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Why aren't there more Mexican Americans on America's World Cup team?

From an interesting interview with Steve Wilson, author of "The Boys From Little Mexico."

Loads and loads of Latinos are playing soccer [at the youth level] but not a lot are moving on to play at the professional and the college levels. ... The immediate difference between soccer and basketball is the popularity factor and how much money you can make as a professional athlete in this country. So if you’re a really good black basketball player and you’re not in a really good school district for basketball, there are lots of guys from private schools out there looking for you to boost their school. I don’t think we have that going on at the high school level in soccer because there’s not the same kind of money for soccer. We just don’t have a bunch of adults going around looking for those highly skilled playground kids and, even if we did, we don’t have a place to put them once we find them.

By Ezra Klein  |  June 10, 2010; 9:56 AM ET
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The moment that soccer becomes as popular in America as basketball, you'll see a surge in soccer teams, camps, and participation. Right now, soccer is no higher than fifth in popularity at the professional level here in America, behind American football, baseball, basketball and hockey.

Posted by: c_attucks | June 10, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

This is a debate that is routinely hashed out among American soccer fans, players, and coaches. Some say there is a huge player-pool being neglected. I'm not sure I buy the idea that there are little Lionel Messis growing up in the US but going undiscovered, but I do think that US soccer is hurt by the fact that all too often elite teams are "pay-to-play". This is increasingly being addressed through scholarships, but a lot more needs to be done to open up opportunities in the sport to people from all economic and cultural backgrounds.

That being said, I think the debate is often overblown when it comes to the US national team itself. The team is actually quite diverse and representative of the country in many ways. As far as I know, the current World Cup squad includes:

8 African-American players (although it is worth noting that most are indeed the children of immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean- much more needs to be done to open up opportunities in the sport for the wider African-American community)

4 players with Mexican-American heritage, including the captain (defender Carlos Bocanegra)

2 players with Jewish heritage (perhaps notably for Ezra, this includes midfielder Benny Feilhaber who has Brazilian and Jewish roots, and was raised in Irvine and played for UCLA- he's the Ezra Klein of soccer!)

Posted by: ricky_b | June 10, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

The US is at the point where it routinely produces a few players good enough to play in first rank international soccer leagues, and given the sport's place in the US sports universe (I'd call fifth a significant stretch up) our national team does surprisingly well. But all of those players come up through the same suboptimal system Wilson describes.

I don't see anything here to explain why Mexican-American prospects in particular don't appear to move through the system in what you'd expect to be proportionate numbers. Perhaps kids who show pro potential move home with their families to pursue it in a country with a better league. A futbol paycheck in the Mexican League would pretty much eliminate the motivation for economic emigration.

Posted by: zimbar | June 10, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

I'm a first time commenter and ricky_b beats me to the punch and steals my thunder. DAMN! Anyways. From a big soccer fan, well put ricky.

In addition to Bocanagra, Bornstein, Buddle, and Torres are the other Mexican American players. Torres and Buddle in particular although they may/may not be in the starting lineup, could be big impact players for the USA at this World Cup.

I would also add that MLS has not been around for nearly as long as many of the other major professional sports like the NBA. It takes time to but the MLS has done a good job putting in place a set of incentives to encouraging MLS teams to find and develope young talent by giving teams the rights to players in their youth squads (without having to draft them). As a relatively new league, the MLS has a lot fewer teams and operates in fewer markets than other pro sports. College soccer also does not bring the dollars and attention to schools that some other major college sports do. With the level of youth participation and increasing popularity, the sport is clearly heading in the right direction. Money, and player development, will likely follow in time.

Posted by: MSPMatt | June 10, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Why!? It could be that they have not been discovered or they are not better than the existing players. I don't think, the National team coaches or MLS coaches have any reason not to include them. Our National team has had many players who were not born or raised here. Freddy Adu, Tom Dooley, Tab Ramos, and many existing or retired MLS players. Mexicans have chance to play for the Mexican National Team (MNT), if they are good enough. If they are not good enough for the MNT they are not good enough for the US. World Cup is ultimate goal for a soccer player or team. I don't think coaches discriminate.

Posted by: YoungTurk1 | June 10, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Coaches may not discriminate, but the USMNT talent pipeline definitely does. The recruiting pools for DI soccer powers are closer to lacrosse than basketball.

There are great soccer players in America, we just don't have anyone in our federation watching them play.

Posted by: rusty_spatula | June 10, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

MSPMatt, I think you meant to say Gomez instead of Buddle. Edson Buddle grew up in New York and his father is from Jamaica; Herculez Gomez (how's that for a name?) grew up in Las Vegas and his parents are from Mexico. Both are forwards who a few months ago no one would have predicted would be playing in the World Cup, but played their way onto the team by becoming the leading scorer in their leagues (Buddle in MLS and Gomez in Mexico). They will be interesting ones to watch for sure.

Posted by: ricky_b | June 10, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse


I disagree with you. Coaches, MLS and National Team, are watching. They get information from youth coaches, recruiters, squaters. You might know that US like other countries do have many youth National Teams. Even MLS has it or had it. Most recently, DC United signed two youth players from its youth team goal keeper Hamid and Andy Najar of Honduras/Edison HS of Virginia. You have to be good and better than others to get called. Hercules Gomes is prime example that he is on the US WC Team now in SA. He played on many MLS teams but when he moved to Mexican pro league (Pueblo, now with Pachuca) he became better according to his goal scoring and observation by the squaters.

Posted by: YoungTurk1 | June 10, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Also, although I wouldn't say he doesn't deserve his starting spot (he starts for a pretty good 1.Bundesliga side), having a center midfielder who's the coach's son makes me uncomfortable.

Posted by: rusty_spatula | June 10, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Michael Bradley is one of our best players. I can understand why it might look bad, but any charge of nepotism rings hollow for me- the team is better when he's on the field.

Posted by: ricky_b | June 10, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

First let me state there are Mexican-Americans on the team as stated by many. We have two, Jose Francisco Torres and Herculez Gomez, that play in Mexico for the Mexican Primera División. For those of you that don't know soccer it is the Mexican MLS.

Why we don't have more? As you mentioned, inner city kids face economic challenges. Although you don't need college experience to make it onto the national team or the pros, there is a lack of representation of Latinos in college overall.

US soccer lacks youth camps like other countries do. Not to mention that there should be more in the south west. No offense Ney Jersey.

Like other Americans, Latinos play other sports and athletic talent goes to them other sports.

And finally, the biggest factor affecting Latinos in US soccer is diacrimnation against size. I hate to stereotypE, but many, not all Latinos, are short compared to other people. US Soccer focusses TOO MUCH on it to. For example, look at Germany (size) vs Brazil (talent). Take Torres for example. He went to Mexico to play because no scout here wanted to play him. We almost LOST him to Mexico's National Team. The US as a whole, people say, play too much like robots and lacks "juego Bonito". Torres should start, but we'll see.

Either way, Bob Bradley has a diverse team, with Mexican-Americans, and I like the fact he has a winning US team.
What you should be writing about is the lack of media which affects the number of people and therefore the number of true US Soccer fans.

Posted by: Zava55 | June 10, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

There are lots of problems with American soccer, but lack of camps is not one of them here in Austin. This area is chock full of clubs, camps and rec leagues. It all costs money and financially disadvantaged kids with talent get scholarships. And the wealthier parents sometimes grumble because their very high fees support these kids. It costs thousands of dollars a year to keep your kid on a club and also subsidize another.

The American system exists because wealthier parents pay for both their kids and financially disadvantaged kids. Mexican youth teams often come to play here and they arrive in very nice buses with the name of a sponsoring professional team on the side. They are superbly trained because they are affiliated with a professional team from the very beginning. It is in the financial interest of the professional teams to do this.

This does not exist in this country. In fact there are very few places for a player to go after high school. Blame it on Title IX or whatever, but there is just one D1 collegiate soccer program in the entire state of Texas (SMU). UT and A&M have women's soccer but not men's. Universities are the defacto farm systems for American sport and the vast majority of them do not have a men's team.

I also see missing for the vast majority of kids places to play pick up games. One of the largest soccer organizations put in expensive sprinkler systems on local elementary and middle school play grounds for their leagues. They then made arrangements to keep the recess soccer players from using them. The mind boggles.

Like baseball, basketball and volley ball soccer gets very, very competitive very quickly. It is not unique to soccer, but there really are very few options for the late bloomer to get sufficient access to play and coaching. By the age of 12 the athletic future is set for most kids. We turn away kids all the time because at the moment someone is better. My soccer player was run off because he had a huge growth spurt and was clumsy one spring. He ended up a 6'5" basketball player.

And just a minor aside: soccer is also subject to attrition among kids born in the wrong month. My eldest kiddo wrote a science fair project on incidence of birth month in professional sports and beat the Freakonomics guy by many years. All youth sports have cutoff dates that define a peer group. The youngest kids in any cohort get the least attention and playing time and tend to drift away first.

Posted by: Nat_51 | June 11, 2010 12:53 AM | Report abuse

Seriously. This is a big problem. We need to get Obama on it right away. (After he plugs the hole and spends the economy back into shape, brings the troops home, creates peace in the Middle East and counts everybody at least once...) Does anyone out there have access? Can you blackberry him on this someone? Anyone?

Or maybe the real reason also isn't that there isn't enough interest in the fifth most popular sport in a nation of several hundred million people. (Doh.)

Probably the reason is that there are enough English-American and German-American and Italian-American and Dutch-American and Spanish-American and even Nigerian-American and Cameroonian-American not to mention Brazilian-American and Argentinian-American soccer players to field a team and all those countries kick Mexico's okole whenever they meet.

Posted by: konastephen | June 11, 2010 4:08 AM | Report abuse

konastephen: Best post!

All that's missing from this thread is Mr. Klein proposing a nine figure program and several thousand pages of federal laws and regulations to increase the number of Mexican-American soccer players.

Posted by: ElmerStoup | June 11, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Why aren't there more Latvian-Americans on the USMNT team?

Posted by: 4avocats | June 11, 2010 9:32 PM | Report abuse

Why aren't there more Latvian-Americans on the USMNT team? Who CARES?? We're playing England tomorrow. Must everything have this angle?

Posted by: 4avocats | June 11, 2010 9:35 PM | Report abuse

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