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Can We Call a Cease-fire on the Culture War and Just Enjoy Matt Miazga’s Height-Trolling?

The United States defender is tall. Mexico’s Diego Lainez is short. What happened next was funny.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The USMNT fell short of the dos-a-cero scoreline you may have been hoping for, but they moseyed to a 1-0 win over Mexico in Nashville on Tuesday night thanks to a tidy finish from 19-year-old Tyler Adams in the 71st minute. It was the first of his international career. Beers were thrown, badges were swatted, memories were made, and voices likely went hoarse, but that’s not what anybody is talking about.

No, that would be what happened just a few minutes before the goal, when 18-year-old Diego Lainez—who is 5-foot-5—nipped at the heels of Matt Miazga, who is five years older and close to 11 inches taller. Miazga bristled, Lainez chirped, and then Miazga pointed out that Lainez’s quarrel is with God. This went over as well as you would expect.

Let me begin by saying that plenty of great soccer players are short—people have even written about how being short may be a competitive advantage. Lainez, while short, is also very saucy.

But what I like about this—or, more accurately, what I love about this—is all of it. I enjoy that this breathed life into a game that might have otherwise been a dull, scoreless affair. I enjoy Lainez puffing his chest out; I enjoy the empty shit-talking, the almost-fighting; I enjoy Miazga doubling down on his observational humor. I especially enjoy Edson Álvarez chiming in so that Miazga would have to pick on someone his own size and Miazga subsequently signaling to the referee, because shithousery gamesmanship is a necessary evil that the USMNT often finds too icky.

Not so with this group! Remember last week, when Neymar was milking a dead ball out of minimal contact and DeAndre Yedlin asked whether the referee watched any of Brazil’s fixtures at the World Cup? I loved that, too—as well as Neymar celebrating a recent goal against Nimes in front of a banner that mocked him as a “crybaby.”

There are observable truths in the Miazga-Lainez dustup, which are that (1) although some parties were maybe emotionally wounded, no one was hurt physically, (2) Mexico went down a man behind an aggravated challenge minutes later and subsequently lost—even their manager Tuca Ferretti reads it as a lesson—and (3) it was genuinely hilarious. You could, of course, bypass all of that and make this a referendum on American soccer culture which, sure.

Except this happens elsewhere, a lot, and it’s hilarious then, too. Here is Brentford’s Yoann Barbet disrespecting a much smaller Samuel Sáiz of Leeds in November of last year.

Let me specify that I’ve been both people in this scenario—the diminutive freshman buzzing around the larger upperclassmen in practice; the man-marker of above-average athleticism and height tasked with chasing the energetic high schooler around the park in men’s league.

However, if you take this route, you always run the risk of getting fried to a crisp soon after. For instance, I would never be fool enough to do something like this:

Álvaro González deserved to get burned for two goals after mocking Lionel Messi’s height, and I can’t say that had Álvarez ran up and hooked off on Miazga that Miazga wouldn’t have had it coming—let’s not forget that Miazga grabbed a handful of Denzel Dumfries while shuffling around on a corner in January during a Dutch Eredivisie match.

What I’m trying to say is, all of this is a part of a game that rises and collapses like an ever-breathing lung. As a viewer, I am fully with the bullshit. Rivalries, feuds, and chest-puffing are all essential to the game’s visceral appeal. More, please.