Why Can’t the USMNT Win Over More Hispanic-American Fans?
And why does it have to keep playing key qualifiers in places like Ohio?
When the United States men’s national team resumes its World Cup qualifying campaign against Mexico on Friday, it will do so just 107 miles from where it left off last month. A 2-1 win over Costa Rica in Columbus, Ohio on Oct. 13 will be followed by a bout with mighty Mexico in Cincinnati, Ohio on Nov. 12.
There are good reasons for why these two games will be less than a 2-hour drive apart, when the U.S. had been to Cincinnati as recently as the summer of 2019 and there was all that land from sea to shining sea to choose from. Both towns recently opened gleaming new Major League Soccer stadiums, and U.S. Soccer likes to reward that kind of initiative and investment with a marquee national team game. Another reason is competitive. As laid out in a previous newsletter, the federation has to be careful in its selection of venues. In most metropolitan areas, the opposing CONCACAF team is liable to draw more fans to the game than the U.S. does, frittering away home-field advantage in a crucial match.
Ohio has reliably turned out firmly pro-U.S. crowds for decades. It’s the safe bet, especially in a smaller MLS venue. And against the arch-rivals from south of the border—whom the U.S. beat in both the CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup finals this summer, but stumbled to in the last World Cup qualifier against El Tri on home soil in 2016, in Columbus no less—all preventable risk must be avoided.
But there is an underlying problem here. One that isn’t often explored.
The men’s national team program was relaunched in earnest in the late 1980s. How come that more than three decades later, it still can’t draw a favorable crowd in most American cities? Why must it seek refuge in a town where the Hispanic or Latino community makes up a puny 3.8 percent of the population?
There are different theories for why the USMNT has a hard time converting America’s Hispanic and Latino communities into fans in spite of their abundant love for soccer. One of them is cultural.
“Mexican roots run deep,” says Rich Guel, a member of Pancho Villa’s Army, the Mexican national team’s supporters’ group in the United States. “We are so embedded in our culture, family, that it’s hard to root for U.S. because we’d be rooting against family. Mexicans are family first; status second.”
But it might be more than that. Some Hispanic-Americans argue that they don’t feel like the culture surrounding the U.S. national team embraces them. “I think U.S. Soccer hasn’t done a good job of turning Mexican-Americans into fans,” says another Pancho Villa’s Army member, Ivan Toribio. “They have made it a privileged sport. I don’t think they are very welcoming when it comes to dual heritage.”
“We are not blind,” adds Guel. “They can try to fool the public by using campaigns like ‘Una nación; un equipo,’ when we know the USMNT only does this to [avoid] backlash.”
Guel sees all of this as the consequence of U.S. Soccer’s failure to make more fans among people of color. And that’s why the national team has little choice but to flee to the few places that are hospitable to it—something that head coach Gregg Berhalter has acknowledged.
“They are scared,” says Guel of U.S. Soccer. “They make it difficult for Mexicans to obtain tickets for these games. I do get their strategy. They try to keep the home field advantage.”
“We all know that the U.S. Soccer Federation hosts games in places like ‘White America’ to get more fans to support them,” echoes Toribio. “If they play anywhere on the West Coast, they know Mexico fans will buy a large amount of game tickets and [the U.S.] won’t have the home field advantage they need to win versus Mexico. I don’t mean this in a derogatory manner. After all, the U.S. Federation has to do anything it can to win these important games, especially with the CONCACAF kings, Mexico.”
Plainly, Guel and Toribio have their own bias here. They are prominent Mexico fans. And the cultural resonance of the Mexican national team to their heritage is strong. For a lot of immigrants and subsequent generations of their descendants, the old country’s national team represents a tether to a past life and identity that looms large. Just as many Mexican-Americans seem to prefer watching Liga MX games over Major League Soccer, judging by the TV ratings.
Yet there isn’t much evidence that the United States Soccer Federation has undertaken a concerted effort to make inroads among the fans who were born and raised in this nation, who live and work here, yet whose soccer loyalty lies elsewhere. Aside from translating a slogan, that is.
And until that changes, you’re going to see lots more key games in Ohio. At least until Wyoming, Idaho and the Dakotas get serious about building soccer stadiums.
I would like to offer my thoughts to this,
Speaking from my perspective , both my parents were born and raised in Mexico, having came to US as adults.
I was born and raised in Los Angeles area, and began playing soccer since the age of 4. Competitively since 10 , and was lucky enough to compete all across California representing my club team that was based out of the Anaheim area until the age 0f 17 where I then committed to play for Cal State San Bernandino, (life happened, and never ended up playing an official match)
I will always root for and back Mexico. Reason being, the thousands of games I played as a youth led me to love the Mexican national team and see the USMNT as an enemy. As you may or may not know, Anaheim/OC area has MANY white people. (with pockets of Mexicans)
The club team I was in growing up was 90% Mexican players, 10% other latino (Gautemalan, Honduran, we even had a Nicaraguan kid for a small stint.) most of the other club teams we faced were WHITE teams. 100% white kids. occasionally we would run into another team like us. 90% Mexican 10% other.
In my "prime" I tried out for one of these "white" club teams (BETTER FUNDED, MORE SCOUTS/TIES to colleges). I was definitely better than most of the player and especially was the best at my position clearly... they did not accept me in the club, so stayed in my predominantly Mexican team.
It was not a direct, "Your mexican so you cant play for us".. but , I was not the firt not the last kid this happened to.
I learned from my many years of paying at the high youth levels that this is very common. Segregation amongst teams exists heavily, even till today.
In my opinion due to this, as a huge soccer fan, we (Mexican Americans) come up with this pride that we are Mexican, ESPECIALLY when it comes to the sport. We can never wear a jersey that saw us as lower class, and denied us opportunities simply because we did not look like them.
I have countless stories of examples of this occurring, but I will save you the drama. Needless to say, this is why they go to Ohio, and will forever go to Ohio until this culture starting at the youth system changes.
(This is why you will also continue to see these American born, 1st generation Mexicans continuously picking to represent Mexico vs the USA.)
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