An extract below of Andrew Guest’s XI issue one essay, Making it in America: Analyzing the Immigrant’s Game, explains the question he explores in depth: why do immigrant families still have massively disproportionate success in American soccer?
In the popular imagination, soccer has only gradually become “American.” The legendary 1950 US 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 US roster were born abroad, equal to the number born in St. Louis. Forty-four years later, at the 1994 World Cup hosted by the US, 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 US 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.”