June 2018. The Black Stars dominated possession and seemed the far more threatening side. Then a sudden precision counter attack sliced through their defense, and a scintillating finish left them down a goal, less than ten minutes into the match. Against the run of play, the Black Stars faced a deficit. And while the ball continued to seem happier in the Black Star’s offensive half, two more counter attacks and a successful penalty kick sealed their fate over 90 minutes.
Despite the famous name, this match did not involve the men’s national team of Ghana. The location was a small park in a Seattle suburb, just after the weekly girls’ U-10 matches. This was not the World Cup, or even a national friendly between two teams outside the Cup looking in. It was, rather, the finals of the second season of the Seattle Afrikan Premiere League (SAPL). The Black Stars’ opponent, FC Juba, took home the championship – and with it a team trophy, individual medals, a $500 cash purse, and bragging rights for a team of East African men between the ages of 17 and 45.
The SAPL’s second season climax occurred just days before the opening of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia – a World Cup at which neither the United States nor Ghana, neither South Sudan nor Somalia are represented. Adding insult to injury, the local Major League Soccer franchise, the Seattle Sounders, are struggling, gaining only their third win of the season at about the time FC Juba lifted their SAPL hardware. Seattle is more soccer mad than most American cities, so these absences matter. As they do every four years, fans here are repeating the usual truisms and clichés about the pathetic state of football in America.
Seattleites’ calls to find US national football respectability are undoubtedly more globalist than nationalist. This is, after all, a liberal West Coast enclave with world city pretensions. And there is truth in Kanishk Taroor’s argument that the World Cup complicates the false binary of globalism and nativism. But in the United States at this moment, national boosterism of any kind feels risky. Even the most innocent calls to make American football great carry a taint, an uncomfortable hint of xenophobia and menace.
So, for this World Cup, we opt out of the mediated mourning over the pitiful state of US soccer. We accept that we won’t find local football on the world stage. We’ve set out instead to find world soccer on the local pitch. We’re collecting stories that highlight the world – the African world, in our case – making the Seattle game global. Call it, for now, The African Game in Seattle project.
We want to know why the Sounders hope three Cameroonian teenagers can help salvage a difficult season, and what the Ghanaian women’s national team captain, recently signed to the NWSL Seattle Reign, thinks of the Black Queens’ chances in the November CAF Cup. We’re more interested in how many African players have worn the colors of the University of Washington Huskies, and whether white missionaries in the 1970s factored in footballing skills when they offered young African men scholarships to the region’s parochial colleges. For now, we think understanding American soccer rests more on the question of whether the Afro Kings FC’s strong forwards could have fared better than the Black Stars against FC Juba in the SAPL final.