Haiti is one of the most impoverished nations in the world, has yet to recover from a 2010 earthquake, and fields a women’s national soccer team that can’t train in their own country. The displaced team lives and trains in Indiana and certainly weren’t expected to challenge for a 2015 World Cup berth. A USWNT win wasn’t just expected, it was almost a known fact.
That didn’t stop American fans from singing and chanting as though their team was meeting their equal.
When supporting a team, fans are often overcome by extreme nerves, a reaction produced by the serious likelihood that they are going to lose. In most professional sports, this is always a very real possibility, because even the worst teams in every league are very, very good.
The United States Women’s National Team is, however, an undisputed juggernaut in a sport that lacks depth of talent. Women’s soccer has grown immeasurably since the USWNT lifted the World Cup in 1999– that’s probably why they haven’t won the tournament since — but they always know they’re one of the contenders. Failure to make the semifinals of the World Cup, which has never happened, would be an unmitigated disaster for the U.S.
Contrast this to the U.S. men, who have to sweat the Hexagonal round of CONCACAF qualifying every time. They’ve won it on a few occasions, but it’s never easy — they barely made the final six last time around — and qualification never looks assured until the last couple of rounds. It makes for a tough atmosphere at those matches. The American Outlaws drink their fear away while singing vulgar, arrogant songs about how superior they are to their opposition, but in the back of their minds, everyone singing “I believe that we will win” knows damn well that Jamaica, or Panama, or Honduras is capable of beating the USMNT at any time, in any venue.
When those same fans gather to cheer on the U.S. women, the atmosphere is a bit different. The only threat to the Americans in the CONCACAF region is Canada, who, as hosts, don’t have to qualify for this World Cup. And even when Canada do have to qualify, they’re the top seed on the opposite side of the bracket and the two sides never have to meet until a CONCACAF championship final, after both sides have already qualified for the World Cup.
There was no talk of the game at the AO tailgate before the game against Haiti because there was nothing to talk about. Everyone in attendance knew who was going to win, and that they’d win by a considerable margin. The lack of game talk wasn’t out of a lack of respect or knowledge — almost everyone in the Outlaws section knew the names and positions of every player on the bench, and in many cases their club and college teams.
The fans weren’t sweating the outcome of the game, and they didn’t feel the players needed a boost from their chants, but they still sung plenty. And often they didn’t hold back, despite the less-talented competition and the less-than-ideal circumstances the Haiti team deals with. Over the objections of many in the AO section, a huge number of fans belted out “If I had the wings of an eagle/if I had the ass of a crow/I’d fly over Haiti tomorrow/and shit on the bastards below”. That song wasn’t sung a second time due to its obvious tastelessness, but “You’re not going to Canada” was sung consistently throughout the second half, and “Deux a zéro!” was sung after the Americans’ second goal.
While the crowd at RFK Stadium was stronger than it had been for any of the previous matches in the tournament, the announced attendance was only 6,421, small enough that the couple hundred people comprising the AO section could be heard fairly clearly on the pitch. And some of the U.S. players clearly took objection to the nature of some of the songs, because they started their post-match lap around the stadium as far away from AO as possible, then jogged away from the stands before getting to their section.
Some of the fans were annoyed — “the men would never disrespect us like that” was a sentiment echoed by more than one member of the section — while others laughed it off, acknowledging that their brand of support isn’t for everyone, and that it doesn’t bother them if the USWNT themselves are counted among those numbers.
Ultimately, having support for women’s soccer as numerous and vocal as the support for men’s soccer in the United States should be a goal of U.S. soccer and American Outlaws, but their circumstances are not the same. The men’s team is somewhere around the 15-30th best team in men’s football, a handful of CONCACAF teams can beat them regularly, and a dozen can pull it off on their best day. The U.S. women are a top five team in the world, Canada is their only competition in their region, and there are only a couple of other teams that can beat them when at their absolute best.
The U.S women have reached the pinnacle of the sport repeatedly since the introduction of the women’s World Cup and women’s football at the Olympics. They’re going to do it again, many times over. Unlike the men, this team is not a scrappy, brash underdog in their sport. They’re the best, and when they win games in dominant fashion, it wouldn’t hurt for their fans to act like they’ve been there before.
As much as some fans insist that supporting the USA means supporting the USA, period, there are vast differences in USMNT and USWNT fandom that can’t be discounted just because they wear the same shirts. They’re at different levels of their respective sports and face different levels of competition. If the goal is to make fan support for the two teams equal, maybe the songbook shouldn’t be so homogeneous.