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 reviewing the potential U.S. roster for this year’s tournament a few weeks ago when he realized that black players would make up about half the squad and many, many more. Start Monday’s opener against Wales.

He started rattling off names like Weston McCany, Tyler Adams, Yunus Musa, Anthony Robinson…the list went on.

It’s a far cry from Armstrong’s national team days, when he and defenseman Jimmy Banks were the only black players not just on the roster but in the elite talent pool.

“I would say the biggest difference back then is that it’s lonely,” Armstrong said. “It’s not just one guy like me, quote-unquote, carrying the banner for every African American potential athlete.”

This year’s 26-man squad includes a record 12 black players, an increase of three over 2014 — the last time the United States qualified — and the same number as the 1994, ’98 and 2002 squads. (The records were limited to 22 players from 1990-1998 and 23 from 2002-2018.)

“It’s no secret that African Americans gravitate toward basketball, gravitate toward American football, gravitate toward baseball, gravitate toward other sports,” McKenney said. “In my neighborhood [in Little Elm, Tex.], you rarely see any African American kids playing football. So now to be able to do what we love and at the same time have an impact on sports for African Americans is amazing, because now they can look at it and say ‘You know, that could be me … and there’s another sport out there that we can love.

Nine additional black players competed for coach Gregg Berhalter’s team prior to the Nov. 9 roster announcement. Four Hispanic players will be cut, providing the largest group of players of color in U.S. World Cup history.

“The diversity of this group 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 was “unbelievable to see how far the game has come in terms of what it has achieved. “

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Edu, who is black, emphasized the importance of black role models who played for the United States in World Cup matches. For him, it’s Eddie Pope, Ernie Stewart and Damcus Beasley. The 2010 and ’14 squads featured 17 black players, including Tim Howard, Oguchi Oniwu and Jozy Altidore.

“There’s more room for growth, but if this team is successful, it continues that pipeline,” Edu said. “Seeing players like them, there will be more young black kids paying attention to the sport.”

Armstrong, 58, was born in Washington, D.C., but moved to Montgomery County, Md., and starred as a child at Columbia, a Howard County youth football hotbed. When visiting his grandmother in Northeast D.C., the neighborhood boys would yell at him, “Yeah, football boy, how’s that hockey?”

“I was always called ‘football boy’ there,” Armstrong said with a laugh. It means it’s a white boy’s game.

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The 1990 squad consisted of white players in their early to mid-20s who went through traditional development circles and starred for NCAA programs. The makeup of this year’s team is far from that. When fully healthy, the three-man starting midfield will feature the All Blacks: McKenney, Adams and Musa.

The path for McKennie and Adams went through MLS academies in Dallas and New York, respectively. Both skipped college to turn pro.

Born in New York to Ghanaian parents, Musa studied the game in Italy and England and plays for Valencia in Spain’s La Liga. He qualified to represent four countries.

Florida-born guard Shaq Moore traces his family roots to Trinidad and Tobago. Midfielder Kellyn Acosta, of Greater Dallas, is black, Japanese and Puerto Rican. New York-born winger Tim Vee is the son of a Liberian father (former superstar George Vee) and a Jamaican mother.

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

Los Angeles-born striker Haji Wright has Liberian and Ghanaian roots. Both guards Robinson and Cameron Carter-Vickers are sons of black American fathers who played football at Duke and basketball at LSU, respectively, in England. (Howard Carter was a 1983 first-round draft pick.)

Although the influence of soccer in the United States was greater in the suburbs than in cities where the sport throbbed elsewhere in the world, current and former black players had greater access to credit and greater access to the sport.

At the Project Sports conference at the Aspen Institute in Washington in May, Cindy Cohn, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, said, “A lot of it comes down to how we view the game and change the perception that it’s rich, white kids. To a game where the game is literally played [everywhere]. As the most diverse country in the world, how do we shift that focus to make sure every child feels welcome in our sport?

While the number of black players on the national team has grown, Hispanic representation has stagnated, even though Latinos make up about 20 percent of the U.S. population. The most popular sport in those communities is football.

The largest Latino contingent on the US World Cup squad was five in 1994. This year it is striker Jesus Ferreira, forward Gio Reina and midfielders Luca de la Torre and Cristian Roldan. However, only Roldan has roots in Central America, whose parents immigrated from El Salvador and Guatemala. (Roldan’s brother Alex represents El Salvador.)

In a mild surprise, striker Ricardo Pepi was not selected for the World Cup squad. Pepi, a dual national from El Paso, would have been a hero in the Mexican American community — “someone Mexican Americans can identify with,” said ESPN commentator Hercules Gomez.

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Gomez, who has Mexican roots and played for the United States at the 2010 World Cup, said it was “a bitter pill to miss.” He also noted that none of the Mexican-American players committed to Mexico made El Tri’s World Cup squad.

U.S. officials agree that socioeconomic barriers have played a large role in the failure of some minority families to attract young people. Berhalter noted progress in building a pipeline to the national team, but asked, “How do we expand? [access]Enter underserved communities and provide more opportunities?

Armstrong, a Hall of Famer, has taken that effort in the form of a youth program in East Nashville where kids from a myriad of backgrounds have embraced the sport.

“We’re in the early stages” of getting underrepresented kids into sports and youth national teams, he said. “We won’t see the results for 20 years. And when that happens, it’s going to be like, ‘Okay, now soccer has reached every corner, every inch of America.’

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Group Guide: Led by coach Greg Burhalter and star forward Christian Pulisic, the United States men’s national soccer team qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement on its disastrous and unsuccessful 2018 campaign. Here’s a closer look at how all the teams stack up in each category.

Today’s World View: With the World Cup just days away, Talks about the strike are only increasing. Soccer-loving protesters have voiced their displeasure with Qatar’s autocratic monarchy, including its human rights abuses, crackdown on dissent, persecution of LGBTQ people and mistreatment of migrant workers.

The best of the best: Over 800 players representing 32 countries and six continents will gather in Qatar for the World Cup. These players are likely to hold the key to their team promising a breakthrough tournament or exceeding expectations.

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