Club or country?

Particular conversations in the soccer community are cyclical. 

And one of those cycles has just passed. Each time the world of league play pauses for international games, a dispute breaks out somewhere concerning over what should take priority. Is club more important than country or vice-versa?

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While I do have my own preferences and values, I have absolutely no dog in the fight over how people experience their fanship and hence do not see any particular way of support as being right (READ CLEARLY: I’m not telling people how to be fans!) That said, my conversations with the Speedway Soccer crew have led me to understand that the calculus we use in thinking about club and/or country is far more complex than simply a binary decision. There are several dimensions to how one understands both their club and their country.

Which is more important to you?

At the simplest level, the question of club or country is one of value or adherence. What do you care about more? Where are your emotions most aligned? With your favorite club? With your national team? 

Maybe it’s even more complicated. Perhaps you most value your MLS club, then the U.S. Men or Women come in second, then your Premier League club falls in third? Perhaps it’s an NWSL side. 

In my discussions with the Speedway group, I noted that if I were in an alternative universe in which I had to choose between Chelsea winning Champions League or the USMNT winning the World Cup, I would choose Champions League for Chelsea every time. Clearly, in my universe of values, club (or that particular club) ranks first. My editor Ben thinks this is nuts and would come down on the side of the US winning the World Cup every time.

Luckily, we don’t live in such a universe. I LOVE Chelsea. I love Nashville SC. I love the USMNT and the USWNT (indeed, the triumphs of the men’s team this week have put me on cloud nine while the women’s loss at the Olympics has broken my heart). 

That said, if push comes to shove, I know where my greatest alignment is. I know exactly what victories give me the biggest thrills, which losses cause me the most pain. My answer to the question, “club or country” is not a rational one; it’s completely about emotions and a sense of identity. I know what I “choose” because I know how I emotionally experience the game.

Club over Country.

Which club do you support?

This is where things get a little more complicated and a little more interesting to me. Is your club the crest, the name, and everything that falls under it, or is it the particular players? Or is it a bit of both?

For me, no one is bigger than the club. The club matters more than any individual, and while I absolutely adore anyone playing for Nashville SC, once they leave the team, I no longer feel a connection. I don’t care how they perform, for example, if they moved to a La Liga side, while I might even hope they play poorly if they moved to a rival MLS team. Don’t get me wrong, there are players who personalities I like better than others, and I do wish them well, but once you are wearing another team’s crest, you’re no longer mine, no longer part of my family (not until you retire anyway).

Now, this complicates the club and country equation a bit. For example, during the Gold Cup, I could care less that Alistair Johnston plays for Nashville. Ultimately, I’m only cheering for the USMNT in that context. While I may feel a special affection for Walker Zimmerman or Christian Pulisic while they were USMNT jerseys, I simply want the US to win. I don’t care how we do it or who scores. 

If Zimmerman or Pulisic do something special, great; that’s a side dish of excitement. But if they sit on the bench and we win, I’m ok with that too. “Country” itself is the crest, not the players. And when Canada plays, as long as they are not playing the US, I don’t care if they win or lose. And while I suppose it’s nice if Johnston plays well in that context, I really don’t care because ultimately, I want the USMNT to triumph over the Canadian team.

In the same way, when we return to league play, I feel no special alignment of US players who play for league teams who are rivals. One crest simply does not carry over that way.

Crest over player.

The joys of the digital age

Last night, as I had two monitors on the two different games (USMNT vs Mexico and Toronto vs Nashville), I was simply grateful for the digital age and how easy it makes it that I don’t have to make a choice between what I watch when the two conflict. 

Sunday night would have been tough. I’m heavily invested in this Nashville SC club and in the momentum they continue to build. And yet, the growth of this USMNT “b-team” and the men’s program as a whole is a captivating narrative. Last night, the only choice I had to make was which jersey I would wear and which scarf.  I ended up wearing one for NSC and one for the US.  I’m not telling you which.

But, for those of you interested in the footwear battles, I did end up wearing my lucky red, white, and blue Fluevogs.

Fluevogs over Crocs

As unimportant as these questions are, I love hearing how folks grapple with them, how they choose to support what, and whom, when. We all love soccer. Almost everyone reading this loves NSC. But how in the world do we parse it out beyond that?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The views expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Broadway Sports as a whole.

Author: John Sloopgrew up in Asheville, NC, and after forays to Georgia and Iowa, found his way to Nashville over 25 years ago. On a trip to Portland, Oregon, 15 years ago, he watched the (then) USL Portland Timbers youth squad play one afternoon and fell completely and totally in love with soccer, to the detriment of his love of all other sports. In addition to thinking, writing, watching, and talking about soccer, Sloop teaches media and rhetoric at Vanderbilt. He is currently serving as the Chair of the Board of the Belcourt Theater and is part of the team that runs Tenx9 Nashville, a monthly story telling event.

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