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I'll be rooting for Mexico

Si se puede!
Si se puede!

Hi, I'm an American supporter who will now be rooting for Mexico.

I know that will sound odd to some of you, and that still confuses me.

Granted, Mexico is our biggest rival. In the world of American sports, we don't normally root for the teams we call rivals, no matter the circumstance.

Maybe this is where I differ from some of you, but I see national-team sports as an entirely different animal than other kinds of competition.

From my vantage point, as long as Mexico isn't playing the U.S., they are the side that most deserves our support.

For purely footballing reasons, the U.S. has more to gain from a deep run by El Tri than from any other nation. Mexico is now the sole surviving CONCACAF side and while advancing two of our three World Cup entries into the Round of 16 was a decent accomplishment, failing to get any teams beyond that point would hardly bolster our case for more than our current 3.5 berths.

Really, though, this is not a football issue for me. If I'm being entirely honest, a significant amount of my decision-making process on whom to root for during the World Cup is based on personal feelings about the country and its people.

In Mexico's case, I've always felt a strong kinship with its people. I grew up in a heavily Hispanic part of California and was exposed to Mexican culture almost my entire life. As a result, I ended up with many Mexican friends, teachers and co-workers. Eventually, I ended up marrying a woman of Mexican heritage.

I often hear U.S. supporters claim that Mexican fans hate us, so we should hate them right back. This may be true, but only to an extent. Sure, whenever the two sides play the vitriol is significant. When the U.S. visits Estadio Azteca, it is considered to be one of the most harrowing experiences for the boys in red, white and blue. Even when Mexico plays here, their fans turn out in significant numbers and can make a "home" game feel anything but hospitable.

I have seen precious little proof of this "hatred" when the two sides aren't directly pitted against one another. I literally do not personally know a Mexican-American who openly roots against the U.S. Most of them, in fact, root nearly as hard or even harder for the Yanks than they do for El Tri. On Spanish language television -- admittedly often filmed in U.S. studios -- commentators had apparently taken to referring to us by the nickname "El Pais de Todo" (the country of all). Their football federation recently threw its support behind the U.S. bid for the World Cup. Even if you believe that's for purely selfish reasons, it seems anything but indicative of "hatred." 

Even for people without personal ties to Mexico, rooting against our southern neighbors seems unnecessarily spiteful. Taking joy in their failure just strikes me as being uncomfortably similar to an older brother delighting in his sibling's struggles. I would like to think that we are comfortable enough with our own status that we don't need to prop ourself up that way.

Believe it or not, I actually took the time to rank all 16 sides that made it through to the knockout stage (chart on the left). Quite simply, in any given game I'll be rooting for whichever team sits closest to the top. With the U.S. already eliminated, I found this to be a useful exercise that helps me sort out my emotional investment in each contest.

My formula, if you can call it that, is a mixture of personal feelings about the country and how much I've liked watching the team play. As an USA supporter, I was obviously going to root for them above all others. I've already explained my reasons for supporting Mexico. Spain comes in at No. 3 for me mainly because that is the country I've most enjoyed when visiting there. The fact that they play an attractive brand of football makes supporting them even easier.

The next three countries are all Spanish-speaking South American sides. I put Uruguay up top because I've enjoyed watching Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, and find it amazing that a country of less than 3.5 million people has managed to produce two world-class strikers (If we were to produce on that kind of level, we'd have about 100 such players). Paraguay may seem like an odd exception to this group, but I just dldn't find myself enjoying their play as much as the other three.

The Netherlands comes in after that group largely as a result of their style of play. I have Ghana ranked relatively high mainly because I like the idea of an African nation making a deep run, but the reality is that I might not get a chance to root for them.

I'm not sure that I can articulate my relatively high level of support for Japan, other than I've been impressed with their group-stage play and my mom grew up there. Similarly, I don't think I can explain my relative disinterest in Slovakia other than I just found the countries above them more intriguing.

That I have Brazil and Germany ranked so low may seem odd -- especially since I like the way both teams play -- but I'm also a sucker for fresh faces and the reality is that seeing either of those teams play for a title would just feel too familiar.

I'd love to hear how others choose their support beyond their primary country.

Consider this your Argentina v Mexico GameThread

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