Election results bring ‘added layer’ to U.S.-Mexico World Cup qualifier
Like most Americans, Michael Bradley was glued to the television watching election results deep into Wednesday morning.
But unlike most Americans, Bradley is captain of the U.S. national soccer team that begins the final round of World Cup qualifying Friday. It’s the first major competition for any national team since the election of Donald Trump as president — and thanks more to chance than fate the opponent will be Mexico, the team’s fiercest rival and a country Trump roundly criticized during his campaign.
The importance of the moment wasn’t lost on Bradley, who worries the rancor of the campaign could spill over into tiny Mapfre Stadium here, where 22,000 U.S. and Mexican fans will be jammed together.
“Given the way everything has gone the last few months, there is an added layer to this game,” he said Wednesday.
“I would hope [fans] give every person in the stadium the respect that they deserve, whether they’re American, Mexican, neutral. U.S.-Mexico is the biggest game that we play. It’s the most special, the most passionate.”
The results of Tuesday’s vote could resonate far longer than just one game, however. Last summer, Sunil Gulati, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, warned that the presidential election could have a huge impact on whether the U.S. is chosen to host the 2026 World Cup.
“The world’s perception of the United States is affected by who is in the White House,” Gulati told reporters. “Having somebody in the White House that gives the country an outward-looking view and a personality that is more easier accepted around the world is positive for the United States and then more specifically for hosting events here and for our general image from a sports perspective. But it’s far beyond sports.”
Despite that, U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard, who returned to Major League Soccer this year after 13 seasons in England, said he sat out the election and expects any hard feelings over the results to have healed by Friday’s kickoff.
“I went to bed. They count the votes and they told me who’s president in the morning,” he said. “I wouldn’t have voted for Trump if I voted, but there he is. Not much else to say, really.
“All the political stuff, it’s nothing. It’s politics and this is football. Mexico is going to try to kick our asses and we’re going to try and kick theirs. It’s got nothing to do with politics.”
Bradley, meanwhile, was enthralled with the presidential race.
“The whole thing has been incredibly captivating,” he said. “I followed it closely.”
Some of his teammates said they’ve even been asked to explain it. Teenage midfielder Christian Pulisic, who plays for Borussia Dortmund, said Germans repeatedly questioned him about the election.
“Europeans are interested in what’s going. So they ask me about it,” said Pulisic, one of 18 national team members who play for a club team outside the U.S. “Simple stuff like ‘is this a joke?’ And I’m like ‘no, I think Donald Trump is really running for president. He has a real chance.’”
Now that he’s won, Bradley said the team — and the country — must unite again.
“Regardless of your beliefs, regardless of how you voted, we have an obligation to come together, to get behind our new president and to have faith and trust that he will do what’s best for the entire country,” Bradley said. “In moments like this, it’s easy to question things…The results may not be what every person wanted. Some people are happy, others aren’t.
“But again the way forward is to come together and give our new president support and rally behind him and have the faith that he will continue what, ultimately, I believe every president has done and make decisions that are for the good of the country.”
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