Brianna Pinto on Next Gen United's unprecedented campaign for U.S. Soccer's Athletes Council

Brianna Pinto's interest in the politics of U.S. Soccer was first sparked when she received a ballot in 2018 to vote on members for its influential Athletes Council.

Now a 20-year-old junior midfielder with the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, Pinto's eligibility to vote came because she met both criteria: having played for the USA in an international championship within the last 10 years or; making the roster of a U.S. national team within the last two years. Pinto had been in numerous national team camps, played for the USA at the 2016 U-17 and 2018 U-20 World Cups, and was on the full national team's 2017 SheBelieves Cup roster.

But it bothered her that she didn't really know what the voting was about when she received the ballot in 2018. Now she's fully aware of the Athletes Council's importance and power -- and her name is on the 2020 ballot for the November election for 10 spots on the 20-member Athletes Council.

"The Athletes Council plays an influential role, and we want to make sure voices are heard," says Pinto, who is part of a five-player group of candidates who have formed "Next Gen United."

The quintet shares a platform explained on its web site under the headings: Access, Diversity, Inclusion, Community, Support and Unity. If elected they would add diversity to the council that is currently comprised of 11 men and nine women, one Latino, one Asian and no Blacks.

"All five of us could get elected, some of us or one of us could elected, or none of us," Pinto says. "But the impact we want to make is to ensure that the Athletes Council seats are positions that should be campaigned for, because they are so are influential."

How influential? The Athletes Council's unanimous support for Carlos Cordeiro was the difference in his 2018 election as U.S. Soccer president in a crowded field of seven candidates. That was with 20 percent of the voting power. Recent legislation -- the Empowering Olympic, Paralympic and Amateur Athletes Act of 2020 (Senate bill 2330) -- means the share of the Athletes' vote will rise from 20 percent to 33.3 percent. The Council is also charged with, as stipulated by the U.S. Soccer bylaws, providing communication between the players and the federation and delivering reports and recommendations to the Board.

Next Gen United

• Matt Freese. Philadelphia Union goalkeeper played two years at Harvard before signing a Homegrown Player contract and is a member of the current U.S. U-23 men’s national team.
• Smith Hunter. Harvard University freshman is a regular call-up to the current U.S. U-20 women’s team national team.
• Mikey Lopez. Birmingham Legion (USL Championship) midfielder, former MLS player, represented the USA at the 2013 Under-20 World Cup and attended North Carolina.
• Nick Mayhugh. Played for Radford University and the U.S. 7-a-side national team -- he set an American record with 11 goals at the 2019 International Federation of Cerebral Palsy Football World Cup -- and is also a track star.
• Brianna Pinto. University of North Carolina junior is considered one of the top pro prospects in the women's college ranks. Spoke on behalf of the USA at the 2018 FIFA Congress, where the USA, Canada and Mexico were awarded hosting rights to the 2026 World Cup.

* * * * * * * * * *

The average age of the Next Gen Five is 22, but Pinto's career demonstrates how vast a young player's experience can be. In addition to her extraordinary national team program involvement -- since age 13 -- she played recreational, ECNL and Development Academy youth soccer. Her family has also provided plenty of insight into the men's side of the game.

Brianna's father Hassan Pinto played at UNC in 1990-94 and his teammates included Eddie Pope and Gregg Berhalter. Her older brother Hassan played college ball at Elon and Duke, and now plays for USL League One's Richmond Kickers. Her younger brother Malik, now with the FC Cincinnati's U-19s and a Princeton freshman, played DA ball for the North Carolina Fusion.

Branches of mutual relationships connected the five Next Gen candidates -- Mikey Lopez also went to UNC and Pinto met Smith Hunter at youth national team camps -- and the confluence of their concerns, both societal and soccer-specific, influenced their platform. In a nutshell, they're driven by a quest to ensure that U.S. Soccer represent and provide access to every sector of the soccer community.

Pinto suggests more outreach from U.S. Soccer to under-served communities, such as an expansion of the training center concept to unaffiliated players, kids who aren't part of the mainstream youth club system, and expose them to U.S. Soccer standards while widening the player pool.

She acknowledges the work that's been done to lift pay-to-play barriers, but believes that U.S. Soccer can to more.

"A lot of great efforts are being made, but the idea of our platform is to build on those," she says. "Smith Hunter and Mikey Lopez had to go to extreme measures as youth soccer players to get access to their opportunities. Their perspectives and their experiences will help build on what is already being done.

"By involving people who have been in the shoes of lower-income youth, we can create a more detailed approach to crafting a way to meet their needs."

And by running a public campaign for the Athletes Council, Pinto and Next Gen United have ensured a greater comprehension among national team players of their ability and responsibility to take part in U.S. Soccer decision-making.

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications