American soccer fans had eight months to mull the question. Between the time the U.S. national team collapsed in World Cup qualifying last October to the moment the tournament kicked off here this month, they needed to decide which team to side with in the U.S.’s absence.
For many, the answer was more obvious than a sombrero on the subway: American fans should support their neighbor to the south, Mexico. But they ran into vocal opposition from fans who think cheering for El Tri amounts to high sports treason. After all, Mexico is the U.S.’s fiercest soccer rival in the region—decades of hostility between the teams couldn’t simply be suspended for the summer. And that equation doesn’t even factor in real-world political sensitivities between the countries on issues like immigration.
Now, with Mexico heading into the knockout rounds of the tournament, the topic has become as divisive as any in the game, right up there with debates on instant-replay and whether it should be called football or soccer. The dilemma has sucked in everyone from fans on the ground in Russia to supporters who stayed home, and even ex-players who have represented the U.S. at past World Cups.
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