While American soccer fans lament that Team USA didn’t qualify for World Cup play for the first time since 1986, they’ve still got plenty of interest in the tournament.
Some of those fans shared their disappointment, enthusiasm and predictions during a U.S. Major League Soccer match at New York’s Yankee Stadium last Saturday. New York City and Atlanta United ultimately ended with a 1-1 tie.
Die-hard soccer fan Adam Swift, wearing a white jersey with a U.S. team logo, woefully recalled Team USA’s elimination from 2018 FIFA World Cup contention last October. It lost to Trinidad and Tobago, 2-1.
“When we lost, it was like a family member had died,” said Swift, who’d come from the neighboring state of New Jersey to cheer on the New York City team. “And every day I thought about it a little less, and I kind of slowly accepted it.”
With the start of World Cup play, “now I wake up and I am really excited — but there is always a little bit of pain that we didn’t make it,” Swift said. He also was “very surprised that Ghana collapsed, because as a U.S. fan, that is one of our big rivals.”
He’s rooting for Sweden and Peru, but thinks France will win because its “team is just so stacked. And their jerseys are very good looking.” Then again, he thinks Nigeria “could finish” on top. “So I am excited.”
Joe Lomonaco, at the game with his brother Felix, said he was sorry the U.S. team wasn’t in the World Cup because its participation might lead more Americans to embrace the sport. A Gallup poll released early this year indicated soccer is the favorite spectator sport of just 7 percent of American adults — not much lower than baseball (9 percent) but dwarfed by American-style football (37 percent).
Still, “for people who are true fans, [having your national soccer team disqualified] doesn’t really matter because you love the game and there are so many great teams in the world,” Joe Lomonaco said.
Lomonaco said he “normally would root for Italy” as well as the Netherlands. But neither team qualified to play.
Enthusiasm for Egypt
The Lomonaco brothers were enthusiastic about Egypt, which last participated in the World Cup in 1990.
“They have a great player in [star forward] Mohamed Salah, who plays in the English Premier League,” Joe Lomonaco said.
“I like him because he is a tricky player, in the sense that you can’t tell if he is going to cross the back,” Felix Lomonaco chipped in. “He ends up … scoring a lot of excellent shots, too.”
A shoulder injury kept Salah off the field for Egypt’s opening match on Friday. It lost to Uruguay, 1-0, but still has two more matches.
Salah’s is a household name in Astoria, Queens, a New York neighborhood where many Egyptian-Americans live and so does Nick Shahin. But for this World Cup, Shahin’s loyalty lies with Germany.
“It’s just the depth they have in their team,” he explained. “If somebody gets injured … they have somebody to replace them. And then if Germany doesn’t win it, I have Brazil and France in a tie.”
‘Nobody to root for’
A soccer fan who gave her name only as Ingrid revealed she has divided loyalties, too. She describes herself as American, and “my parents are Ecuadoran.” she said. Ecuador did not qualify for the Cup.
“So I have nobody to root for. I was very disappointed,” Ingrid said. “My brother and my father, they are really big soccer fans. I’ve always come to games with them. … It’s a family thing, yeah.”
For Ian Tanguy of Dallas, Texas, soccer fandom is not a family thing, it’s an “excellence versus mediocrity thing,” he said.
“I’m disappointed the U.S. didn’t get there. But they didn’t deserve it this year. They weren’t good enough,” Tanguy said. “I’m excited to see Mexico and Germany.”
He said he appreciates the World Cup as the only international competition “that all nations across the world can unify around.”