the US to attend university. “They have a lot of money. And the men earn much more than the women, although the women are much better. Then you have Iran, which is a complete loser.”
Strickland, who grew up in Los Angeles and is of part Japanese descent, said he would support Team Japan over Team USA if they played each other. Elfeky said that he always cheers against the US men’s soccer team.
“At the end of the day, they play a very boring game,” he said of his tactical style.
In the final minutes, the US cleared an Iranian shot that seemed destined to tie the game, and Elfeky unleashed a “damn.” As the final whistle blew, sealing the victory for the USA, he sighed, shrugged and said, “It was a good game.” Both teams played hard, helped each other off the grass and demonstrated the camaraderie that leads people to say that sport transcends politics. in an instagram mailAmerican player Tim Weah would call the Iran players “an inspiration” for how they “showed so much pride and love for their country and people.”
Elfeky brought familiar disappointment to any fan forced to acknowledge that justice rarely prevails in sports. As others around him sipped celebratory whiskey, he and Strickland put on their jackets and backpacks and headed out. Soon, the Iran players would also be home to face what awaits them.