U.S. men’s World Cup roster reflects ‘the diversity of America’

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DOHA, Qatar – Desmond Armstrong, a defender on the 1990 U.S. World Cup team, was considering a possible American roster for this year’s tournament when he thought black soccer players would make up about half of the squad a few weeks ago. Starts against Wales on Monday.

He started calling names: Weston McKenney, Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah, Anthony Robinson… The list went on.

It’s a stark contrast to Armstrong’s national team days, when he and quarterback Jimmy Banks were not only on the roster, but the only black players in the elite talent pool.

“I would say the biggest difference back then was the loneliness,” Armstrong said. “Here’s a takedown quote that carries the banner for every African-American potential player, not just one guy like me.”

This year’s 26-man squad includes a record 12 black players, three more than 2014 — the last time the United States qualified — and the same number as the 1994, ’98 and 2002 squads. (The list includes 22 players from 1990-1998 and 23 players from 2002-2018.)

“It’s no secret that African Americans gravitate toward basketball, American football, baseball and other sports,” McKenney said. “In my district [in Little Elm, Tex.], you rarely saw African-American kids playing football. So now to be able to influence the African-American game, doing something that we love, it’s amazing because now they look at it and say, “You know, this could be me … and there’s another sport that we’re going to fall in love with.”

An additional nine black players competed for coach Gregg Berhalter’s team prior to the Nov. 9 roster announcement. Four players to qualify are Hispanic, providing the largest delegation of players of color in U.S. World Cup history.

“The diversity of this team is the diversity of America,” Berhalter said.

Maurice Edu, a midfielder at the 2010 World Cup and now a Fox Sports commentator, said he often talks with friends about the possibility of an all-black starting line-up soon, saying it’s “amazing to see how far the game has come. “

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Edu, who is black, emphasized the importance of black role models playing in World Cups for the United States. For him, it was Eddie Pope, Ernie Stewart and DaMarcus Beasley, among others. The 2010 and ’14 teams had 17 black players, including Tim Howard, Oguchi Onyewu and Jozy Altidore.

“There’s still a lot of room to grow, but if this team succeeds, it will continue that pipeline,” Edu said. “There’s going to be young black kids who see players like them and pay more attention to the game.”

Armstrong, 58, was born in Washington, D.C., but moved to Montgomery County as a child and excelled in the sport at Columbia, a youth soccer hotbed in Howard County. When he visited his grandmother in Northeast County, the neighborhood kids asked him, “Hey, football player, how’s that hockey?”

“I was always known as ‘Football Boy’ over there,” Armstrong laughs. It was a White boy sport.

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The 1990 team was almost exclusively white players in their mid-20s, who passed through traditional development circles and played in NCAA programs. The composition of this year’s team is far from that. When fully healthy, the three-man midfield has all-black players: McKenney, Adams and Moses.

McKenney and Adams’ paths passed through the MLS academies in Dallas and New York. Both dropped out of college to go pro.

Musa was born in New York to Ghanaian parents, learned the game in Italy and England and plays for Valencia in Spain’s La Liga. He has the right to represent four countries.

Florida-born quarterback Shaq Moore has family roots in Trinidad and Tobago. Dallas midfielder Kellyn Acosta is black, Japanese and Puerto Rican. Winger Tim Weah, a native of New York, is the son of a Liberian father (former superstar George Weah) and a Jamaican mother.

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DeAndre Yedlin, the only US player with World Cup experience, is Latvian-Jewish and black with Native American blood. Ferreira moved to the United States in 2009 when his father David joined FC Dallas and became a US citizen in 2019.

Haji Wright, a native of Los Angeles, is of Liberian and Ghanaian descent. Robinson and Cameron Carter-Vickers, both linebackers, are from England, the sons of black American fathers who played football at Duke and basketball at LSU. (Howard Carter was a first-round pick in 1983.)

Current and former black players believe the game will be more accessible and more accessible, but soccer’s influence in the United States remains large in the suburbs, where the game pulsates in other parts of the world.

U.S. Soccer President Cindy Cone said at the Aspen Institute’s Project Game Summit in Washington, D.C., in May, “A lot of this is about how our sport is viewed, and how do we change it from a perception of rich, white boys? sport is literally a sport played [everywhere]. As the most diverse country in the world, how can we change this focus to ensure that every child is welcome in our game?

While the number of black players on the national team has grown, Hispanic representation has stagnated, even though Latinos make up nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population. Football is the most popular sport in these societies.

In 1994, the United States had the largest Latino contingent at the World Championships, with five players. This year it has forward Jesus Ferreira, striker Joe Reyna and midfielders Luca de la Torre and Cristian Roldan. But only Roldan, whose parents immigrated from El Salvador and Guatemala, has roots in Central America. (Representing Roldan’s brother, Alex Salvador.)

In a bit of a surprise, striker Ricardo Pepi was left out of the World Cup squad. A dual citizen from El Paso, Pepi could become a hero in the Mexican American community, said ESPN commentator Hercules Gomez — “anyone Mexican Americans can identify with.”

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“It’s a bitter pill to swallow,” said Gomez, who is of Mexican descent and played for the United States in the 2010 World Cup. He also noted that none of the Mexican American players committed to Mexico were included in El Tri’s World Cup squad.

U.S. officials agree that socioeconomic barriers prevent young people from some minority families from participating. Berhalter noted the pipeline progress to the national team, but also: “How do we expand [access]Reach out to underserved communities and provide more opportunities?

Armstrong, a Hall of Famer, did that in the form of a youth program in East Nashville where kids from countless backgrounds embraced the game.

“We’re at the beginning of getting under-represented kids into the game and onto the youth teams,” he said. “We will not see the results of this for 20 years. When that happens, it’s like, “Okay, now football has reached every corner, every inch of America.”

The World Cup held in Qatar

Answered your questions: The World Cup will start on November 20 in Qatar, five months later than usual. Here’s everything you need to know about the quadrennial event.

Group guide: Led by coach Gregg Berhalter and star forward Christian Pulisic, the U.S. men’s national soccer team has qualified for the 2022 World Cup, improving on its disastrous and unsuccessful 2018 campaign. Here’s a closer look at how all the teams in each group stack up.

Today’s World View: The start of the World Cup is just a few days away. There is growing talk of a boycott. The soccer fan protesters voiced their disdain for Qatar’s autocratic monarchy, including human rights abuses, suppression of dissent, persecution of LGBTQ people and mistreatment of migrant workers.

The best of the best: More than 800 players from 32 countries and six continents will gather in Qatar for four weeks of World Cup competition. These players are likely to hold the key to their team’s promise of a competitive tournament or exceeding expectations.

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