He started rattling off names: Weston McKenney, Tyler Adams, Younes Moses, Anthony Robinson… the list went on.
It’s a far cry from Armstrong’s Nationals days, when he and quarterback Jimmy Banks were the only black players, not only on the roster, but in the elite talent pool.
“I would say the biggest contrast between then and now is that it was lonely,” Armstrong said. “It’s not just a guy like me, quote-unquote, carrying the banner for every potential African-American player.”
This year’s 26-man squad includes a record 12 black players, a three-man increase from 2014 — the last time the U.S. made the team — and the combined tally of the 1994, ’98 and 2002 teams. (From 1990 to 1998, there were 22 players and from 2002 to 2018, there were 23 players.)
“It’s no secret that African-Americans love basketball, football, baseball and other sports,” McKenney said. “In my neighborhood [in Little Elm, Tex.], you rarely saw any African American kids playing football. So now to be able to do what we love and still influence the game for African Americans is amazing because now they can look at it and say, “You know, that could be me.. . And there is. Another sport we can fall in love with.”
Before the roster was announced on Nov. 9, nine other black players were in contention for coach Greg Berhalter’s team. The four players making the cut are Hispanic, making up the largest contingent of people of color in U.S. World Cup history.
“The diversity of this team is the diversity of America,” Berhalter said.
Maurice Addo, the 2010 World Cup midfielder and now Fox Sports commentator, said he often talks to friends about the possibility of an all-black starting line-up soon, which “is incredible seeing how far the game has come in terms of access. “
Edo, who is black, emphasized the importance of black role models who played for the United States in the World Cup. For him, it was Eddie Pope, Ernie Stewart and DaMarcus Beasley, among others. The 2010 and ’14 teams featured 17 black players, including Tim Howard, Oguchi Onyewo and Jozy Altidore.
“There’s still room for growth, but if this team is successful, it’s going to continue that pipeline,” Edo said. “Seeing players like them, more young black kids will focus on the game.”
Armstrong, 58, was born in Washington, but moved to Montgomery County, Md., as a child. He moved and excelled in the sport in Columbia, a youth soccer hotbed in Howard County. When he visited his grandmother in Northeast D.C., neighborhood boys would yell at him, “Football boy, how’s that hockey?”
“I was always known as ‘Football Boy’ there,” Armstrong said with a laugh. The implication was that it was a white boy’s sport.
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The 1990 team was almost exclusively white players in their early to mid-20s who had come through traditional development circles and starred for NCAA programs. The composition of this year’s team is far-fetched. When at full health, the starting midfield trio consists of all-black players: McKenney, Adams and Moses.
McKenney and Adams’ paths passed through the MLS academies in Dallas and New York, respectively. Both dropped out of college to become professionals.
Born in New York to Ghanaian parents, Moussa learned the game in Italy and England and plays for Valencia in Spain’s La Liga. He qualified for four countries.
Florida-born quarterback Shaq Moore traces his family roots back to Trinidad and Tobago. Midfielder Klein Acosta, from Greater Dallas, is black, Japanese, and Puerto Rican. Winger Tim Weah is a native of New York, the son of a Liberian father (former superstar George Weah) and a Jamaican mother.
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DeAndre Yedlin, the only current US player with World Cup experience, is a black man of Latvian-Jewish and Native American blood. Ferreira moved to the United States in 2009 when his father David joined FC Dallas and became a US citizen in 2019.
Striker Haji Wright, from Los Angeles, has Liberian and Ghanaian roots. Robinson and Cameron Carter-Vickers, both quarterbacks, are natives of England, the sons of black American fathers who played football at Duke and basketball at LSU, respectively. (Howard Carter was selected in the first round in 1983.)
The credibility of current and former black players made the game more accessible and accessible, although soccer’s penetration in the United States is greater in the suburbs than in the cities, where the game thrives in other parts of the world.
At the Aspen Institute’s Game Project summit in Washington in May, Cindy Kuhn, president of the US Soccer Federation, said: “A lot of it depends on how we view the sport, and how we can change that mindset from rich, white kids. Sport to sport that is literally done [everywhere]. “As the most diverse country in the world, how do we shift that focus to make sure every kid feels welcome in our game?”
While the number of black players on the national team has increased, Hispanic representation has stagnated, even though Latinos make up roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population. Football is the most popular sport in those communities.
The largest Latin American team in the 1994 World Cup was 5 people. This year, forward Jesus Ferreira, forward Gio Reina, and midfielders Luca de la Torre and Cristian Roldan are the midfielders. However, only Roldan, whose parents immigrated from El Salvador and Guatemala, has roots in Central America. (Roldan’s brother, Alex, represents El Salvador.)
In a mild surprise, forward Ricardo Pepi was not selected for the World Cup squad. Pepi, a dual citizen from El Paso, could have become a hero in the Mexican American community — “someone Mexican Americans can identify with,” ESPN commentator Hercules Gomez said.
“Not having that is a bitter pill to swallow,” said Gomez, who is of Mexican descent and played for the United States in the 2010 World Cup. He also noted that none of the Mexican-American players committed to Mexico were on El Tri’s World Cup team.
American officials agree that socioeconomic barriers have played a significant role in attracting young people from some minority families. Berhalter noted progress in building a pipeline to the national team, but also asked, “How do we develop? [access]enter disadvantaged communities and provide more opportunities?”
Armstrong, a Hall of Famer, has made that effort through a youth program in East Nashville, where kids from a myriad of backgrounds have embraced the game.
“We’re in the early stages” of getting fewer kids involved in the game and on the path to youth national teams, he said. We won’t see the results for 20 years. When that happens, then it will be like, “Okay, now soccer has reached every corner and every inch of America.”
World Cup in Qatar
Your questions answered: The World Cup starts on November 20 in Qatar, about 5 months later than usual. Here’s everything you need to know about the quadrennial event.
Groups guide: The United States men’s national soccer team, led by coach Greg Berhalter and star forward Christian Pulisic, qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement over its disastrous 2018 campaign. Here’s a detailed look at how all the teams in each group are placed.
Today’s worldview: Even with the World Cup just a few days away, The talk of sanctions only gets louder. Pro-football protesters have expressed distaste for Qatar’s authoritarian monarchy, including alleged human rights abuses, repression of dissent, harassment of LGBTQ people and mistreatment of migrant workers.
Best of the Best: More than 800 players representing 32 countries and six continents will gather in Qatar for four weeks of World Cup competition. These players likely promise a breakout tournament or hold the key to their team exceeding expectations.