Immigrants, Latinos and our soccer landscape (1)

One of the most interesting and challenging issues of our soccer landscape is the question, Whether our system is leaving any immigrant and Latino players, coaches and referees out? If so, why? If we know the reasons, might we find solutions to this issue? 

To say that the system is categorically leaving Latino and players, coaches and referees would be unjust to thousands of Latino players, coaches and referees and immigrants that are under the U.S. Soccer system.  It would be unjust to Tab Ramos, it would be unjust to Omar Gonzalez, it would be unjust to Moroccan-born referee Ismael Elfath, and it would be unjust to U.S. Soccer, which has scouted, recruited and developed them. 

The question should be: Are we reaching to the immigrant and Latino communities for players, coaches and referees for our NTs, colleges and Pro teams? 

First of all, we must distinguish between immigrants and Latinos. Immigrants are those who were born in a foreign country and now legally reside in the USA as a naturalized citizen or permanent resident like myself. Some of the immigrants might also be Latinos. Latinos are those who have immigrated from the south of the border at some time in the past. The definition of Hispanic or Latino Origin used in the 2010 census:  “Hispanic or Latino” refers to a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race. What is common in both groups is the fact that a majority of them grew up in a soccer culture whether it be in this country or elsewhere. 

In order to answer whether our system is reaching out to immigrant and Latino communities for developing players, coaches and referees you need both objective and subjective data. The amount of objective data -- as we will see later is very restricted -- and the subjective data is restricted to my experience in South Texas, where the demography is an excellent source for both immigrants and Latinos. We will concentrate only on the player side since the objective demographic data on the coaching and refereeing side is even more restricted

Before we look into the soccer landscape let us have a look the demography of our country. For that, the first objective data sets come from demographic studies. First, let us have a look at the immigrants.

The Pew Research Center’s study shows that immigrant share of U.S. population nears historic high of 13.5%. That means in 2016 13.5% of our population was born on foreign soil. 23.7% of them were unauthorized immigrants but still that leaves us with 10.03% of our population to be legal immigrants. “Mexico is the top origin country of the U.S. immigrant population. In 2016, 11.6 million immigrants living in the U.S. were from Mexico, accounting for 26% of all U.S. immigrants. The next largest origin groups were those from China (6%), India (6%), the Philippines (4%) and El Salvador (3%). In terms of regions, about two-thirds of immigrants lived in the West (34%) and South (33%). Roughly one-fifth lived in the Northeast (21%) and 11% were in the Midwest. In 2016, most immigrants lived in just 20 major metropolitan areas.”

Pew Center’s research gives us an indication of the quantitative importance of the immigrants in our society, their origins and their localities in the country. If you include into this data the number kids born on USA soil from legal immigrants parents the number for potential soccer players will increase. According to Pew Research Center (2016): “Today, 34.4% of Latinos are immigrants, down from a peak of 40.1% in 2000. And the share that is U.S. born has grown to 65.6% in 2015, up from 59.9% in 2000. “

On the Latino data side, there is one reliable source: The U.S. Census Bureau. According to the Bureau as of July 1, 2018, 18.1% of the USA population is Hispanic. 22.6% of the USA population is under the age of 18. So this gives us –- as of July 1, 2018 -- a population of over 13 million under 18 Latino boys or girls who could potentially play soccer.  Let us see how Latinos are distributed in the USA.

Five mostly Latino populated states are: (According to Pew Study 2016)

1. New Mexico 47.7% 

2. California 38.6% 

3. Texas 38.6% 

4. Arizona 30.5% 

5. Nevada 27.8% 

California and Texas are the two most populated States in the USA. 

The states with the highest five Hispanic population, both in terms of overall numbers and in regards to proportion of population, are listed below in– Hispanic Population by U.S. state. Source: U.S. Census Bureau 2015. 

State Hispanic Population 

1. California 15,184,548 

2. Texas 10,670,101 

3. Florida 4,964,077 

4. New York 3,726,804 

5. Illinois 2,175,116 

Looking at the above map of 2014 it is obvious that the Latino population is condensed around the border area with Mexico and the tip of the Florida peninsula.

The set of immigrants and Latinos are mutually inclusive so we can never know exactly the number of immigrant or Latino kids who can play soccer. These players would potentially be able to play for national teams or go to college with a soccer scholarship or play the game professionally as long as they are in the U.S. Soccer system. But the number is definitely around 15 million-20 million.  We are talking about 15 million-20 million kids who most probably grew up in a soccer-immersed environment – like the fictional character Ali of one of my previous articles – and would have a better affiliation with soccer culture. 

This is a short overview of our country’s demography on immigrants and Latinos. 

Now we have to look at our soccer landscape. We have to answer the question or at least try to answer the question whether the system is reaching out to this huge group of 15 million-20 million boys and girls in an effective manner. 

The objective data on soccer players is very restricted, as we said earlier. Until now, we could only guess the number of registered players in the USA due to living in the most litigious society and the most decentralized government style on the planet. Thanks to FIFA Connect project and to the great efforts of U.S. Soccer, we will soon be able to tell the number of U.S. Soccer registered soccer players. Unfortunately, this database will give us the gender and age distribution of the players but not the racial distribution. We can only guess whether a player is the child of a Latino by looking at his/her last name.

There are two other objective studies that directly and indirectly tell us about the racial distribution among the elite soccer players.  We will analyze these two studies in our next article. Those will give us some indication about the racial and socio-economical distribution of elite soccer players in our soccer landscape.

Ahmet Guvener ( is the former Secretary General and the Technical Director of Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Austin, TX.

6 comments about "Immigrants, Latinos and our soccer landscape (1)".
  1. Bob Ashpole, April 19, 2019 at 2:44 a.m.

    I appreciate what you are trying to do Ahmet, but I cannot think of anything positve to say about this approach. 
    Discrimination is a leadership issue. Plain and simple. We can talk about it all day, but I have no influence. The media does have some influence, so I hope that you and Soccer America will continue to challenge USSF leaders to be better leaders. I suspect that the problem is cultural bias, but I would not know because my experience was in military communities which is as multi-cultural as it gets in this country. 

  2. Ric Fonseca replied, April 20, 2019 at 10:06 p.m.

    Mr. Ashpole, I for sure do not agree with your statement that "Discrimination is a leadership issue..."(sic.) yet I firmly believe that you do and have a lot of influence on this phenomenom.  As a veteran, I experienced subvert and overt discrimination while in the Army, and saw it, felt it, and yes, suffered through it, not just against me but other brothers in arms, US Latinos, African Americans, Asians Americans, etc.  And yes, the military is as "muti-cultural as it gets," but that IS the wont of the military.  Finally, thank you for your service.  H. Ric Fonseca, USN-R, US Army, 1958-1964.

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, April 21, 2019 at 2:13 a.m.

    Ric, I consider eliminating prejudice from society as a different problem than eliminating discrimatory practices in an organization. I view the article as discussing the latter. I am certain that discriminatory practices can for practical purposes be eliminated in an organization, but not without leaders committed to the change.

    I am not suggesting that leadership may eliminate prejudice. All a leader may do is suppress it. Changing how people think is much more difficult than changing how they act.

    I hope that clarifies why I think the USSF discrimination is a leadership issue. 

  4. Ric Fonseca, April 20, 2019 at 10 p.m.

    First, a huge MUCHAS GRACIAS to Senor Ahmet for his work.  Second, most if not all readers of this journal know that I am an immigrant from Mexico, and have been intrinsically involved in our deporte (sport) since the 1960's and have commented and written on the situation for the past three decades.
    Third, I am also very well in tune to the workings of US Soccer, and have seen that and been there, etc.  
    Fourth, for now, the author has relied on excellent information that can be and will be used for several studies in various academic disciplines, the subjective vs objective data.  There are a helluva lot of questions and yet I fear that not all of them will generate any questions.  I will not get into it as some/many of the readers know where I stand vis-a-vis the why not US Soccer doesn't seem to do just what Mr. Ahmet asks.  I'd recomment to him to look at other local and national youth soccer bodies and ask them the most important questions of inclusivity vs exclusivity.  Finally, I will close this by saying that the article came out just about the time the country celebrated the inclusion of another athlete, Jacki Robinson, into the athletic baseball mainstream.  Interesting verdad que si, Senor Ahmet?  Gracias!!!

  5. Ahmet Guvener replied, April 21, 2019 at 11:55 a.m.

    De nada

  6. R2 Dad, April 21, 2019 at 12:58 a.m.

    Great article and topic--glad this is getting the attention of SA. I would like to hear from a state-level referee representative, who could shed light on the numbers and percentages of Hispanics at the various levels (general grade 8, state grade 5, et al). My perception is that there are many qualified and competent young Hispanic referees in Cal-N--mostly from the central valley-- who I've seen at various tournaments. This might have to do with the fact that our state cup matches are all out there in the valley: Modesto/Manteca/Turlock so there are more opportunities for higher-level matches for those referees in the valley. Only the most committed young referees from the coast want to drive 90 minutes 1 way for a D&G/assessment required to climb the ladder. My understanding as an outsider is that the referee career path is ethnicity-agnostic, but those central valley Hispanic referees would have more relevant feedback on how that's actually working.

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