Commentary

USA, Belgium and 'Something' (3)

In this third article of this series, I will compare the demographic structure of the MNT of both Nations and finalize my thoughts with a fourth article.

In the first article, I compared some figures from both countries and Federations. Although numbers and data are important it is very difficult to compare the USA/Belgium and the respective FAs using just numbers. The numbers show that U.S. Soccer still has a potential to grow its registered player base – although I personally do not think that we can reach registered player/population ratio of Belgium – and the budget.

In the second article, I discussed the governance model of both Federations via their National Council or AGMs. The Belgium FA’s AGM -- which is the legislative organ -- is typical of most European countries. The article shows with such an AGM structure it is easier to direct all constituents to a single goal for the betterment of the game, including being one of the best MNT or WNT in the world and taking the necessary steps via mandates. On the other hand-- with our fragmented National Council changing the status quo is very difficult if not impossible. 

Now let us look at both nations. Our country is very diverse in ethnicities and races; it is a country of immigrants. Belgium on the other hand until the 1960’s was not a very diverse society. With the rising demand for cheap labor – like other Western European countries -- lots of “gastarbeiter”s arrived from the Balkan and North African countries to Belgium. This was coupled with immigration from Congo -- the ex-colony of Belgium. 

Belgians make up 75% of the country. The second largest group is Italians with 4.1%, Moroccans come in third with 3.7%, French with 2.4%, Turks with 2% and Dutch with 2%. The remaining 12.8% has other origins. Similar to the Netherlands, Moroccans and Turks entered Belgium decades ago as temporary guest workers. If not all, most of the 25% of the population are 1st or 2nd or at most 3rd generation immigrants. 

Let us have a look at the USA. Except for Native Americans, we are all immigrants. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of July 1, 2018, 60.4% of the population is non-Hispanic whites, followed by 18.3% Hispanics, 13.4% African-Americans, and 5.9% Asians. Only 1.3% of our society is Native Americans.

Now let us have a look at the demography of the MNT of each country.

For Belgium, I took its roster for the 2018 World Cup in which they finished third. The roster consisted of 23 players. I did some research on each of the players. 11 of them were sons of immigrants, in other words their parents immigrated to Belgium some years ago. Four players have parents from Congo; one other one was half-Congolese. There were players whose parents were from Martinique, Morocco (2), Portugal/Spain, Mali and Kosovo. Those 11 players represent 48 percent of the MNT.  The country has only 25% immigrants. Why a country of only 25% immigrants fields a MNT composing of 48% immigrants is yet another topic of discussion for another article.

For the USMNT, I took the roster of 24 players on the U.S Soccer website from the October matches against Canada and Cuba. The roster had three 2nd- and 3rd-generation Hispanics and five African-Americans one of which had parents from Jamaica (Sean Johnson). The rest were whites with the exception of Yedlin who is half Latvian and half African-American, but since his mother brought him up I considered him as white. On the roster we have 13% Hispanics, 21% African-Americans and 67% Whites.  The bottom line is whatever ethnicity or race you are a member of; in the USA, everyone is an immigrant unlike the case in Belgium where only 25% of the country is immigrants. 

If you look at it from the football/soccer perspective all 100% of the Belgium society is immersed in a football culture whether every individual plays/played football or has interest in it or not. This is a true not only in Belgium but most of Europe, Latin and Central America, Africa and Asia. The only countries with a big population in which football/soccer is not the monopolizing sport culture are the USA, Canada, Australia and India. 

There is a big difference in two countries in terms of football/soccer culture. The majority of the children of our country are not immersed in a football/soccer culture unlike their peers in Belgium. In order to compare apples with apples, you have to identify the “sons” in our country who come from families with a soccer background. Since the most influential persons in the elite player’s development are the parents – and not the coaches as some might like to think -- you must identify players whose parents come from soccer-immersed cultures. There are two groups of parents of elite players who are immersed in soccer culture: Those who played or coached at a high level like Pulisic’s parents and first generation immigrants from football-loving nations who love football. It is a known fact that 2nd-and 3rd-generation immigrants coming from football-loving countries lose their affiliation with the soccer / football culture of their ancestors. They become interested in other major sports like the rest of the society.

So it is the responsibility of U.S. Soccer to reach out to these first-generation immigrant families and their kids to bring them under the umbrella of the federation. Looking from that perspective, having only three Hispanics out of a roster of 24 (13%) seems a bit awkward. 

In a country where 70% of the NFL players and 75% of the NBA players are African-Americans, one might find the fact that 21% of the USMNT are African-Americans a bit astounding. But we know that an overwhelming majority of the African-American kids are not raised up in a soccer culture or have parents who played or coached high level soccer. The exceptions are sons of 1st-generation immigrants who come from Africa, Central America or the Caribbean region. For example, Maurice Edu is the son of Nigerian immigrants and Jozy Altidore’s parents are immigrants from Haiti. The story of each African-American should be examined in detail by the federation to understand how to access black community and to make them role models for other African-Americans who seem to be the backbone of our sports landscape. 

The comparison between the demographical structures of two nations’ MNTs might not be that meaningful based on the differences in their respective histories and cultures. But still it should show U.S. Soccer the venues it has to explore to bring in the talented “soccer-loving immigrants” into the system, at least not to miss some of them.  

If Belgium can exploit its diverse human resources, we should look into ways of enriching our soccer landscape with diversity. Diversity of any country is its human resource wealth.

7 comments about "USA, Belgium and 'Something' (3)".
  1. Tony Biscaia, November 9, 2019 at 9:53 a.m.

    "It is a known fact that 2nd-and 3rd-generation immigrants coming from football-loving countries lose their affiliation with the soccer / football culture of their ancestors. They become interested in other major sports like the rest of the society."

    I firmly believe that this interest is driven by media here prioritizing American sports while marginalizing soccer, this is slowly changing but has been a fact of life for many years.  The real influencers in social perception are the people in charge of what media resources and exposure and glamor to give each sport. 

    What I could never understand is why the people/companies that have the most to gain have not promoted soccer more despite the potential financial payoff for marketeers like Nike, Adidas, Kappa, Umbro,  etc.  This is slowly changing now that Americans are spending more than ever on jerseys and other soccer gear.

    Also a fact, American kids have been playing soccer more than any other sport for decades as they grow up, but then as teenagers they get redirected to other sports due to social pressure mostly driven by the media exposure, bias and cultural influences.  Soccer is for sissies don't you know.

  2. Alvaro Bettucchi, November 9, 2019 at 12:59 p.m.

    According to a "Soccer America Magazine" article, during the Olympic Soccer Games in Los Angeles, the then Baseball Commissioner, who was the chairperson of the Olympic Games, demanded that the media refrain from supporting the soccer final of the 100,000 sold-out game. If not, he would seek to pull the advertisements from the major "then" sports, from the media.  Here in the North Bay area, the local media gives almost no support to soccer. Journalists, when mentioning the professional sport teams in the Bay Area, leave out the San Jose Earthquakes. Having written to a one of the major newspapers, why is this happening, the answer was; "Because they alway lose". Do they really think we soccer followers are so stupiud to believe that? It's all financial, and the Major Sports do not want Soccer to take fans and monies from them. But it's a reality, soccer is slowly becoming into its own, and will continue to do so! 

  3. frank schoon replied, November 9, 2019 at 7:41 p.m.

    Interesting point.  Unbelievable ....worried about taking fans away from other established sports.....

  4. Ben Myers, November 9, 2019 at 3:04 p.m.

    And here in New England, the papers and the news are alll Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox and Bruins.  Soccer here gets hind tit, scant coverage in the Boston Globe, no mention whatsoever of the US Open Cup.  The Kraft family have not exactly been stewards of good soccer practice with the Revs, altho Arena is making some inroads toward more investment by the Krafts.  The local womens' Breakers folded for lack of support.

    Well, you can look at any city with an MLS team and you find more or less the same ignorance of soccer by the media.  Ingore as in ignorance.  Clueless as in ignorance.  Seems to me that if the USSF and MLS thought critically about this sorry state, they would mount a concerted effort to get soccer-knowledgable people hired as writers, sports editors and on-camera folk.  I don't know when this will happen, if ever, so US soccer has only itself to blame for not making an effort to increase the visibility of the sport.

  5. Ric Fonseca, November 9, 2019 at 3:16 p.m.

    Wow!!! I must say right off the bat that I am at leas a bit - if not completely - aghast reading the article on the country comparisons, and by a fairly well written/writer that is A. Guvener!!!  Why do I find myself shaking my head?  More important why use such a small country as is Belguim and compare it to the USA?  Is it because we are - for all innents and purposes a "small soccer country" with a semi-organized yet seemingly and possibly disfunctional national body such as US Soccer? OK, I understand, but after having lived and actually having been a "late bloomer" in the sport (as some of you know I was born and grew up in Mexico City, there I played futbol soccer and at times baseball - yessir, street soccer and baseball in the local railroad yards until I was brought to live here in 1950) when I was in school, surprise-surprise-suuurprise!!!, no futbol soccer, no street soccer (police chased us off the street, neighbords complained, PE teachers only allowed us to play a baseball-kickball type of game on a baseball-softball diamond, and so it wasn't until I was in junior high then high school when I remember organizing some pick up games, much to the chagrin of the boys PE teachers who chased us off their hal-arsed manicured football/baseball fields.  And finally not until I was in the army, sent to South Korea, and back home where I found more and more footballers.
    But forgive me for I digress, but said the above simply and because, I thought something like Guvener's piece would emanate from an academic class in sport-psychology/sociology.  Don't get me wrong, the gist of the article has not scaped many academicians, or sport-sociologist, yet I'd rather read such a stduy simply and because it has to be done, but I caution not to have US Soccer just use it to line the bottom of their canary cage (if anyone still has canaries as pets)  It does merit further study with some sort of conclusion, and I close but with a simple question:  What is the source of your number, percentages, and regions you drew your conclusions from?  Finally, I suspect that somewhere out in the vast halls of our academia vastlands, some your enterprising graduate studentis or has written a similar piece, and perhaps even presented it as a graduate paper - for an MA or PhD - thesis/dissertation, that will eventually be discussed amongst academic or similar bent and then have the paper filed away....  Thanks for listening/reading my short "diatribe..."

  6. frank schoon replied, November 9, 2019 at 7:47 p.m.

    Ric, good stuff, always enjoy your historical perspectives. Us older guys  have likewise experienced the anti-soccer hysteria from so many corners.....

  7. R2 Dad replied, November 10, 2019 at 4:23 p.m.

    I see value in this analysis, though USSF may not. From what I've read, this type of research/paper is more likely to be done by students in Europe or the UK. Students in the US are more likely to do this as it relates to statistical analysis/moneyball in baseball/basketball/football.
    Comparing smaller countries to ours helps point out the specific structures and processes that exist in successful soccer programs, vs our dumpster fire. Would like to see a matrix of our failed characteristics to compare our MLS-oriented structures and re-invention of the wheel vs top-rated national programs.

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