ZACATECAS, Mexico — The time has come to discuss what we as Americans are going to do about the World Cup. I know this might be anathema to many of you, but U.S. fans have plenty of reasons throw their support behind Mexico at the World Cup.
Look, countrymen and countrywomen, I'm sad too. For all the years insisting I'm neutral about the U.S. national team so my coverage doesn't appear slanted, I'm still American. I'm from Texas, for God's sake. Tuesday night hurt.
If you're reading this, though, you're going to watch the World Cup. You know you will, and I know you will. Even without our Stars and Stripes making their best effort to get out of the group stage, the summer showcase is unmissable. What else are you going to watch all summer? Regular-season baseball? Please.
Sports are better with a rooting interest, something many of you know from your ritual of waking up at ungodly hours to watch Premier League teams. Maybe you're already planning to root for underdog Iceland or you have a family connection to Nigeria or Germany. But if you're a free agent, consider throwing your support behind El Tri. Fox Sports certainly hopes you will, and I do too. My job is covering Mexican soccer in English, and while I strive to maintain a balance in my coverage, I have to admit I've acquired a fondness for this country's team as well as my own.
Here's why, even if you have to hold your nose, you might choose to root for Mexico at the World Cup:
Love your neighbor as yourself
There's something to be said for rooting on your CONCACAF brothers. You hate them during qualification, but it would look pretty bad if everyone from the region crashed out of the group stage and all those people always talking about how much better Europe is just point to it and say, "See?!"
Shout-out as well to Costa Rica and Panama. It would be great to see all our CONCACAF pals do as well as the Ticos did last time around, even if it would give them a little more ammunition during Twitter flame wars.
Mexico and the U.S. are, obviously, neighbors and have plenty of close relationships thanks to geographic, economic and political reasons. The players definitely don't like each other for 90 minutes, but you only need to remember the unified photo in Columbus, Ohio, with both teams coming together for the pregame gesture just days after the U.S. elected Donald Trump as president.
Politics aside, Mexico also will boast a handful of MLS players at the World Cup, with the Dos Santos brothers representing the LA Galaxy and Carlos Vela set to join Los Angeles FC in January. Puzzlingly, some people think the rise of the American domestic league is to blame for the struggles of the national team. No other league in the world is thinking that way, and it's a positive to have those players raising the level of the competition.
Juan Carlos Osorio
Rooting for this guy is sort of like rooting against Mexico while rooting for Mexico. Juan Carlos Osorio has been Mexico coach for two years and lost only six times, yet most Mexico fans haaaaaate him. Osorio is definitely an odd duck. He believes in his unconventional methods and sticks to them rigidly, even when he probably should have a bit more flexibility.
That said, he's a good coach with interesting ideas. He demands a lot of his team, but has expressed a deep love not only for his players but also the fans, even those who welcomed him back from the airport by telling the Colombian to go back where he came from. Osorio's philosophy is that soccer is a sport where everyone is entitled to have an opinion. He's convinced his opinions are right, and so far the results have borne that out — the odd blowout in a summer tournament not withstanding.
He's also a bit of a character. He won't have the same wild celebrations his predecessor Miguel Herrera become known for at the 2014 World Cup, but he's still fun to watch. During the Confederations Cup, Osorio dropping profanity in English a little too close to a hot microphone went viral, but the truth is the U.S.-educated coach can express much more profound ideas in English. Surely, he'll be doing so on American television now that the broadcasters have more time to fill and more work to be done to advance the narrative. That should make it easier for U.S. fans to get to know Osorio.
Mexico is the sh*t
This slogan, worn by several Mexico players like Raul Jimenez, Diego Reyes and other movers and shakers in the country, has puzzled some of the country's less English-savvy writers. But it's true. Mexico is a great country. Even if you've never been to experience it, you've probably come into contact with some of the positive aspects of Mexico: the food that's some of the best you can find in the U.S., the predisposition for a good party no matter the circumstances, the attitude about keeping family close, and the music — simply for the fact that Mexicans did not inflict "Despacito" upon us.
The players who represent the country also are generally pretty cool. Chicharito is a big NFL fan who geeked out when he met J.J. Watt last year and, let's be honest, is just a cute little guy who seems fun to hang out with. He and Miguel Layun stepped up and raised money for earthquake relief efforts. Hirving Lozano is on pace to become one of CONCACAF's biggest stars and, at just 22, is already a family man who seems to have no interests outside of soccer and his wife and children. Boring? Maybe, but he and Jesus "Tecatito" Corona are fun to watch on the wings as they blow by opponents to set up Chicharito.
And, like the U.S., this team has really bad fullbacks. Layun is solid on the left side but sometimes gets moved to the right when converted winger Jesus Gallardo attempts to defend as well as possible while getting forward to help the attack.
See? A random winger getting stuck into a fullback slot to cover for a weakness? Some things aren't so different after all. It's like you've been rooting for Mexico this whole time. Hop aboard the bandwagon. Your neighbors will welcome you, and you'll enjoy the World Cup all the more for it.