So, we have to talk about Christian Pulisic’s comments that he made after the USMNT beat Morocco 3-0 last night in Cincinnati, now don’t we? Ugh, ok, let’s get on with it. In case you didn’t hear them, take a listen:
Christian Pulisic called out the lack of USMNT home fan support after their match against Morocco. pic.twitter.com/kyxBMDw20l— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 2, 2022
To be honest, for whatever reason, I’m not super happy with the amount of Americans here, however that works out. If I’m being completely honest. But, uh, thanks to the ones that did come and the support is always great from them...
Quite simply, it’s a bad take and Pulisic shouldn’t have said it.
It is disrespectful to the Moroccan fans who showed up, fans who are themselves almost certainly overwhelmingly American citizens. And it is also disrespectful to the USMNT fans who did show up. Yes, it is true that it looked like a whole lot of Moroccan fans were there. But that doesn’t magically make Pulisic’s comments appropriate.
I’ve made my views clear before, but it’s been a while and it bears repeating while it is relevant.
The Moroccan fans are not merely Moroccans. As I mentioned above, these are likely overwhelmingly American citizens. And even those who aren’t American citizens are overwhelmingly American residents. And if you paid attention, you could see that during the game.
A lot of Morocco fans here tonight, but something I liked was how you could see them all applauding and cheering for the US anthem, just like the USMNT fans. We don't recognize it a lot, but soccer here in the US really is special. #USMNT— Adnan Ilyas (@Adnan7631) June 1, 2022
I come from an immigrant family. I grew up in immigrant communities. At a very basic level, I understand how the Moroccan fans feel. They were not at TQL Stadium last night merely to watch the Moroccan national team play. This match was a connection to their motherland. It was a way to connect and touch their roots and their childhoods, a chance to see a home that was long given up. And that chance is rare. Morocco has only played in the United States against the USMNT once before, and it was in 2006, a full 16 years ago. Based on that record, Moroccan Americans were right to think this game might well be a once in a generation opportunity.
But it’s not just about Morocco. The truth is, these Morocco fans were there to watch Morocco play the United States. Because they too are American, and they too wanted to see the United States, their country, succeed. And that’s why the fans clapped for the anthem, why they cheered when the USMNT scored, and why chants of USA and DOS A CERO rang out throughout the stadium. Yeah, the focus for a lot of people wasn’t on the U.S., but on Morocco. But nobody really wanted to root against the U.S. If you gave people a reason to cheer for the USMNT, they would. And the individual play of the U.S. players, the moments of skill and quality from the likes of Christian Pulisic himself, gave a reason for Moroccan fans to cheer for the U.S. So they did.
It’s unfortunate that Christian Pulisic doesn’t get this, but I understand why. He didn’t grow up in an immigrant community. While he lives abroad, he regularly comes back to the States and serves as the very face of the United States Men’s National Team. His homeland is not so distant for him; England will not be his home forever.
But that’s not the experience for most American immigrants, including an awful lot of Pulisic’s own teammates. Jesús Ferreira and Tim Weah’s own fathers played for other national teams, Colombia and Liberia, respectively. They understand what it is like to root for more than one nation. The USMNT is now full of players like this, players whose backgrounds are pulled in multiple directions. Indeed, such complicated identities are a core part of who this iteration of the USMNT is. It’s a fundamental feature, not some coincidence. Why does the U.S. keep succeeding when recruiting these young, foreign-raised players from these high profile countries? Why did the U.S. manage to win over Sergiño Dest over the Netherlands? How did the U.S. successfully recruit Yunus Musah over England, and Malik Tillman over Germany? It’s not merely because of a promise of playing time. Under Gregg Berhalter, the USMNT has fostered an identity that is inclusive, that is tolerant of varied and multiple identities within a single individual. Other countries impose a totalizing view of identity. Other countries recoil from and scapegoat players’ roots. Other countries make you, as Mesut Özil put it, “German when [the team] wins, but... an immigrant when we lose”. But not the USMNT. When the U.S. wins, Dest is a Dutch-Surinamese American. When the US loses, he’s still Dutch-Surinamese-American.
That’s why Pulisic’s words are so offensive. This USMNT squad projects this vision of America where Yunus Musah is not merely on the team, he is on the team as a Ghanaian Italian English American, where being a Ghanaian-Italian-English American is an asset to the team, not a weird coincidence or a fact to be overlooked. But, when Pulisic complains about not having enough Americans in the stands, he denies that same vision to the Moroccan Americans watching him, flattening them to just Moroccans. How can it stand that the players get to have nuanced and complex identities, but the fans cannot? Of course, the answer is that it cannot stand.
These words aren’t merely alienating to Moroccan Americans. It is offensive to immigrant Americans across the board. I’m Pakistani-American and I’m offended. But it’s worse than that. Soccer in America is uniquely rooted within immigrant communities. Not one particular immigrant community, but scores of them, all across the country. For decades, soccer in America only survived because of the Poles and the Scots and the Mexicans playing the game. Immigrants make up the very backbone of American soccer culture. To this day, MLS and the USMNT both draw fans and players from immigrants communities. Soccer is in this country where it is today because of the Jamaicans and the Mexicans and the Colombians and the Ghanaians. These are our roots, and Pulisic’s words demean and belittle those roots.
The underlying circumstances of this game bear mentioning. This is the fourth time the USMNT has played in Ohio since last September, the second time at TQL Stadium. The USWNT has played in Ohio an additional 3 times (once each in Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati). The tickets themselves cost a lot of money, so much so that a family 4 or similarly sized friend group must pay hundreds of dollars just for the tickets. You cannot ask the same fans to pay hundreds of dollars and come again and again and again.
But this isn’t merely an Ohio issue. The next two games are home games, first in Kansas City and then Austin. Last year, the USMNT played 3 Gold Cup matches in Kansas City, and the USWNT played a friendly there as well. The USMNT played one Gold Cup match and one World Cup qualifier in Austin, while the USWNT opened Q2 Stadium last June. In contrast, the USMNT has not played in New York or New Jersey since September 2019. They have not played in Washington DC since October 2019, and the team last played in Seattle in the 2016 Copa America Centenario. And they last played in Portland in the 2013 Gold Cup. The current USMNT does not play across the United States. They play in a handful of cities, largely avoiding many of the biggest cities in the country, ignoring the entirety of the Pacific Northwest.
If you set ticket prices so high that most families are priced out, if you ignore and avoid most of the most populous parts of the country, you don’t get the right to complain about who shows up to your games. If it’s Moroccan fans who are willing to travel across the country, then it is Moroccan fans who are filling your coffers. If you don’t like that, then change your policies. Lower the ticket prices and play in different places.