Latino Inclusion: How far have we come? (Part 1)

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 Woitalla refs youth soccer in Northern California and coaches at East Bay United/Bay Oaks.)

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6 comments about "Latino Inclusion: How far have we come? (Part 1)".
  1. BJ Genovese, April 9, 2014 at 4:13 p.m.

    "Today, any coach who judges talent on size can be trounced with the words Lionel Messi, Xavi or Andres Iniesta." Still a very long way to go. Especially with our big club coaches and college coaches. But making head way is a good thing. We dont need to promote our diminutive players to the national team at u14-15-16 but they should find a way to keep them in the loop other than USSDA and TC's because at TC's they just seem to figure whether or not they can be promoted emmediatly and then if not stop inviting. But never seem to ask back a year or so later to see how they are doing. That was my sons problem...size. 5 tc's then nothing, now its a year later and hes grown quite a bit. But never an invite back. I wonder if its because hes not USSDA too. Oh... and hes half latino so its relevant...

  2. R2 Dad, April 10, 2014 at 12:36 a.m.

    I think we've made huge progress in the past 20 years including top skilled, Hispanic youth players into our youth setups. In Cal-N we see lots of Hispanic teams, and the teams that are not Hispanic have at least a few Hispanic kids in them. So there is opportunity, even with the limitations of pay-to-play. I would differ, though, with Mike's assertion there is "emphasis on possession". I've seen very few Hispanic teams under U15 (I can remember 2 boys teams) play much possession. Skilled players, yes, but the ball never stays on the ground for long and eventually the skilled attackers get starved of service. Lots of long balls, lots of running and dribbling, but usually poor team play (ironically, the Hispanic girls teams are much better in this regard). So I think the challenge going forward is for Hispanic coaches to get better training so as not to just duplicate the soccer they grew up on. Don't get me wrong, this same challenge exists for non-Hispanic coaches and teams, in probably the same percentages. I just don't see possession, and the required player development necessary to implement possession, as a priority in youth teams in Cal-N. Maybe it's better in Cal-S, and that's why we see more kids from SoCal in our U teams? Dunno. Looking forward to part II, Mike.

  3. Kent James, April 10, 2014 at 9:12 a.m.

    Thanks for documenting the improvements. I'm glad we've made progress. Better late than never!

  4. James Froehlich, April 10, 2014 at 11:12 a.m.

    Great article though long overdue! One of the best comments was from Rothenberg where he finally admitted the impact of the European(British) community on the long absence of Hispanic players and coaches from US soccer. Unfortunately the impact of the old British community is still quite evident in the college game. The good news is that change IS underway and expanding. Congrats to everyone that has been part of that change.

  5. Peter Skouras, May 7, 2014 at 6:26 p.m.

    In 1986 the McGuire Cup Champions Fram Culver Palisades was and is arguably the best "Domestic" American Youth Team ever produced. With a combination of Hispanic and European Americans combined, Marcelo Balboa, Danny, Raul and Carlos Pena, Waldir Guerra (probably the best Youth Hispanic this country has ever seen) combined with Mike Grigorian, Costa Skouras, Razmik ...ian, Mike Singleman Coached by Tad Bobak (Brazilian decent)and Luis Balboa would in today's USSDA Academy League would fair if not "destroy" teams with its speed, strength skill and most of all "cultural" diversity. Diego and Rogdrigo Casto, the Zavaleta Bros., Poli Garcia, Miguel Lopez, Rudy Ybarra, Sergio Velazquez, Hugo Perez...there were Hispanics in Southern California not as many as today but Hispanics with "Footballing Talent" and Knowledge. Most of the above mentioned went on to Professional and National Team careers and today I believe only Hugo is in the National Teams program. Carlos Juarez never even heard of him as a Youth Player as when I used to come home for a few day R&R and stop by CSLA with Coach Ralph Perez to get a session in (and what sessions) he'd put Carlos to "mark" me man v man! "Not bad I'd say...but that's is far as it went as a player for old "Carlos!" and I was a 17 year old North American Soccer League Professional with US National Youth Team experience. The point: It is "how and where" you look for players especially Hispanics. It's their game!!! Let's remember this. Their is a racial issue especially when a "white man" comes into the barrio looking for talent! Better to send Carlos to East LA who has no "professional playing experience" than Eric Wynalda etc., etc. And in the US National Coaching Schools I have heard some "horror" stories "disrespecting" former Professionals. Yeah, I and many others have a problem with Juarez and his approachability. But for someone to be in a position since 1994 tells you something. In 1999 when Coach Sampson introduced the first "full-time" Scouting System on Southern California (because the State teams were the same old players just moving up in age group) to identify "also" in the "Unaffiliated" Hispanic Leagues with Costa Skouras as Scout Coordinator, it was National Cup time and Costa and myself approached Carlos for information on a few of the Clairmont Stars..."RUDE AS HECK!" Did not recognize the program or so it seemed. And want to know something? The player we were identifying was an "Anglo" Center Midfield player. Nonetheless, Juarez has done well in the Hispanic community, got his Master's but to be titled "Chief Scout" for Klinsmann is pathetic.

  6. Peter Skouras, May 7, 2014 at 6:26 p.m.

    We will see after the World Cup what comes of this. Believe me "Soccer America" my life after soccer has been challenging yet successful. If there is anything I can take from Juarez is his will to pursue his education but "footballing wise?" Not a thing. The entire Federation, the Domestic Structure with the implementation of Promotion/Relegation, the "3" Professional Leagues becoming one, former Professionals who have been alienated by people like Juarez need to "return" to their roots. Identifying Hispanics??? Absolutely, however, identifying "all" races especially in "ghettos" and eliminating this "pay to play" BS so Coaches and DOC's can make 500.00 to 5.000 a month + must change! Our Soccer Culture is damaged. Can it be repaired?

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