The Missing Latinos on the US World Cup 2014 Team

There have been many complaints about the United States Men’s National Team selected for the upcoming Brazil World Cup.  Foremost among them would be Landon Donovan’s exclusion from the team, but my concern goes much deeper.  Where are all the Latinos?

Representing Latinos on the US Team, we have Alejandro Bedoya, Nick Rimando, and Omar Gonzales.  That is 7.6 percent of the US Team while Latinos make up 17 percent of the entire US society, a number itself underrepresented due to the undocumented.  Historically we see a pattern in that these numbers have not changed through time, despite supposed intervention by National team authorities.  In 2006 there were three Latinos on the team and in 2010, there were four.  Back in 1994, when the World Cup was held in the United States, there were five Latinos on the US team, a clear regression.

I am not blaming the coach here; the issue goes much deeper than that.  The lack of assimilation of Latinos in U.S. Soccer structures is a symptom of the deeper problems of assimilation of Latinos in American society.  Soccer is clearly the preferred and favored sport of Latinos, yet we fail to see them really make an impact at the US National level, but the same problem exists all the way from the Major Soccer League (MLS) to the high school level.  In fact, there is a large drop off in representation between youth leagues and more professional soccer organizations.  Why?  As Landon Donovan once remarked, “A lot of the kids I played with growing up just didn’t have the resources, so they hit high school and they were off to do other things. A lot of them would end up in bad situations. These were kids that were a lot more talented than I was. It’s kind of sad because I think that happens over and over.”

These issues are important, from the International Relations perspective, the makeup of the U.S. team is an outward reflection of our diversity and society (arguments I have made before in my article at the academic journal Soccer and Society).  Like the French team in 1998 that became famous as a reflection of the changing nature of French society, the US displays the opposite trend.  This team is an outward reflection of the internal problems and decay in the United States.

To me, the 2014 USMNT is a reflection of the lack of diversity and advancement in the United States.  There is simply no excuse for this.  I am not saying that we need preferences for Latinos in the selection of a national soccer team, but if the officials at the US program cannot find and develop Latino players there is clearly a pipeline and structural problem at work.  This is a deep reflection of the ills of American society.  Some argue we are past the civil rights movement, for many, this movement is still only just beginning. If we cannot include Latinos in participation of their favorite sport, then what hope do we have to include them in more typical aspects of American society?

This is not the last straw for me.  I have admittedly been pessimistic about the US team for a long time.  It is not so much the coach, but the makeup of the team.  U.S. players do not challenge themselves in Europe very often.  And when they do, it’s for tiny and small teams in trivial leagues.  Instead, our great players go home for safety and comfort.  How can the team get better if they are not playing against top competition?  More importantly, how can it perform if it ignores the top Latino talent that is developed and wasted at the junior level?  There is a clear awareness that this is a problem, but really no effort to fix the situation.

One Response to The Missing Latinos on the US World Cup 2014 Team

  1. By my count since 1994 we have had 2-2-1-2-2-3 native born Latinos on the WC squad the last 6 times. The rest were from Uruguay, El Salvador, and Colombia, etc. Not actually a huge dip.

    Given the influx of Germans this year, Latinos aren’t actually doing that poorly. But I know you’re talking about an ethnic group that ostensibly has more passion and historical ties to the game than white or black Americans, and their numbers should be higher. We can have more training centers such as Bradenton, but this won’t yield great players in huge numbers. We have no hope of having a systematic youth system like Germany, but Latinos stats living in border states can always take the Gringo Torres route and play in Mexican leagues as youths. We have several at Tijuana at the moment. I think there is clearly an undercount of Latino kids in the system, but it doesn’t appear to be sinister. Mexico’s system chews up and spits out thousands of kids (who no doubt skip out on their studies to train with one of the farm systems), and their international performance is hardly better than ours. I hardly see a route to go when it steers us away from the real problem: lack of educational and economic opportunities..More middle and upper middle class Latinos is probably the way to get more Latinos into the upper echelons of the system.

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