Not One Of The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Players Is Latina, Here’s Why
On July 7, the U.S. Women’s National Team went up against the Netherlands Women’s National Team for the FIFA Women’s World Cup and USWNT took home the championship cup. During the team’s victory speech in New York, U.S. women’s soccer star and forward, Megan Rapinoe, said, “We got white girls, black girls, and everything in between.”
However, Rapinoe should have thought twice before making that statement. After all, what exactly did she mean by “everything in between” if the U.S. Women’s National Team didn’t feature a single Latina woman on its roster this year?
Rapinoe’s comments recently inspired a Los Angeles Times story about an L.A. girls soccer club trying to make the face of women’s soccer.
Columnist Bill Plaschke spoke to young soccer players from the Downtown Los Angeles Soccer Club, whose team is mostly made up of Latina athletes “facing economic and cultural battles that have long kept them on the soccer sidelines.” The Downtown Los Angeles Soccer Club is made up of 175 girls trying to change the face of women’s soccer that has historically been dominated by white women.
“That’s why …. I like watching [the U.S. Women’s national team] and everything, but I still say my idol is Lionel Messi,” said 15-year-old-striker Nayelli Barahona.
This critique of the U.S. Women’s National Football Team is not new. When they also held the title for world champions in 2017, NPR’s Latino USA published an article “Why Is Women’s Soccer so White?”
Audio producer and journalist Michael Simon Johnson writes, “The United States women’s national soccer team is far from a beacon of diversity, especially when compared to their male counterparts. With few women of color––and no Latinas––the team is extremely white, in spite of soccer’s entrenched place in Latin American culture.”
However, the issue isn’t that young girls of color aren’t interested in playing the sport.
But rather, as NPR notes, “youth soccer’s play-to-play system favors not necessarily the most talented children, but the children of parents who can afford elite clubs’ steep fees.” Club soccer fees run from $2,000 to $5,000 annually, per the Los Angeles Times.
That’s where Downtown Los Angeles Soccer Club comes in. Their club president Mick Muhlfriedel helps run the all-volunteer operation out of a middle school field in Pico-Union. According to Mulhfriedel, “some of the girls contribute $25 a month. Most pay nothing.”
Since the 1991 World Cup, there have been 12 women of color on the U.S. World Cup or Olympic teams.
According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, 14-year-old girls drop out sports at twice the rate of boys.
“Add in the lack of diverse role models and access, transportation issues and the cost, the number of obstacles facing girls of color in the game of soccer becomes poignantly evident. Although progress has been slow, there has been progress. It would be remiss to not acknowledge some of the black players who are trailblazing on the field,” writes Stephanie Taylor of Girls Soccer Network.
In September 2018, Hope Solo also penned an opinion piece that focused on what’s wrong when the U.S. women’s soccer teams are dominated by “white girls next door.”
She writes that race was something most people on the teams she played didn’t want to discuss or even acknowledge.
“Over most of my 20-year career, I hadn’t realized how uncomfortable some teammates were around certain coaches or officials. Most players wanted to represent the US, to be at the Olympics or the World Cup, and they’re proud to be on the team. So they kept quiet. But those conversations with teammates who felt things were off, means race is an issue we need to discuss a whole lot more,” Solo writes. “The numbers are very clear. We need more men and women of color to represent US national teams. So few players of color representing the USWNT means there are great athletes across the country we are ignoring.”
The Los Angeles Times also cites that according to NCAA reports from 2017-2018, only 8% of female soccer players were Latino women. This is why it’s so important to not only advocate for young Latina athletes but also help mobilize the conversations further surrounding not only gender parity’s in professional sports but also race.
In the last two years, the Downtown Los Angeles Soccer Club has won three of their eight major tournaments and made it to the finals three other times. This fall, the Los Angeles Times writes that they’ll compete in the prestigious Premier division of the Coast Soccer League and compete in the California Regional League.
The young Latina soccer players from the Down Los Angeles Soccer Club seem to be resilient soccer players passionate and determined.
More importantly, they seem resolute in their efforts to change the face of future World Cup and soccer matches that take place on a national stage.
Here’s to hoping we see some of these young talented players giving that victory speech or holding the cup in the future.