Soccer has been popular in the United States for decades, and our country hosted one of the most successful World Cups in history in 1994. But the sport has received a notable boost from Hispanics, who are becoming some of the sport’s staunchest fans.
Yet the Center for Immigration Studies’ David Seminara uses soccer to question immigrants’ assimilation, asking on his blog, “If soccer is the world’s sport, and America is the world’s leading beacon for immigrants around the globe, why aren’t immigrants making a bigger impact playing soccer for the Stars and Stripes? … Perhaps the issue here is one of assimilation, or lack thereof in a post-American society.”
Seminara misses here the clear evidence that immigrants are acculturating to our society. At least 5 of the 11 official U.S team players are sons of immigrants. And part of what keeps immigrants from assimilating is actually the difficult process of becoming U.S citizens, which includes overly restrictive and expensive requirements to obtain a green card.
It is also dubious to claim that soccer is not helping immigrants—and most specifically Latinos—becoming acculturated. Virginia’s Chesterfield County, for instance, has seen a surge in the development of soccer fields thanks to the influence of Hispanic immigrants who cluster around games every Sunday. Nearly 3,000 people visit the county’s Robious Athletic Complex to watch more than 40 teams play.
Hispanics have exponentially increased the quality of U.S. professional soccer, as well as its fan base. Case in point: D.C. United, one of Major League Soccer’s most popular teams, counts on Latino fan groups such as “La Norte,” which cheers from “the north” side of the stadium. Its website provides songs and chants in both English and Spanish, chief among them “United until I die.”
MLS incorporated 24 new players last year, and 19 of them were from Latin America. Hispanics now account for 30 percent of the league’s international crew. And seven of MLS’ 12 most valuable players are of Latin American descent, including Colombia’s Juan Pablo Angel, Argentinean Marcelo Gallardo, and Brazilian forward Luciano Emilio.
There is also an entrepreneurial side to the sport’s popularity among Hispanics. Mexico’s team Chivas de Guadalajara founded the team Club Deportivo Chivas USA in Los Angeles in 2004 and has participated in MLS ever since. Chivas USA has lured large fan bases such as “The Legión” and “Union Ultras.” And in an attempt to bring U.S and Hispanic audiences together, both the Mexican League and the MLS agreed in 2007 to create a North American soccer competition called “The Superliga.”
There is a growing U.S. interest in soccer. Last summer, the “Stars and Stripes” team caught fans’ attention by almost defeating Brazil in the Confederations Cup final. The Gold Cup final game between the United States and Mexico brought more than 80,000 fans to the New Jersey-based Giants Stadium, and the World Football Challenge—a round-robin tournament that featured three European clubs and Mexico’s team Club América—drew an estimated 2 million Americans to the stadiums.
And in light of next year’s FIFA World Cup, President Barack Obama has backed the U.S. bid to host a second World Cup in 2018 or 2022, citing that “soccer is truly the world’s sport that promotes camaraderie and friendly competition across the world.”
Soccer is a clear example of Hispanics’ many contributions to fostering unity at a time when Latinos are scapegoated by the debates on health care and immigration reform. The ball of multicultural awareness and respect is in everybody’s court, and mutual prosperity should be our common goal.
Robert Valencia is an Assistant Editor for American Progress.