In the past, it was easy for me to fight back against the imperialist teams, but this calculus becomes more complicated as these teams change. Paris-born star Kylian Mbappé is the son of a Cameroonian father and mother of Algerian descent. Canadian Alphonso Davies was born in a refugee camp in Ghana. Twelve of the US team’s 26 players are black, as many 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 stretched back to Suriname. On Tuesday, in the 38th minute of the game, Dest headed the ball to Christian Pulisic, a white American considered the country’s best player, who put it in goal to give the US a 1-0 lead.
“UNITED STATES!” the crowd around me was singing, exchanging high fives and howls. I too cheered and raised my arms in triumph and pride for the country to which my Filipino elders had immigrated.
When the Iran-US game started, I counted that I was one of three blacks in a bar filled with almost 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 from NYU in Boston for a physics conference. I quickly realized that Elfeky was cheering for Iran. His tone was calm and soft at first, gradually building into tenor as the game intensified in the final minutes and USA desperately held on to their lead. As the rest of the bar moaned at a US-demanded penalty, he pumped his first. As the rest of the bar clapped for a US corner, he shook his head.
“Going to the US doesn’t feel right,” says Elfeky, who grew up in Egypt and moved to the US for college. “They have a lot of money. And the men earn a lot more than the women, although the women are so much better. Then you have Iran, which is a complete outsider.”
Strickland, who grew up in LA and is of part Japanese descent, said he would support Japan’s side more than the US if they played each other. Elfeky said he was always against the US men’s soccer team.
“At the end of the day they play a very boring game,” he said of their tactical style.
In the closing minutes, the US cleared an Iranian shot that appeared to tie the game, and Elfeky let out a “damn.” When the final whistle blew, sealing USA’s victory, he sighed, shrugged and said, “It was a good game.” Both teams played hard, helping each other off the pitch and demonstrating the camaraderie that leads to the People say that sport goes beyond politics. In an Instagram post, US player Tim Weah called the Iranian players “an inspiration” for how they “showed so much pride and love for their country and their people.”
Elfeky bore the disappointment familiar to any fan who has to admit that there is rarely justice in sport. While others around them sipped celebratory whiskey shots, he and Strickland threw on their jackets and backpacks and set off. Soon the Iranian players would also be home to face what awaited them.●