CAPE TOWN, South Africa — “Are you American?” the South African man asked me at a recent pick-up soccer game in Cape Town.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Jozy Alllllltidore! I loooooove Jozy Altidore!”
I smiled. “I do, too.”
(High fives exchanged.)
In the US, it’s easy to forget that the American team is, in fact, quite well known by soccer fans throughout the world — and often closely followed.
“They play very good now,” the man, named Zulu, continued. “When they play in South Africa last year, they play very good. They beat Spain!”
What, I wondered, would fans from South Africa and around the world say about the US team following the game against England?
Lee, a model from South Africa
“They played a very exciting game—they were very competitive. I like them. In 2002, I was like, whoa, the US can play soccer! They don’t just play American football in America anymore! I hadn’t even noticed them before that tournament. But now they are in it to win it, and I think they can go far. Landon Donovan is very quick.”
Olie, a college student from Norway
“I don’t think the US can win the whole tournament, but I think they will make it to the quarterfinals. The US and England are going through, so the result doesn’t really matter. Carragher could not handle Altidore!”
Alan, an engineer from England
“It was sh*te! Absolute rubbish. We should have won that game, but we didn’t score in the second half. We’ve had Emile Heskey for 12 years. Twelve years! If that’s really our best option up front, then we’re in trouble. The US was outplayed, but in the end they deserved the point because they battled hard. Howard had a very good game. Cheers! Good luck!”
James, a railway worker from South Africa
“How did the game end? A 1-1 tie? Good! [Expletive] the English.”
James then proceeds to describe South Africa’s thumping of France in rugby the day before, and shows me his commemorative hat from the match.
Franz, a banker from Germany
“I think England need a new goalie!” (Several seconds of laughter.)
“The US team has come a long way. I don’t think this was their best performance, but it was a good result for them. I like Dempsey and, how do you say? Onyewu? Very strong players.”
Frank, an office manager from Holland
(Shakes head with a look of utter disdain, as if smelling something noxious.)
“The US boys were lucky. They have a very good goalie, and he was very well positioned on all of the saves. But they were very fortunate with their group, so they will go through to the next round.”
Frank then proceeds to tell me that Holland don’t need Robben to do well, and that they have the best players.
Ahmed, a student from Algeria
“Tonight, I don’t think the US play as well as they can, but they can be quite strong. Onyewu is very good, very good defender. And the goalie, Howard, is very strong. The team is much better than they were a few years ago. But watch out because Algeria will win!”