The strength of the USMNT 2022 lies in its diversity
Weston McKennie is from Little Elm, Texas and Christian Pulisic is from Hershey, Pennsylvania. Walker Zimmerman is from Lawrenceville, Georgia, and his American teammates are from America, Colombia, the Netherlands and England. They are black and white and biracial. Her parents are Ghanaian, Japanese, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, Surinamese, Trinidadian and Tobago, Liberian, Jamaican, Amerindian and Latvian Jews. They are the 2022 USA men’s national team and like the country they represent at the World Cup, they draw strength from their diversity.
They are the sons of presidents and migrants; of soccer stars and absentees.
They come from conservative and liberal cities, from private and public schools, from privilege and much less.
They speak at least seven different languages. You have lived in at least 13 different countries. They listen to old school hip hop and reggae and Taylor Swift and everything in between.
They are Christians and Muslims of different religions – and one, DeAndre Yedlin, has embraced Buddhism. You are as old as 35 and as young as 19.
They are as diverse, cultural, racial and otherwise, as any team US Soccer has ever fielded. And partly because of their differences, not despite, they’re also one of the most closely related.
You will travel to Qatar in the coming days to play for a country where dissent is increasingly divided, where rhetoric and politics are becoming increasingly polarized and where hatred appears to be on the rise. No one is under the illusion that they, a football team, can heal these divisions or mend the many broken aspects of American society. But she can serve as an example.
They embody embracing differences and striving for understanding. They’ve been, as head coach Gregg Berhalter said, “an absolute delight to be here when you see all of those backgrounds coming together.” They’ve teamed up across everything from video games to food to golf and challenged each other to Being “Be The Change” is what they would like to see in society more broadly.
Last but not least, they will make a difference in their sport. “Everyone knows that access is an issue, and football is largely viewed as a sport for rich white kids,” US Soccer President Cindy Cone said at the Aspen Institute’s Project Play Summit in May. You and many others want to change this perception. And this USMNT can help on this massive stage.
Formation of a multicultural “brotherhood”
Their chemistry was both intentionally and organically forged over several years as Berhalter and his staff drew players from across the country and around the world.
Some of the ties had already been formed in youth national teams over the past decade. McKennie and Pulisic – one the son of an Air Force officer, one of football players; one black, one white; one open, one reserved — sat together on one of their very first bus rides at a training camp. “Actually, he was probably my first boyfriend on the national team when I was 13 years old,” McKennie said years ago. Forever a prankster, Weston splashed an empty water bottle in Christian’s ear. “He thought I was the most annoying kid,” McKennie said with a chuckle, but they formed a friendship that lasts to this day.
Luca De La Torre from San Diego; and Haji Wright of Los Angeles; and Tyler Adams of Wappingers Falls, New York were also on some of these youth teams. And on Adam’s heels in the New York Red Bulls’ academy was Tim Weah – son of George Weah, football king, now Liberia’s head of state.
Academies generally created the core of the USMNT 2022. They made Josh Sargent of O’Fallon, Missouri; and Jesús Ferreira, son of former FC Dallas star David, from Santa Marta, Colombia.
But the coaches came from everywhere, including college. Aaron Long of Oak Hills, California went to UC Riverside. Matt Turner of Park Ridge, New Jersey went to Fairfield. And Zimmerman went to Furman.
And despite being apart for most of the year, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, together they cultivated an environment that gamers — in some cases, children — wanted to be a part of.
This environment helped convince Sergiño Dest, a then 18-year-old Ajax star from Almere, Netherlands, to use his American passport – which he held thanks to his father – and devote his international future to the United States.
It helped persuade Yunus Musah – who, in his own words, is “Black”, “African”, “American”, “Muslim”, “Italian”, “English”, “Immigrant” and “Citizen of the World”. – to choose the USA over Ghana, Italy and England.
And this “brotherhood,” as players often refer to it, grew even more powerful.
It’s based on football, of course, on accountability and collective ambition. But it also builds on camaraderie, in team lunchrooms where iPhones disappear and players learn about each other’s lives. It’s built over Ping Pong and “Fortnite” and “Mario Kart”; about cards and fantasy football, about virtual reality golf and real golf.
It creates a culture that values every voice and makes everyone feel comfortable – which is what is so often lacking at the lower levels of sport in the United States.
Why representation in the USMNT is important
Football, in theory and often in practice, is a wonderfully accessible, egalitarian, global game. but American Football hasn’t been for decades. Its pay-to-play structure, fused with centuries of systemic racism, has erected economic, geographic, and cultural barriers that have disabled millions of black and brown children.
These barriers impeded minority representation at the highest level and fueled the false but understandable notion that football was a white, middle-class sport. “I played basketball [growing up]all my friends played other sports,” Hugh Roberts, a black defenseman and veteran of the second-rate professional leagues, told Emox News in 2020. “Subconsciously, you don’t even pay attention to football because there aren’t people who look like you .”
The USMNT 2022, on the other hand, will give a vast majority of American children a representative to look up to.
It will not fix the system. In some cases it has been supported by academies that award scholarships at the top of the youth football pyramid. These grants “make a big difference,” Berhalter said, “but in terms of the number of players we affect, it’s just the elite players. What we need to do as MLS clubs as part of US soccer is – how do we expand that? How do we get into underserved communities and give players the opportunity to play with standards that make them excited about the game?”
Shortly after Cone took over the presidency of US Soccer, she commissioned an investigation to answer that question. The top of the pyramid, she said, “is looking pretty good right now,” but “it’s really that base that I’m worried about.”
And at the Aspen Summit in Washington, DC, she vowed, “I won’t rest until I know that any kid who wants to play our game not only has access to our game, but has the opportunity to play in ours.” game to be successful.”
This is of course a daunting task and the broader problem is one that a World Cup alone cannot solve. But it can pierce perception.
For two weeks in November and maybe December, this USMNT can make a difference just by being what it is. They can implicitly tell millions of kids that the game is for everyone, reinforcing a message sent by US midfielder Kellyn Acosta – who grew up in mostly white spaces mixed with blacks and Asians – earlier this year.
“Don’t be afraid of who you are,” Acosta said — to football players, but more so to everyone. “Embrace your identity. Embrace your culture and heritage.”