Latino Inclusion: U.S. Soccer Takes a Step Backward

By Paul Gardner

Hugo Perez is known as someone with strong connections in the California Latino communities. He also has an exceptionally keen eye when it comes to recognizing young players of promise. Those two attributes ought, one might reasonably suppose, to be of considerable use to U.S. Soccer and its national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

Perez, in fact, had been employed by U.S. Soccer as its part-time under-15 coach for the past two years. A position in which he unashamedly stocked his teams with Latin talent. His reward for that service was to get fired earlier this year.

I’m not about to claim that Perez was constantly discovering young whiz kids. The caliber of his players is not really relevant, though I will stress that it was certainly no worse than the long succession of anglo-dominated teams that have been produced by U.S. Soccer in the past.

The point about Perez, one that U.S. Soccer is oblivious to, is that he was different. How many other Latino coaches does the USSF have -- has it ever had -- who are devoted to nurturing Latino talent? The mere presence of Perez as a USSF coach -- a part-timer -- had an importance far beyond the immediate necessities of the job. It meant that, for the young Latinos of California, and hopefully elsewhere, there was a hugely sympathetic presence within USSF. I do not believe that has ever happened before, and I cannot exaggerate its importance.

USSF has chosen to throw that valuable asset out. No explanation has been offered. We are left to assume -- what else can we assume? -- that Perez, in some way -- maybe tactically, or maybe he’s not organized enough, or, yes, maybe he recruits too many Latinos -- is a lousy coach. What makes this situation even more unpleasant is the realization that, as soon as the decision is made to make the U-15 post a full-time appointment, Perez is dismissed, and the decidedly non-Latino John Hackworth is moved in.

That does not indict Hackworth, he is not the instigator of this move, though he is certainly the beneficiary. I imagine that Hackworth, who has plenty of experience in youth coaching, is seen as a better administrator that Perez. So be it. But what Hackworth does not have is the devotion to Latino players and the Latino game that fire the soccer soul of Hugo Perez.

In short, we’re looking at a step backward here. Getting the Latino soccer community fully involved in the activities of the USSF has proved quite absurdly difficult. Both sides have shown a reluctance to adapt. But it has always been the responsibility of the USSF, as the controlling body, the one with the money and the authority, to see that the Latino soccer community is fully integrated. Why would it resist that, when the Latinos have so much to offer?

But resistance there has clearly been -- drawn-out, dogged resistance -- and the Perez story shows that it still exists. Perez was given an influential, if relatively minor, coaching job by USSF. Instead of quietly playing things in the traditional anglo way, Perez made no secret of his intention to favor Latino players -- because he feels they are the most skilled.

OK -- so what if Perez doesn’t fill the USSF vision of the ideal coach? A vision that has been fashioned by decades of anglo-dominance. So what if Perez is a troublesome presence? It is the USSF’s job to know that he is a presence they need, its job to find a way of accommodating this troublesome Latino. Instead, the USSF simply dismisses him. A shabby, and -- ultimately -- cowardly act.

I am told that Klinsmann -- a man known to covet control, and a man who has by now made it glaringly clear that he has little interest in Latino players -- played no role in the Perez debacle.

Oh? That makes it especially interesting to hear Hackworth expounding on what he sees as key aspects of his new job: “One key component is taking the messages from the senior national team and keeping them consistent throughout all the programs, so that players know what is expected at the highest level and we are properly preparing them to advance through our national teams.”

Did Hackworth make that up, or is that an official part of the job requirements? If it is, then where else would it come from, if not from Klinsmann?

As an aside, this notion that having everyone in the national team program playing the same style is necessarily a huge plus needs examining. As far as I can see, it is totally unproven.

One thing such a demand for uniformity is more than likely to produce is uniform players. Will Hackworth’s job, then, be to produce a swarm of Jermaine Jones clones? That is something that Perez would -- could -- never have done. And Perez no longer has the job.

28 comments about "Latino Inclusion: U.S. Soccer Takes a Step Backward".
  1. Jogo Bonito, November 8, 2014 at 7:02 p.m.

    Yea this wasn't handled all that well. I've Hugo was a nightmare as a coach though. But he's a U.S. Soccer legend in my eyes. I would think that there's something he could do to keep a position with US Soccer. As far as Hackworth is concerned, I hear nothing but good things about him. Despite his so-so performance as Philly Union's coach. He has to recognize the value of the still unappreciated Latino soccer community. Hopefully, his job won't include finding u-15 German-American Military kids.

  2. J B, November 8, 2014 at 8:08 p.m.

    A latino coach gets fired and it's already considered a step backwards for US soccer? I think a coach should have merit based on their ability to perform the job, not their color or background. It's even admitted in the article that you don't know why he was fired more than anyone else. From where I stand, I don't think it's required that the USSF be "sympathetic" to Latinos more than any other group. Talent is talent and it should be promoted no matter what your background may be. We shouldn't be favoring players of a certain background because somebody "feels" they are more skilled.

  3. David Huff, November 8, 2014 at 8:53 p.m.

    Well the fact remains that there exists a largely untapped pool of skilled players in the Latino community that raise the technical skills quality of the USMNT, for too long the Brit-influenced structure of the USSF and for that matter its subsidiaries such as Cal-South have ignored this area that is critical to our development of a competitive player pool for our national teams. We do NOT want to emulate the English any model anymore, it is a prescription for defeat and endless losses.

  4. Robert Russell , November 8, 2014 at 10:17 p.m.

    Honestly, I don't get it. In my admittedly informal survey of recent youth national team rosters, about half had Latino last names. I'm not in any way suggesting there aren't undiscovered pools of talent, but the idea that the YNTs are biased against Latinos doesn't seem to jive with my observations.

    The challenge for US Soccer is how to translate youth success to senior success. While we haven't enjoyed the same levels of achievement as Mexico at the youth level, we've had some very talented and successful teams. Of course, Mexico which has youth championships, has been no more successful at the senior level.

    Based on participation in the European big 5, the talent level on the MNT is at a recent low. When we start midfielders that can't even maintain possession, much less compete with mid level European teams technically, we can't expect much. Amazing that we were a late knock in away from the round of 8 against a vastly better team.

  5. luis llontop, November 8, 2014 at 10:49 p.m.

    Mr. Gardner you are so right, US Soccer will never advance as long as the dinosaurs in US Soccer don't step back and give the younger knowledgeable futbol coaches a chance to succeed. Look at the State Soccer Associations at all levels, most of them meet every year at a nice resort to talk about themselves. It's sad but is who you know that allows a player to be noticed. Use the talent available in this country and if it happens to be Latin American talent because they are creative players so be it. US Soccer needs to have a leader that knows about futbol and doesn't just know about the business of futbol. Again as I expressed it before, Tab Ramos is the man to be the coach for US Soccer.

  6. Lou vulovich, November 9, 2014 at 4:34 a.m.

    Sorry Paul,
    For once I completely disagree with you US
    Soccer is not missing out on Latino talent they are
    missing out on American talent. Latino,white,
    Black they can't identify any talent.
    The whole system including scouting and coaching is a complete failure.
    Only in this country do the same 30 kids play on the national team from U15 all the way until they go to college. Every age group should have at least 150 boys identified and invited to play different friendlies.
    The competition should be tops and should be one year older to test and help develop and identify young talent not hand picked National teams usually younger then the US team so the American teams can win until it really matters.
    Where are these great young players Latino or
    Otherwise identified by Perez or any other US scout.
    This country does not have one decent left footed
    Player at any level. ( do you think there is something wrong there??)
    It's not about firing one coach and hiring another in the recycling failed program. It is not about
    Identifying Latino talent it's about identifying
    Any boy in this country with talent,
    How about searching the country for good scouts
    And good young coaches. Mike Munoz is a great
    Example not recycle the same guys.
    Talent, talent, talent. That is what has to be identified and nurtured not Latino, White, or Black.

  7. Dustin Johnson, November 9, 2014 at 9:33 a.m.

    May we judge players by the content of their character and the quality of their play not the color of their skin or the tone of their voice. Your fetishistic pursuit of this topic is tiring. If American born Latinos were doing anything overseas - including I'd add Mexico where there is unlimited opportunity and no American born stars - I would listen. But Paul it's not as if poor kids are not getting it together, dispute long odds, across Latina America. They are. Without a system and despite a soccer bureaucracy that makes ours look like a Swiss clock. The kids need to rise up. The communities need to get their shit together. Klinsman ain't going to do that no matter how many Larinos he hires. Oh and one last thing. Last time I checked the last 3 world cups were won sans mestizo influence.

  8. Dustin Johnson, November 9, 2014 at 9:52 a.m.

    Also what exactly do you want to happen? Our most recent u18 roster 1/4 Hispanic decent. Paul, we're America we'll never be 100% anything and - as Klinsman has said many times - we need to find our own style. Personally I wish you would go on a crusade to get more African Americans playing soccer and have more influence because that tiny population is a million times more influential than all of Latin America...give me hip-hop soccer! Give me soccer Jazz. Give me Jesse Owens in the mid-field and WEB Dubois on the bench, better yet give me Einstein, John Wayne, Mike Eruzzione...give me an American style. Drumming away begging for Latino influence isn't an American way of thinking. The American way of thinking is to innovate, change or destroy. Paul you should start complaining about Klinsmen through that lens. All this race, class and tribe based stuff is very English.

  9. Amos Annan, November 9, 2014 at 10:48 a.m.

    Really dumb. Most all "anglo" coaches take players based on TALENT (because they want to win). Perhaps Perez problem was that he chose based on their race.

  10. beautiful game, November 9, 2014 at 11:16 a.m.

    If physicality is the first choice of a talent search, there is no hope.

  11. BJ Genovese, November 9, 2014 at 11:31 a.m.

    Right now in the US soccer is clearly taking off. Kids are playing on there own everywhere. I have seen talented kids of ever size and color. So to favor anyone on anything other than skill is absurd. It's true, as one gentleman above pointed out... USSF must not keep bringing in the same pool of kids from u14 on up. This current cycle just announced to attend a u16 camp, which was Perez kids are the same deserved group that's been involved for the past two years (except Edwin Lara). So they are not shaking things up much right away. I do think they need to contact there scouts. Have them go back into there data base (they take a laptop to all TC sessions and log those invited who show so they have a wealthy data base) and invite them back for a trial session. Also I hope Ric shares his knowledge about why Hugo was let go. So we don't have to assume whether it was poor coaching, unorganized, too religious, Latino favoritism, bull headed, or an inability to follow us soccer mandate.

  12. cisco martinez, November 9, 2014 at 1:48 p.m.

    I wouldn't say releasing Perez was due necessarily because he was Latino, however the insistence among the soccer establishment is to choose players based on speed and athleticism, not technical or tactical ability does hinder Latin based players and coaches. Being a former regional ODP player, collegiate player and division one coach, I see this all too often and it is disappointing. Coaches wanting player whom playoff direct, do not dribble,etc

  13. Daniel Clifton, November 9, 2014 at 2:23 p.m.

    As I remember it and see it Tab Ramos appears to have an important place in Klinsmann's coaching tree, so I am having some difficulty buying the idea that Klinsmann does not want Latino players. As some people have noted some of our youth teams have had a high percentage of Latino players including the team that Ramos took to the U-20 World Championship. As many people have pointed out the real problem lies earlier in youth development with a lack of good scouting and the whole pay to play competitive youth organization, which appeals to upper middle class families who can afford it. Mr. Martinez's experience and his comment on that experience indicative of what needs to change. I believe MLS teams really need to take the lead in this. They are the ones who have the real stake in US youth development. MLS will have to develop some really knowledgeable talent evaluators. MLS can take the pay to play issue out of the equation for really talented youth.

  14. BJ Genovese, November 9, 2014 at 2:29 p.m.

    I disagree, at the u14 age, being the time they start to identify these kids for inclusion. Looking for speed and athleticism is not an ability that hinders Latin based players. On the contrary, it seems many of those players are well matured have an advantage in this area. Combined with having a savvy tactical or technical ability does nothing but give the advantage when being identified. My point is that at u14 the advantage goes to the player (latino, caucasion, whatever) who has matured early in combination with technical/tactical skills. The problem with US soccer is that they are not willing to revisit kids that may have atually been technically/tactically superior but clearly could not hold up play as well as a boy who has in many cases fully matured physically.

  15. BJ Genovese, November 9, 2014 at 2:32 p.m.

    Also, the MLS academies must start residential programs for it to truly work. Not just limited to the 75 mile radius. It must be free as well. House them, school them, and give them the game consistently.

  16. Allan Lindh, November 9, 2014 at 3:39 p.m.

    Not one word about what is right about the US soccer establishment. Colleges. Yes the much maligned college soccer. Because this isn't about old men's fantasies that the US will someday win a WC. It's about the kids, and college soccer allows thousands of young boys and girls to get an education. Not 1% of them will ever play pro soccer, but many of them will have a much better life. And some of them will mature to play on the National Team. Look at the current roster. And for Black and Latino kids, the hope of a college scholarship helps keep them in HS. Sure there are always things wrong with every system, but for a young person's perspective, the system we have now is in many ways the best in the world. Look at the number of kids from other nations play high level college soccer -- ask them what they think of our system.

  17. cony konstin, November 9, 2014 at 5:06 p.m.

    WE need a soccer REVOLUTION!!!! Our soccer world is all about $300 cleats, nice fields, nice uniforms, coaching curriculum, Dvds and bunch of other gimmicks and smoke n mirrors. What the US need is radical change, radical thinking and an unothodox way of doing things. The pay to play model is the best in the world if you want to fight against youth obisety, learn life skills, learn team work, or learn how to deal with a little adversity. But to create world class players. ZERO!!!!! The revolution must happen in our inner cities to start with. There is gold in them mountains. The suburbs are an abomination. Kids in the suburbs are a learning to be a jack of all trades and master of nothing. Why? Because the parents are clueless!! We need 300,000 futsal courts in our inner cities and 300,000 futsal courts in our suburbs. So that kids starting at the age of 5 can play for free 3 to 5 hours a day, 7 days week, 365 days a year and with no stinking adults interfering. When we do that then who cares who the coach is because then we will have magical badasssssssss players. Mean while things will continue to be status quo. You can't make chicken soup with chicken s@#$. You need a chicken!!! JK, me or my mother can't solve the problem. The problem is we don't even have one world class player. The one that was close and to me is a National Treasure basically is hanging it up. We need a 21st master plan, we need to establish are own way, we need to establish our own identity, we need a REVOLUTION!!!!!

  18. Tyler Wells, November 9, 2014 at 7:12 p.m.

    Gardener's harping on Latino players is almost a fetish. While I agree that we are not doing enough to develop Latino talent, we aren't doing enough to develop any talent. It is hard to see any evidence that Latino players are inherently better at soccer than any other ethnic group. We need a plan and that plan needs to be inclusive of all the wonderful ethnic groups that make up our country.

  19. Aresenal Fan, November 9, 2014 at 10:57 p.m.

    Tagging Hugo with favoring Latinos is a bunch of BS. Most of the players that he selected from NORCAL have been IDentified through norcals PDP programs, ID2 programs, and state pool programs. And norcal is operated by Anglos, and so is the ID2 program. They 99 and 00 he took from NorCal have been standout players for many years. 20 years from now we will still be known for playing hard and never giving up but unable to maintain possesion and being happy of making it out of the group stage.

  20. beautiful game, November 9, 2014 at 11:24 p.m.

    Take a good look at the MLS amigos, it usually takes a good collegiate player four or five years to pick up the proper nuances of the game and become a better player. Anyone who thinks that collegiate soccer is a positive attribute to playing pro-ball better re-examine the statistics.

  21. cisco martinez, November 9, 2014 at 11:43 p.m.

    I agree with I W Nowozeniuk, if anyone watches college soccer, it's like watching the EPL on steroids, all physicality, speed, and no skill with a few exceptions, Cal, Georgtown, and UW. Kevin Grimes at Cal has turned that team into a 4-4-2 awesome tactical and technical team.

  22. Timothy Mayo, November 10, 2014 at 1:44 p.m.

    I personally experienced Hugo's selection process and it is/was completely biased twords Hispanic players at the exclusion of other gifted b=non Hispanic players at the U13-15 age group.. I have seen the game as an Sr Referee through out the country and have a kid in the national DA system and what I have discovered is what is lacking is "black American" players. They have dominated every sport in American after having always over come prejudice before being accepted (Jackie Robinson,Warren Moon,Arthur Ashe, Venus/Serena Williams and Tiger Woods) and they prevail and dominate every time. Soccer would be no different but you have to remove the bigots like Perez and other coaches out of the youth level to assure that groups like black American players have a fair chance to be identified and developed. Latin/Hispanic players play the game but last I checked the best Latin/Hispanic players and country is Brazil and if you look at their team they have always had so called black players well represented on their teams from Pele to Ronaldo. So the true future of American soccer is better inclusion and make the game look like the our country so excluding black American players is a loosing formula for future success. I am glad the Perez is gone and I hope they "gut" the other bigoted Hispanic coaches so that the sort can grow and reflect our great diversity which is a greatest gift!

  23. Aresenal Fan, November 10, 2014 at 4:28 p.m.

    Timothy, what part in the USA is this happening???? From my part of the country there there are not many Latino coaches in any big clubs. USA is not going to revolutionize the soccer game, other countries have already done that. We need youth coaches that know what the heck they are doing, regardless of race. And soccer players come in all shapes and colors, maybe take a look at list of candidates for ballon the oro so you can see what I mean.

  24. cisco martinez, November 10, 2014 at 10:41 p.m.

    Tyler wells, are you serious that latino players aren't inherently better than another ethnic group? Here's a quick exercise for you and for all, list all the World Cup winners from 1930-2014? Now exclude all Latin countries, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Spain, Italy, and France. The only non Latin countries are England and Germany. I rest my case.

  25. Jose Coyt, November 11, 2014 at 11:44 a.m.

    There is some truth in all the comments above. However, until the gods of US soccer realize that skill will always beat speed and strength, nothing will change. There is no doubt that the Latin player has always been more skillful then the rest of the world. This is clearly verified by Cisco's list. All those countries have learned the importance of possession. In order to have possession, you have to have skill first, the rest can be developed.

  26. cony konstin, November 11, 2014 at 2:43 p.m.

    I think people need to be very careful when you throw out some slanderous garbage. I have been coaching for 40 years and my players and I have had to go mano a mano from cali, to texas, from texas to Georgia and other beautiful tourist sites in the US. When we played Manchester United at the Dallas Cup in front of several 1000 spectators at Richardson Jr college they were chanting throughout the game for the dirty mexicans to go back to their country. Every player on my team was born in USA and not all of them were of Mexican heritage. Some of them were black skin, white skin and yellow skin. But most were brown skin. In the end we kick MU ass 3-1 and that is how we told the white trailer trash bigots where they can stick it by being victorious and show class on and off the field. We need a soccer REVOLUTION but it begins by discovering who we are. This is has been the divider of our nation by calling ourselves afro americans, mexican americans, asian americans, anlgo- americans and so on and so forth. To me these are dirty words that are used to divide us like livestock. I know who I am. I am a USONIAN. A person of the United States of America and my colors are red white and blue. When we as a nation discover as I have discovered who we really are then and only then will are nation be united in everything that we do. WE NEED A SOCCER REVOLUTION!!!!!! not more hatred, division, gimmicks, smoke n mirrors and lies.

  27. cisco martinez, November 11, 2014 at 4:52 p.m.

    Cory, I think we as American's have always been innovative, moreover our lack on innovation is not being done at the soccer level. We try to mimic EPL strength and speed versus technical ability. Our new moto should be, "e pluribus unum."

  28. neil christal, November 23, 2014 at 8:51 p.m.

    Do the best players even get seen at a high level when picking a National team is political. One from this State one from that State. Very sad! Lets have a playoff system to determine who represents the USA. PG can have his racist ALL Latino team and every other area can have their Heinz 57 that play like the Britts or Barcelona or Bayern Munich or Klinsmann's hybrid or whatever style. As teams fall out of the playoff system other winning teams could pickup the best players from the losing clubs.

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