U.S. play­ers might be up against a wall

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - DY­LAN HER­NAN­DEZ

MEX­ICO CITY — Bruce Arena, the head coach of the United States men’s na­tional soc­cer team, wanted to make some­thing clear.

When his team takes the field against Mex­ico at Azteca Sta­dium on Sun­day, it will be rep­re­sent­ing the United States. It won’t be rep­re­sent­ing its pres­i­dent.

It’s a strange time to be an Amer­i­can, es­pe­cially an Amer­i­can abroad. And with the U.S. play­ing in Mex­ico for the first time since Don­ald Trump was elected pres­i­dent, Arena was do­ing the same awk­ward dance many of us do th­ese days when speak­ing to for­eign­ers or vis­it­ing another coun­try, explaining how the views and poli­cies of the ad­min­is­tra­tion might not ref lect your own.

“We have the great­est re­spect for Mex­ico, its peo­ple, its foot­ball team,” the for­mer Galaxy coach said. “I live in Los Angeles. I ex­pe­ri­ence, on a daily ba­sis, peo­ple of Mex­i­can her­itage. They’re won­der­ful peo­ple, they con­trib­ute greatly to our so­ci­ety in many ways. We think the world of them.

“I’m ashamed that there’s per­haps some dis­cord on the po­lit­i­cal side, but, be­lieve me, I think most Amer­i­cans ap­pre­ci­ate the Mex­i­cans that have come to Amer­ica to make a bet­ter fu­ture for them­selves and their fam­i­lies and the way they have con­trib­uted.” His words are un­likely to di­min­ish the amount of abuse his play­ers will re­ceive Sun­day.

Trump in­sulted Mex­ico and its peo­ple on the cam­paign trail. The close to 85,000 peo­ple who will pack the Azteca on Sun­day can’t voice their dis­plea­sure di­rectly to him. The clos­est they can come to do­ing so is by hurl­ing in­sults and who-knows-what-else at the U.S. soc­cer team.


The irony is that there is no col­lec­tion of Amer­i­can ath­letes that less rep­re­sents the ideals of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. The ros­ter is a ref lec­tion of our coun­try’s mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism that was re­jected by Trump vot­ers. Sev­eral play­ers have spo­ken out against Trump, per­haps none more so than cap­tain Michael Bradley, the Cau­casian son of a Prince­ton-ed­u­cated coach.

Mid­fielder Dar­ling­ton Nagbe laughed un­com­fort­ably when told of how the fans will view him and his team­mates as prox­ies for the White House.

“I think that we know it comes with it, you know?” Nagbe said. “It’s a tough po­si­tion to be in.”

Asked about Trump’s call to build a wall along the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der, Nagbe replied, “I don’t think it’s right, you know? Me be­ing from another coun­try …”

He spoke of his back­ground, how he was born in war-torn Liberia and moved to Sierra Leone as a refugee be­fore set­tling in Ohio. Nagbe is one of three nat­u­ral­ized cit­i­zens on the team. De­fender John Brooks and mid­fielder Fabian John­son were born in Ger­many.

De­fender Jorge Vil­lafana was born in Ana­heim but raised in Mex­ico. Sev­eral play­ers are sons of im­mi­grants.

The team has An­g­los, Lati­nos and African Amer­i­cans. For­ward Bobby Wood and mid­fielder Kel­lyn Acosta are part Ja­panese.

Ten play­ers on the team earn their liv­ing in other coun­tries on worker’s visas.

“That’s the great thing about sports,” Nagbe said. “You get to bring a group of peo­ple to­gether and try to get a re­sult for the coun­try.”

Mex­i­can fans won’t view the play­ers the way the play­ers view them­selves. Mex­ico coach Juan Car­los Osorio spoke to re­porters Sat­ur­day about the obli­ga­tion his team had to de­liver a vic­tory for Mex­i­can im­mi­grants liv­ing in the United States.

Osorio was born in Colom­bia but has sig­nif­i­cant ties to the United States. He re­ceived a col­lege ed­u­ca­tion in the United States. He had mul­ti­ple coach­ing po­si­tions in Ma­jor League Soc­cer. His chil­dren are Amer­i­cans cit­i­zens.

Osorio re­vealed there was a time when he was in the United States as an un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grant. He said he re­lates to Mex­i­cans in sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances, to the conf lict­ing feel­ings of grat­i­tude to­ward the U.S. but want­ing to win when com­pet­ing against Amer­i­cans.

Nagbe was mod­est in how he thought his team could af­fect the per­cep­tion of Mex­i­can fans.

“I think we want to show we’re good play­ers and we’re a good team,” he said.

In other words, they should worry about the game. They can’t con­trol any­thing else.

Or, as goal­keeper Tim Howard said, “When guys are beat­ing down on you, Don­ald Trump is the last thing on your mind.”

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