Inside XI Issue One – A Preview of Coming to America (Part 2)
Yesterday, we previewed roughly the first half of XI Issue One: stories on Gil (Scott) Heron, Latina players in North Carolina, Johan Cruyff in DC, immigrants and success in American society/soccer, and the controversial story of Howard University’s NCAA championship teams. Today, we’ll look at the remaining six stories that make up “Coming to America.”
Writing this preview the night after the US men’s national team’s historic win at the Azteca seems as good a time as any to bring up the blurred boundaries that exist for their female equivalents, especially after an Olympic success for Mexico that showed the strength of its development program for male players. Jeff Kassouf looks at why the Mexican roster is stocked full of Mexican-Americans, while Mexican-born players look north of the border for higher level playing opportunities, talking to players such as Monica Gonzalez.
Training with boys’ teams is not out of the ordinary for Mexican women’s players. Some train with men’s professional teams. While training with men’s teams is not the ideal practice setup for women’s players, it at least provides a high level of competition. But it does not provide the money players need to make a living.
Mexican women’s national team players still only earn a stipend of 4,000 pesos –– roughly $300 –– per month from the Mexican federation, according to Gonzalez. Last year Gonzalez was in camp with the national team ahead of the 2011 Women’s World Cup and had to sell her car to pay rent. Mexico needs a league of its own to foster the development of domestic talent. Until that is established, players will continue to play abroad and view that as a route to discovery.
One aim of XI is to dig up lost American soccer history. Expats from the British Isles, of course, were responsible for spreading the sport around the world: and in the United States, some of that role in establishing soccer is fairly well-known on the east coast at the start of the twentieth century. But less is known about the sport’s nascent days on the west coast, a tale Michael Orr uncovers in-depth as he looks at the sport’s early growth and stutters in Portland, Oregon.
Association football was regularly described in the local press as the “Scotch and English game.” Occasionally large crowds in cities like Glasgow and London were a subject of note in Portland newspapers as the sport was very specifically linked to the British Isles, despite the growing presence of clubs in large, eastern American cities.
Portland competed in their its first interstate match on Febuary 22, 1902, when PFC traveled via the steamer Hassalo to Ilwaco, Washington, to face the powerful team from the mouth of the Columbia. Though Portland fans made the 115-mile trek to support the team, there was not enough quality in the metropolitan side to defeat Ilwaco. The 2-0 score line made the proximity to Cape Disappointment all the more appropriate and the PFC crew made the long trip back to Portland.
MLS is a league that straddles two nations; and within one, there is an internal nationalist dynamic of its own defining the identity of an MLS club, Impact de Montréal, as explored by Elizabeth Cotignola as she looks at the team’s marketing campaign upon entering the league this year.
It would appear that the Impact has attempted to reinvent itself upon its ascent to MLS by resurrecting symbols that are rooted in Québec’s history and culture. The team harkened back to Québec’s very beginnings in its campaign. The slogan chosen for the team’s inaugural season in MLS was la conquête commence, meaning “the conquest begins.” This theme – conquest, battle, war – underlies the Impact’s entire marketing campaign. The Impact’s website features posters, which that showed up in Montreal’s metro stations and other public spaces, depicting various players standing stoically at the base of Mount Royal, bearing shields embossed with the Impact’s newly minted crest. The posters feature slogans such as À La Defense du Nord (to the defense of the North) and À La Conquête de l’Ouest (to the conquest of the West). The imagery is unambiguous: the Impact has presented its upcoming inaugural season in MLS to be as much a challenge, a conquest, as cause for celebration – much like the founding of la Nouvelle France, Québec.
How did youth soccer become as American as apple pie in suburban America? The massive explosion in the popularity of the game in places like Southern California was no accident, David Keyes argues, but the planned result of an attempt to “Americanize” the game from its ethnic roots by the founders of AYSO.
The goals that Bill Hughes, Hans Stierle, Ted McClean, Ralph Acosta and Steve Erdos had in creating AYSO in 1964 were very different from those involved with the ethnic leagues. While for those in ethnic communities, soccer was about providing a connection to fellow immigrants and to their homelands, from the beginning AYSO was focused on growing the popularity of the game in Los Angeles and throughout the United States.
As Clay Berling, longtime editor of Soccer America, puts it, “The ethnic groups were concerned with having a team that won championships. That was what they grew up with.” In contrast, “The AYSO contingent had an entrepreneurial spirit that the ethnic groups didn’t have.” Former AYSO executive director Tim Thompson has gone further, describing the organization as having a “religious zeal.” Like an evangelical church, the non-profit AYSO was run by leaders who saw it as their mission to convert others to this new game of soccer.
In order to grow soccer, AYSO had to change the sport’s image. If the game was to increase in popularity, it would have to appeal not only to those in ethnic communities, but to the broader American public. Joe Bonchonsky, whose sons played in the first ever AYSO game and whose extensive later work with the organization would see him elected to the AYSO Hall of Fame, sums up the founding of the organization as follows: “AYSO started at the request of a [USSFA] organization. Bill Hughes had tried it before under their direction and failed because it had been too ethnic-oriented. So he said, ‘we’ll start but not in an affiliated manner. We’ll be independent completely.’”
In the 1924-5 season, Archie Stark - Scottish-born, New Jersey-bred - scored 70 goals in 44 games, playing for Bethlehem Steel of the American Soccer League. We tell Archie’s story in words, photos and statistics.
Ethnic soccer has long defined the game in the United States at the highest levels of the amateur and semi-pro levels: just scroll through the list of US Open Cup winners prior to the entry of MLS clubs in 1996 for proof of that. In an essay illustrated by photos from Marty Groark, we look at the past and present of one Chicago club, Croatian team RWB Adria - winners of the 2011 National Amateur Cup, and who once welcomed Eusebio into their red, white and blue colors.
That takes us to the end of this XI issue one preview: you can be the first to read it by subscribing now, with a special introductory offer available through the end of this month.
Inside XI Issue One - A Preview of "Coming to America" (Part 1)
The XI team settled on the theme for issue one of the quarterly with surprising ease. The aim was to choose a topic that would allow contributors to explore strands of North American soccer that distinctly shape the sport, to tell entertaining, original stories, to provoke thought and highlight areas of the game often forgotten. We settled on "Coming to America," with eleven samplings on how the game has and continues to be molded by that great theme of American history, its diverse intake from abroad.
The issue begins with a multi-page illustrated story by Steve Welsh (of Miniboro fame) on a father-and-son with an oft-forgotten connection to North American soccer: Gil Heron and his son, Gil Scott-Heron. Gil Senior was born in Jamaica and moved to North America in the 1940s, becoming a renowned striker in top level semi-professional play. Welsh’s illustrations portray both Heron Senior and Junior, mixed with verse from both that brilliantly draws on how the game shaped their lives: while his son was just an infant, born in Chicago, Heron Senior was spotted by a Celtic scout and left the country to become the first black player to appear for the Glasgow club’s first team.
I’ll remember all the great ones Those that I have seen Those who I have played with Who wore the white and green
And it was on a Sunday that I met my old man I was twenty-six years old Naw but it was much too late to speculate
In Siler City, North Carolina, Paul Caudros looks at how a small southern town has been transformed by Hispanic immigration - and how Latina soccer players are adapting to life in America with their participation in the sport they love.
Women’s soccer in the U.S. is typically known as a bastion of bright, fair skinned, blonde ponytail players kicking the ball. But these players are very different. They are Latinas and they want to play, too. What’s most remarkable about them is that many of these players are not youth players but older women, moms even, who want to play competitive soccer on the weekends just like their husbands and boyfriends. In living out their soccer dreams they are transforming these traditional soccer spaces from being predominantly male to something else. And in the process these futbolera pioneers are challenging the limits of traditional female roles and transforming the norms of femininity in their own families and communities.
The women are dressed in royal blue jerseys and white shorts with matching white socks. They look impeccable. Ready to play. It’s an understatement to say this team of Latina futboleras is well organized. Every player knows her position on the field and on the team. And they all arrive on time, something rare in the Latino community when games start with fuzzy times. But these futboleras know better than to show up late to a game managed by Debra.
From the unknown Latina players in North Carolina, we move on to one of the most famous soccer players to ever come to America: Johan Cruyff. Leander Schaerlaeckens and Pieter van Os- who wrote a book about the Dutch legend’s spell in the NASL - tell the full story of his tenure in the United States for the first time in English.
Legendarily hubristic, cocksure, singularly combative and ruthless, Cruyff was forever embroiled in power struggles or embarking on ideological crusades. If his talent for manipulating a ball and orchestrating an offense was immense, it was (and is) dwarfed by his capacity for inciting conflict and playing mind games.
But the Dips didn’t know any of that yet. In 1980, all they knew was that they’d landed the player considered one of the greatest of all time for his second season in the now-defunct North American Soccer League. Cruyff had spent 1979 with the Los Angeles Aztecs.
In his first game, fresh off the plane and badly jetlagged by the long trip and nine-hour time difference from his native Netherlands, he had scored twice in his first seven minutes and gave an assist before coming off. He would bag 13 goals and 15 assists, lead his team to the conference semifinals and be named the league’s Most Valuable Player that year. And now, not quite 33, he was – in name anyway – a Diplomat, part of the ambitious, newly cash-rich club eager to emulate the dominant, star-studded New York Cosmos.
The board members took Cruyff to Tiberio, the restaurant where Washington’s movers and shakers ate. None of the senators, congressmen or other power brokers paid him much mind. And then, to the stupefaction of them all, every busboy, dishwasher and cook in the building trickled out into the dining room for a picture, autograph and a chat with him.
Academic Andrew Guest takes a macro-look at immigration and American soccer in his essay, Making It In America. For Guest, this is a story not just about soccer, but about immigration and American society more broadly.
In the popular imagination, soccer has only gradually become “American.” The legendary 1950 U.S. World Cup team, for example, beat England on a diving header by Joe Gaetjens—who was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and later played for Haiti against Mexico in a World Cup qualifier. But even in 1950, only six of the seventeen players on the U.S. roster were born abroad, equal to the number born in St. Louis. Forty-four years later, at the 1994 World Cup hosted by the U.S., the American roster had a nearly identical ratio of foreign-born: 1 out of 3. So when I first looked at the U.S. roster for the 2010 World Cup I was interested to find only two of the players on the final thirty-man roster were born abroad: Stuart Holden was born in Scotland and Benny Feilhaber was born in Brazil, with both moving to the U.S. by age 10. But then, when I tracked down their family histories, it turned out that at least 60 percent (or 18 of players for which I could find the relevant information) had at least one parent who was born abroad. In contrast, only around 20 percent of all young Americans have at least one parent born abroad. If the World Cup team is any indication, immigrant families still have massively disproportionate success in American soccer.
While this does imply that soccer is still something of an “immigrant’s game,” I think there is also something more complicated going on, something that social scientists call “the immigrant paradox” or “the immigrant advantage.” It turns out that when accounting for prior socio-economic status, several first and second-generation immigrant groups do better than expected in multiple life domains beyond the soccer field. Asian and African immigrant youth, for example, do significantly better than their socio-economic status would predict in the American education system. Likewise, Hispanic immigrants often have better health outcomes than demographically similar non-immigrant American groups. It is worth emphasizing that such successes are relative: while immigrants come in all types, on average the contemporary U.S. immigrant population does face significant economic disadvantage even before accounting for potential political and social marginalization. Immigrant advantages also tend to dissipate over time, sometimes creating a sadly ironic association between assimilation and vulnerability across generations. But the success stories of immigration do offer valuable lessons, particularly in the face of declining American social mobility, about how the ‘land of opportunity’ could work.
The story of Howard University’s soccer team - one built from an unusually large intake of foreign students from the 1920s to today - is told by Tom Dunmore. Notably, these foreign students happened to be mostly black foreign students: a difference from the DC college’s peer institutions that resulted in one of the great sporting stories of the 1970s, following Howard’s unprecedented victory in the 1971 NCAA final, led by legendary Bisons’ coach Lincoln Phillips.
At half-time, the score was 2-2. At the break, Phillips made a call that changed the game: Keith Aqui, the Bisons’ star Trinidadian striker, sidelined from the game with a fever, was introduced for the second half. “Aqui came to me with tears in his eyes and said he wanted to play,” Phillips later recalled, admitting Aqui’s illness should have kept his prolific forward off the field: “I knew he should not have played, but I just couldn’t tell him no. Once he got on the field, St. Louis changed their attack. They put two and three men to guard him, which left an extra two of our men free.” And so the space opened up for Howard’s powerful attack and when Stan Smith, Howard’s captain, found forward Alvin Henderson with a driven through ball, the moment had arrived for the Bisons: his right footed shot powered past St. Louis’ keeper Al Steck into the top left-hand corner of the goal to give Howard a 3-2 victory. At the final whistle, Jet magazine reported, “Three hundred Howard University students, faculty and alumni streamed onto the field … with the assistance of a 40-piece pep band, the crowd celebrated the most amazing and spectacular victory in Black collegiate sports.”
In the locker-room later, Phillips faked receiving a congratulatory call from President Nixon; “Ah, Mr. President,” Phillips deadpanned into the empty line, “I’m disappointed. I thought you would call sooner.” He did not have to wait much longer: the next day, a telegram from the president arrived offering Nixon’s “heartiest congratulations to you and the Howard University soccer team. Your team, your victory yesterday (December 30), the perfect season of fifteen wins and no losses, and your NCAA Championship make Washington very proud.” Howard’s victory was appreciated both locally, as a rarity in Washington D.C. sports (it was the first championship, collegiate or professional, by a team from the area in 25 years), and nationally in the black American community, praised highly in publications such as Jet, who headlined “Soccer World Is Shaken By Championship Victory Of Howard” and The Baltimore Afro-American, which wrote that “It was a historic night for Howard and for black colleges and universities as it marked the first time in sports history that any NCAA Championship had been won by a black university in any sport.”
That takes us to about the halfway point of issue one - tomorrow, we’ll give you a peek at the rest of the publication, and you can be the first to read the issue by subscribing now, with a special introductory offer available through the end of this month.