Immigrants, Latinos and Our Soccer Landscape (3)

This is the final article of this series of articles. Before I go any further I must clarify why I have written these three articles. I realized after reading some of the responses of the readers I did not make myself clear about the objective of this series.

There is a claim in various sources of the media that our soccer system is readily not accessible by some of the constituents of our society namely the Immigrants and Latinos. The 2015 study of Bennett and Kaplan claims that USMNT players " came from communities that had higher incomes, education and employment rankings, and were whiter than the US average.” The USMNT players were compared with NBA and NFL players in the aforementioned study. Since the study did not look into the players from a racial point in detail we come to the conclusion that the USMNTs (senior and youth teams) did not fairly represent the immigrant and Latino populations. But when we come to the 2019 we see a different picture on the field.  According to Paul Kennedy – the Editor in Chief of Soccer America,  “If you look at, say, the current U.S. men's national team it is about 60% non-white and the current U-17s and U-20s are upwards of 80% non-white. The U-17s who played yesterday (May 2, 2019 game against Canada) started two white kids. Tab's U-20s might start with one white kid.” Recently – May 14, 2019 - the USMNT U-17 team had one “white” player in the starting XI against Canada in the semifinal. 

It is obvious that since the 2015 study the USMNTs have more players of color although being player of color does not always mean that they had lower incomes, less education and lower employment rankings as stated in the study. That is the players of color in the current USMNTs might also come from affluent suburban families. (Let us define players of color as Latinos, Asians and African-Americans for the sake of these articles and hence this definition can exclude “white” immigrants. We know that Latinos are considered white according to U.S. Census Bureau’s definition; so “whites” are whites who are not from ethnic origins in the countries of Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula.)

The objective of this series is to shed some light using available limited subjective and objective data on the claim that the system is not accessible by some of the constituents of our soccer society, namely the immigrants and Latinos. If we can come out with some concrete or circumstantial evidence to prove or refute this claim, then the series of articles would fulfill its objective.

The 2015 study compared the socio-economic status of USMNT players to NBA and NFL players.  Now let us go in more detail to the Jamie Hill 2019 study that we have examined in our last article.  In order to be on the same page let us have a look at two maps that we have seen before:

The study has two interesting overall results: 

  1. There are 10 states in the USA which developed no professional men's soccer players. That shows that potential professional soccer players do not have a geographical parity for access to our soccer system. There are 236 cities with a population of less than 500,000 which did not develop a single man professional soccer player.
  2. The average is one professional player per 238,732 people in the country excluding small size cities (236) with no professional player development. 

Let us look at some more objective data from the same report:

  1. In the 23 big cities (population of 2.5 million and more) there are five cities that are not on the map for “20 largest metropolitan with the largest number of immigrants”. (Denver, St. Louis, Charlotte, Tampa, Minneapolis). Denver is ranked No. 1 (120,343) and St. Louis No. 3 (147,755) based on the professional player to the population ratio. A city like Houston with a very big immigrant and Latino population is ranked last (492,316) with a ratio more than twice the national average.” Most notably, Denver has produced pros at a rate more than four times greater than that of Houston, the nation’s biggest underperformer among big metropolitan areas. Houston is a perplexing case, as it seemingly has many components needed for success. It is home to a massive population of close to 7 million people, it has an extremely diverse population including 2.5 million Hispanics alone.”
  2. “98 million Americans (31% of the population) live in urban counties. These urban counties are badly underrepresented in the professional ranks. The New York metro area, which is represented in this analysis by 93 players, is a typical example. The vast majority of players hail from northern New Jersey, Long Island, or Westchester.”  It is obvious that inner-city boys have an access problem to our soccer system.
  3. If you look at the map “Hispanic percentage by county 2014” the counties that are colored with the darkest brown color (66-96% Latino) are in southern Texas border area and New Mexico. These counties produced a total of 21 professional players (El Paso  TX:7, Albuquerque  NM: 5, Las Cruces NM: 4, McAllen TX: 2, San Angelo TX: 2 and Eagle Pass  TX: 1). 21 professional players constitute only 2% (21/ 937) of all the men professional players of the USA. 
  4. I live in Austin, TX. Austin has a population of 950,715 (2017) and is 35% Latino (2010). San Antonio has a population of 1,511,946 (2017) and is 63.2% Latino (2010). Austin has developed nine professional players (One player per 235,092 population very close to the national average) and San Antonio has developed five professional players (One player per 494,795 population well below the national average).  This disparity cannot only be described via a racial lens. But definitely there is some circumstantial evidence based on some objective data that the Latinos and immigrants might have some obstacles in accessing our soccer system.

On the other hand let me share with you my subjective observations in South Texas which has a very big Latino and immigrant population. As of the 2015 Texas Population Estimate Program, the population of the state was 27,469,114; non-Hispanic whites 11,505,371 (41.9%); Black Americans 3,171,043 (11.5%); other races 1,793,580 (6.5%); and Hispanics and Latinos (of any race) 10,999,120 (40.0%). (d) So Texas is less than 50% white, this ratio is considerably lower in what U.S. Soccer defines as South Texas soccer territory. 

I watched many competitive youth games in South Texas. There are plenty of very talented immigrant or Latino boys, but their representation in their respective suburban teams is overall lower than the South Texas Latino percentage. I cannot objectively verify this since there is no racial data on youth players. The same could be said about coaches. One area that South Texas excels in with regard to Latino and immigrant representation is refereeing. Out of the four FIFA Men referees of U.S. Soccer three of them are from South Texas and all are either an immigrant (Ismael Elfath) or Latinos (Jair Marrufo and Armando Villarreal). I see very talented mid-level referees and most of them are either immigrants or Latinos and their numbers are well above the state average. The cost of becoming a referee is minimal and if you are determined and love the game, and have a talent then you can go up the ladder. One cannot say the same thing for the cost item regarding players and coaches.  Neither the player nor the coach development systems are cheap or free to access; making it more difficult to access for the immigrants and Latinos who are economically less affluent than the rest of the society.

Both objective data and subjective observations lead us to conclude that there are at least circumstantial evidences that some barriers for inclusion of immigrants and Latinos (or we can call them underserved /underprivileged kids) into our soccer system exists.  One might ask why we chose the immigrant kids and Latinos and left out for example the underserved white girls of rural communities or underprivileged African-American boys of inner cities. We chose the immigrants and Latinos from the group of underserved and underprivileged kids since their chances of choosing soccer to participate as their main sport due to their immersion into the soccer culture are higher than the underserved/underprivileged white or African-American kids. This fact does not refute the principle that participation in any non-school sport is basically an economic issue in our country due to the pay-to-play model. The economic issue might not be the only and major explanation of the barriers of inclusion for immigrant and Latino kids into our soccer system and hence the reasons causing the barriers should be sought. 

We should approach the problem using systems analysis, robust research, and world-class technical advisory to systematically identify the causes of the barriers and how to remove the most significant barriers to inclusion for the underserved/underprivileged kids to our soccer system. This approach should address both genders and both recreational/competitive soccer.

This is what this series of articles tried to point out.

Ahmet Guvener (ahmet@ahmetguvener.com) 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.

9 comments about "Immigrants, Latinos and Our Soccer Landscape (3)".
  1. Mike Anderson, May 18, 2019 at 9:27 a.m.

    Must you do this with everything in our society? It seems the left is just obsessed with race race race. No wonder we’re so divided.

  2. R2 Dad replied, May 18, 2019 at 3:56 p.m.

    Mike, race is one of the relevant factors in this discussion. And if we are to discuss it, all the pertinent elements should be on the table. As AG points out, the present data is more about socioeconomics than race. I understand your sentiment as so many issues have become frustratingly politicized, but if you couch your position in this way, you'll just exclude yourself from the discussion. If we can focus on the data, we can better understand potential cost-effective solutions to the problem: In a rich country of 400 million (& 25 million soccer players), why is pay-to-play not delivering (m)any world-class players?

  3. Kent James replied, May 21, 2019 at 12:38 a.m.

    This is looking at race (or Hispanic origin) to see if we are overlooking potential talent for the USMNT.  Using statistics to demonstrate neglect is a way we can allocate resources most effectively to develop all of our nation's resources in our quest to win the WC.  This is about enhancing competitiveness, not adherence to a political agenda.  On the other hand, eliminating descrimination is a great way to help a society develop it's full potential. Sometimes doing the right thing leads to good outcomes...  

  4. R2 Dad, May 18, 2019 at 3:34 p.m.

    Thx, Ahmet, for your analytical approach to this topic. We definitely need more data to better understand all the pertinents involved. Can confirm what you're seeing in Tx is what we see here in Cal-N. There are plenty of hispanic coaches up here, most notably Hugo Perez. But we do not see top coaches at the most important ages of development (U8-U12)--how can this be changed? The pay-to-play business model is not driving the decision to put top coaches at the older ages on competitive teams. I believe that's down to the hubris of coaches/club owners and welcome any insight and data to futher explain this situation.  

  5. Ric Fonseca replied, May 18, 2019 at 6:27 p.m.

    First thanks to the author.  Second, in danger of being labeled "too sensitive" vis-a-vis the thesis of the articles, unless one lives in the "problem" the author writes about, one can believe just whatever wants to believe.  And as I've noted before, onc can make whatever one wants to make from a statistical "objective" or even "subjective" study.  So, in sum, all I want to say, is that "ive been there and done that," and nothing much has changed since I first started kicking the ball around in my high school years, through university to the present.  Hope you folks understand?

  6. Bob Ashpole replied, May 19, 2019 at 12:01 p.m.

    Ric, I understand completely. Soccer here was originally a sport supported by the ethnic communities and recent immigrants. Everywhere else was a soccer wasteland. My college didn't even have a women's team until the mid-90s.

    Then youth soccer became suddenly fashionable in the suburbs. Then we got soccer parents and pay-to-play, so much so that "play" and "fun" suffered. Ultimately I saw the ethnic leagues shut out of community facilities by the wealthy suburban soccer parents where I lived. 

    Intentionally or not youth soccer became an economic entity, where people saw opportunites and worked to improve their position by unleveling the opportunites.

  7. Bob Ashpole, May 19, 2019 at 11:46 a.m.

    Good article Ahmed. 

    I would have put your conclusion differently. In short, participation needs to be more inclusive. At all levels, all ages, all locations to everybody, both genders. The objective should be to provide equal opportunities for participation and development based on individual merit. 

    The quality of the play and training has to be improved, but that is a different article.  

  8. Ric Fonseca replied, May 19, 2019 at 2:56 p.m.

    Bob, et.al, I agree with you, and about the "only" the term "inclusivity" MUST be part and parcel of the wholew/entire processes.  As I've said before, " I've been/seen that and have tried to change what I've seen.  Jeepers, the entire historical background, could be and probbly is now at some university, a Master's or Doctoral thesis/dissertation, I'd first start from an OBJECTIVE social/historical perspective then focusing on statistical sports oriented SUBJECTIVE/OBJECTIVE analysis.  Bottom line is that US soccer MUST be ALL INCLUSIVE just as the media/marketing electronic boards of the MLS games announce.. 
    Jeez, there sure as heck a lot to talk about.... this is a never ending topic!!!

  9. Ric Fonseca, May 19, 2019 at 3:04 p.m.

    I forgot to mention that the other "major" US sports, being baseball, football, and basketball, have ALWAYS been touted as "true-blue American sports."  Jeepers, the mere history of the development of these three major sports, goes back to the mid 19th century, and into the 20th. I remember that football was barred as a university sport because of its violence, and it wans't until Mr. Naismith "invented" basketball, a sport to be played indoors during winter, while baseball, is a very distant offshoot of that venerable English sport of cricket.  As for our wonderful WNT, Title IX came into being during the early years of the 1970's; gosh I remembering officiating boys high school in the San Fernando Valley in the late '70's, and there were hardly ANY girls playing soccer, yet that changed rather wickly, in fact when I was coaching the men's first NCAA Div II team at CSUN, I was approached by a group of student's and was presented a petition to help them form a women's team - none were Latinas....more food for thought!

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