At the Copa...

by Peter Marus

I have to say, usually I don't enjoy the neighborhood I live in, most of the people here do not speak English (though now I'm starting to learn Spanish), and generally I stick out like a sore thumb. I live in the Elmhurst/Jackson Heights area of Queens. Most of the population that live in this area are of Hispanic origin, Primarily Colombian, Mexican or Ecuadorian. This time of the year though really changes my outlook on my 'hood. First off, it's the summertime, and that means the "well-endowed" ladies of my neighborhood have their err...maracas out to show off in shirts that I envy. On top of it, the Copa America (South America's soccer championship) is going on. So add these two factors together, and you have some of the most beautiful flag displays I've ever seen. Hey I may sound like a pathetic, dateless guy, but I defy any man who wouldn't take notice of all this around me!!!!

Watching a soccer game in the local watering holes is a real experience. You do have a good time (provided you aren't there to cheer the wrong team). It is a festive, energetic atmosphere. A few months ago I went to one bar with some friends and people I know from the Empire Supporters Club (supporters club of the Metrostars that I'm a member of) to watch the US Olympic team face Mexico in a Olympic Qualifier. Even though Mexico and the US are bitter rivals in soccer, the fans we were watching the game with were cool with us. Most of the Mexican fans I was around had a great respect of the US and their recent success, but they weren't happy when I mentioned we did beat them at the World Cup in the knockout round in front of the entire world!!! After the game ended, and the US fans were leaving the establishment, no real words were exchanged, except from one Mexican fan "We got one win back, but I'm sure there will be many more battles between the teams again."

Fast forward to today. I was walking down Roosevelt Ave. and passed several bars that planned on showing the day's games. I happen to stop and read the sign in front of one bar, and a man asked me who am I cheering for in the Copa. I said I didn't have a team I am rooting for. We talked for several minutes about the game of soccer in general, especially about how the United States has became such a regional power (most consider the US as the strongest team in North and central America). I asked him if he had planned to show any of the US games coming up, especially the World Cup qualifiers. He said no, because most people here only care about their home nations. He later asked if I was going to come in to watch any of the games. I said no, since I only really care for my home nation and I'll watch them at home tonight!!

This is the problem with soccer in the US, there is an enormous untapped pool of fans and players in this country, but they are mostly immigrants, or first and second immigrants and they still have strong ties to their home nations and pro teams from their homeland. I think it's starting to change, but it's going ever so slowly. I think that once more and more generations of these immigrants are born and live here, the sport will grow more and more here.