Is institutional racism to blame for the lack of US soccer stars?
The head of US Soccer’s diversity task force says the some of the country’s most gifted players are prevented from showcasing their talents because of their cultural background.
Doug Andreassen believes athletes in mostly African American and Latino neighborhoods get left behind, while parents from wealthier areas are able to fund their child’s progression in the game.
Andreassen points out that last year’s Women’s World Cup winners were almost all white, and that several of the non-white players in the US Copa America squad grew up overseas.
“People don’t want to talk about it,” he said. “The system is not working for the underserved community. It’s working for the white kids.
“We used to say to ourselves: ‘How good would we be if we could just get the kids in the cities?'”
The US pay-to-play system is said to be the main contributory factor to the disparity, with talented youngsters from poorer backgrounds heavily reliant on scholarships or sponsorships to break into the game.
Julio Borge, director of coaching at the largely Latino Heritage Soccer Club in Pleasant Hill, California said: “You are buying skill – but there are some pieces of the game that just can’t be bought.
“In my area, we are missing a ton of these kids. A lot of coaches don’t have time to see everybody.
“It’s expensive to try out for the big programs, so many don’t even go after the opportunity.”
Borge believes US Soccer should implement a strategy to ensure the best players, whatever their background, have a route to the top.
“We need someone to speak up – (Jurgen) Klinsmann or whatever – and say: ‘Here are the players we are looking for, and here’s how the system should be built.’
The diversity problem is seemingly more prevalent in the women’s game than the men’s.
While more than a third of the men’s roster in this month’s Copa America will be non-white, the women’s team playing at the Rio Olympics will be mostly white.
With five players from the women’s team threatening to boycott Rio 2016 after filing a wage-discrimination complaint, it appears the issues of diversity and equality are a long way from being resolved.
Soccer has greatly improved in the US in recent years, but Borge insists more needs to be done by both US Soccer and the MLS to create a structure where players can progress in the game, whatever their background might be.
“We have coaches who need to recruit talent from all over the nation and invest in the Olympic Development Program and let them be creative and let the let them play freely,” he said.
“It takes huge dedication and it takes money, but we have the money at US Soccer.”
Andreassen also believes more should be done to ensure soccer becomes as accessible and diverse as sports such as Basketball or American Football.
“There are the kids in the diverse communities playing on the street corner, and we have to find them,” said Andreassen.
“Someone knows they are there, either the church or the school.
“Maybe it’s a pastor or a principal or someone at the YMCA or Boy’s and Girl’s Club. We have to identify those community leaders.
“I think I’ve pushed the ball one revolution. But my goal is to get it down to the goalline.”