By Mike Woitalla
Only two decades ago, the United States had never had a Hispanic head coach at any level of its national team program and Latino players were rarely seen in a U.S uniform. In a nation with a large Latino community with deep soccer roots -- competing in a world where Latin-style soccer was the most successful and many would say the most entertaining -- the Hispanic player pool was largely excluded from mainstream soccer.
“From an ethnic standpoint,” says Alan Rothenberg, the U.S. Soccer Federation’s president from 1990 to 1998, “We were dominated by Europeans who didn’t have interest in Hispanics.”
In 1994, U.S. Soccer hired Carlos Juarez, a Southern Californian of Guatemalan descent, as a liaison to the Latino community. We checked in with Juarez, who is still a U.S. Soccer coaching schools instructor and serves as a national team chief scout for Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, for Part 1 of our series looking at the two decades since the USSF launched a concerted effort to be more inclusive.
“Back then, any kind of progression in integrating Hispanics -- whether coaches or players or families -- would have been a positive,” says Juarez. “Now we’re actually part of the soccer culture in the United States. We’re a very strong part of it and making an impact. You’ll see that if you look at the national teams, the U-17s, the U-20s …”
In 1994, CYSA-South was estimated at having about 8 percent Latino players. Twenty years later?
“I don’t know the exact figure,” says Juarez, who also serves as Claremont Stars SC director in Southern California. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s maybe 40 percent. It’s huge now.”
Juarez estimates that the number of Hispanics who attend the USSF coaching license courses has quadrupled within two decades.
In 2007, U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati, who had also served under Rothenberg, hired Wilmer Cabrera to take charge of the boys U-17 national team -- the first time the USA had a Hispanic head coach for a team that competed for a world championship. Also during Gulati’s tenure, Tab Ramos became U-20 national team coach, Javier Perez the U-18 head coach, Hugo Perez has headed the U-15s and U-14s, and Albertin Montoya coached the U.S. girls U-17 national team in 2011-12. Claudio Reyna served as U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Director from 2010 to 2013, and Ramos now holds that position.
The launch of the U.S. Development Academy has demonstrated a significant increase in the number of Latino players at the elite level of the youth game -- nearly 40 percent of the players on its MLS-affiliated clubs are Latinos. The U.S. Soccer also employs nine Technical Advisors who oversee its Academy scouting program and monitor the clubs. Nearly half are Hispanic, including Hugo Perez and Juan Carlos Michia, who after Juarez and Rene Miramontes became the third Latino U.S. soccer staff coach hired during the Rothenberg presidency in the outreach effort.
When Juarez was hired, he was charged with recruiting Latino coaches to take U.S. Soccer courses, convincing Latino leagues to affiliate with U.S. Soccer, and getting the USSF coaching staff to recognize the talent of Latino players.
“Back then, it was more of coaches not understanding or not having experience coaching the Hispanic player,” says Juarez. “There were doubts. Is the Hispanic player hard-working? Does the Hispanic player have limitations because of size? More than anything it was lack of experience.”
Juarez had to challenge those prejudices in an era when the USA was more isolated to the realities of a soccer world in which individual skills and the emphasis on possession, hallmarks of Latin-style soccer, make it obvious that we shouldn’t be ignoring our Latino soccer community. Today, any coach who judges talent on size can be trounced with the words Lionel Messi, Xavi or Andres Iniesta. Any coach whose model comes from the England can’t deny that the EPL’s best teams rely so heavily players from southern Europe and Latin America.
“Now things are more open,” Juarez says. “Everything is out there television. It’s in front of us. Now the big difference is we’re open-minded and looking for the best possible players -- it doesn’t matter what color, the size. Globally, those things don’t matter. We’re trying to compete with the rest of the world. We’re trying to find the best talent regardless race.”
Contributing to the exclusion of Latinos from mainstream soccer has been the high-cost of youth soccer in the USA.
“This is an issue in general, not just for the Hispanic community,” says Juarez. “As long as pay-to-play exists, there’s always going to be some limitation. It has improved. At some of the [U.S. Soccer Development] Academy clubs, the kids don’t have to pay. A lot of clubs try hard to ‘scholarship’ players. But the economics still have an effect on participation. There are still barriers, but a lot of barriers have been broken down and we’re going in the right direction.”
(Carlos Juarez is Chief Scout for the U.S. men’s national team, a member of the USSF Coaching Schools Instructional Staff, and the director of Southern California youth club Claremont Stars. He has been head coach of the WUSA’s San Diego Spirit, Cal State San Bernardino and Cal Poly Pomona. He was assistant coach of Chivas USA in 2010.)
(In Part 2, The Youth Soccer Insider will check in with Rene Miramontes and Juan Carlos Michia, who followed Juarez in the role of U.S. Soccer liaison to the Latino Community.)
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, is co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper and co-author with Claudio Reyna of More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com. Woitalla refs youth soccer in Northern California and coaches at East Bay United/Bay Oaks.)