Jonathan Gonzalez and the U.S. Soccer Latino Problem

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“The downward spiral of (Soccer) dumbness in America is about to hit a new low”
– Hunter S. Thompson (FYI – I added the “Soccer”, Hunter Thompson did say the rest)

Just when you thought more bad news was nearly impossible for the bureaucratic, bundling, complex, nonsensical system that is the United States Soccer Federation and US Soccer we get another punch in the gut.  Earlier this week, Monterrey Midfielder and U.S. National Team youth player Jonathan Gonzalez announced he would be making a (FIFA allowed) one time switch to now represent Mexico instead of the United States.

Ugh.  First off if you don’t know this player you should.  A raising star, he has played for the United States at the U-17, U-18, U-19, and U-20 levels.  He is an uncanny defensive midfielder with vision, pace, and technical skills not seen in many 18 year olds.  For his club team, Monterrey, he has quickly ascended to arguably their best player on one of the best teams in that league.  Furthermore, he was named to the Best XI for Liga MX 2017.  So let me just repeat that for effect: he is one of the best 11 players in the Mexican First Division.

This is a player who has essentially grown up in California, in the US Soccer system, and yet picked Mexico to play for nationally.  According to Brad Rothenberg who co-founded Alianza de Futbol (a leading organization in the United States dedicated to support and development of Hispanic players of which Gonzalez was a participant) Gonzalez perhaps even as recently as New Year’s Eve had not completely made up his mind.  He called him a “child of the USA” who “went to Monterrey bleeding red, white, and blue”.

So what happened?

First, he was not called up for the November friendly against Portugal and even worse reportedly was not even contacted to explain why he was not given a chance to cap for the senior national team.  This was surprising at the time given that this was seemingly a game in which we were going to play a significant number of younger players.  Many have written about the lack of communication from US Soccer to Gonzalez and his family and this may have contributed to the switch.

Second and perhaps more troubling is the fact that US Soccer may just not have valued him (or this “type” of player) as much as Mexico did, which opens up a common criticism of USSF: that they neglect minority communities, especially Latino ones (especially in regards to access at youth levels) and that they do not value that “type” of player.

Let’s start with Latinos introduction to soccer in the United States.  Under the age of 18, Latinos make up about 25% of the population in the United States, however if you then fast forward and look at registered NCAA soccer players in the US, only 12% on the Men’s side and 7% on the women’s side are Latino.  This speaks directly to inequality in wealth that affect much of minority communities and it starts at the youth level.

Soccer in the United States, unlike much of the world is often times a sport of the financially privileged, where families often need to come up with as much as $5,000 dollars a year to play competitive futbol.  One source, puts the average amount spent on soccer by a US family at $1,472 (and that’s the average!).  The average household income for Latino Americans in the United States is $45,148, while it is $62,950 for White Americans and $77,166 for Asian Americans.  You cannot possibly expect a family to spend 11% of their income on one child playing soccer, it is not reasonable.

What about the idea that U.S. coaches and talent evaluators do not value the “Latino style” player?  This is not a new concept with many often arguing that the U.S. system favors size and fit into a particular system versus creativity, touch, and imagination.  Jonathon Gonzalez is 5’9”, not exactly the prototypical American number six, yet he is excelling in one of the best leagues in the world.

Certainly, the lack of Latino leadership at significant positions within the Federation is alarming.  According to Mike Woitalla in his brilliant interview with Brad Rothenberg, Tab Ramos is the only Latino coaching one of the nine national teams and of the twelve “Technical Advisors” whom USSF uses to scout youth soccer only one is Latino.  Without Latino coaches we again limit access to Latino players and talent and moreover if we do not have Latino scouts evaluating players then we possibly lose that “type” of player.

For example, for this Portugal friendly in November there were only three Latinos on the roster (Jesse Gonzalez, Jorge Villafana, and Juan Agudelo).  Remember this roster was supposed to be the up and coming stars.  For this month’s annual January camp it is slightly better with 6 out of the 29 players (Nick Lima, Marco Delgado, Christian Roldan, Juan Agudelo, Christian Ramierz, Rubin Rubio).

Tab Ramos responded to Gonzalez’s switch in a shockingly tone deaf manner stating “If we have players in this country who feel Mexican and want to play for Mexico, I think they should play for Mexico. If we have players here who feel American, who want to fight for the U.S. and represent America, they should play for us. I think it’s as simple as that”.  Unfortunately, it is not that simple and he had to make what he felt was the best decision for him.  Think about it, you getting lack of communication about your future from the US (not to mention they did not qualify for the World Cup) and Mexico is telling you they value your skills and want you to compete for a spot at the World Cup, every soccer player’s dream.

This of course falls back to lack of leadership and direction within USSF which seemingly have run soccer in America like a business only (quite successfully in that regard I might add).  Yet where is the passion and inclusion?  Where is the unity and coming together to make this sport and this national team and the players within all our leagues better?

If we had that I doubt Jonathon Gonzalez would have had much of a decision to make at all.

 

 

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