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American Exceptionalism at the World Cup: Why Many US Fans Will Cheer on Another Team

Soccer fans will turn their eyes to Qatar starting Nov. 20, 2022, as the World Cup gets underway. But in the U.S., the question of which team will be cheered on from afar isn’t entirely straightforward.

You see, one of the anomalies of being a “typical” soccer fan in the United States—a group to which I belong—is that, you are not, in fact, a “typical” soccer fan.

For many team’s supporters, the World Cup becomes an event to affirm one’s national identity. This is true, as cultural critic Laurent Dubois notes, even among fans that are not jingoistic or nationalistic in any other environment.

Indeed, the nationalist fervor that emerges among crowds can boil over into xenophobic inter-national violence. As renowned soccer historian David Goldblatt noted in reference to English soccer crowds in the late 20th century, their “essential xenophobia” revealed a “rabid insular nationalism that was just a few notches more extreme than the foreign policy of the most Europhobic government since the Second World War.”

For Americans, though, the experience can be very different. Factors ranging from the relatively low popularity of soccer compared with other sports, familiarity with overseas clubs and perhaps more importantly – especially to Americans of Mexican heritage – an attachment to countries deemed to be more traditional “soccer nations” mean that we Americans can find ourselves oddly divided over the nation we support in the global game.

Where is Uncle Sam in the Global Game?

Soccer has come a long way in the U.S. over the last few decades in terms of its domestic league and growing a support base.

Yet, outside of our national teams—both the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) and its male counterparts, the USMNT—Americans are more likely to be familiar with teams in Europe than in their own domestic league, Major League Soccer (MLS).

Indeed, 2020 research into the most popular clubs for Americans found that FC Barcelona topped the list, followed by Real Madrid—both from the Spanish La Liga. The next four teams—Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal—all play in the English Premier League (EPL).

“For many

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