The FIFA World Cup will be played in South Africa June 11-July 11, the first time in the tourney’s storied history that it will take place on the African continent.
This World Cup will allow South Africa, a country dogged by its shameful Apartheid-era injustices and discrimination, to showcase its continuously shifting social landscape and technological advances. Its hope is to distance itself from its tumultuous past, and gain a strong foothold as an emerging financial power.
The United States is a lot like South Africa.
Though America enjoys a longstanding place at the top among world powers, it, too, hopes to change its global perception – on the soccer pitch – and will look to its Black team members to play a significant role in erasing the horrors of World Cups past.
In the 2006 World Cup, the United States entered the competition with high expectations, but fell catastrophically short, finishing 32nd in the 32-team field. This time the U.S. hopes to avoid becoming the laughing stock of professional soccer.
Eight members of the 23-man U.S. roster are Black. “We [Black American players] are finally gaining a position in the international leagues,” said Jamahl Green, who played Division I soccer and has played the game professionally. “There are players in Italy, Spain, Germany and England, the top leagues in the world on some of the top clubs (teams). Many young people, who are athletic and may have otherwise chosen other sports like basketball or football, are realizing that soccer is a very viable avenue to financial success. If you’re a 17-year-old and you’re good in soccer, these football clubs in other countries will invest in your future and pay you well. They will put you in a position to succeed. That’s an appealing proposition.”
In 1950, Haitian immigrant Joe Gaetjens became the first Black player to represent the United States on a World Cup team. Thirty-four years later, Eddie Hawkins became the first African American on a U.S. National Team – during a non-World Cup year.
The eight black players on the U.S. World Cup team come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures and play on international, as well as U.S., professional soccer teams. The players are: Jozy Altidore, Edson Buddle, DaMarcus Beasley, Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu, Robbie Findley, Tim Howard, Oguchi Onyewu.
Beasley will be appearing in his third World Cup and Howard and Onyewu each in their second. Coach Bob Bradley said the diversity of skill among the players will be vital to a successful run this year.
“Jose Altidore and DaMarcus Beasley are definitely reasons to watch,” said Erskine McDaniel, who said he became a soccer fan after a trip to Europe in 2004, and now avidly follows the sport.
“We have some prominent guys. We have a credible team,” he adds.
With more Black players rising through the ranks of U.S. soccer there seems to be more interest in the World Cup in the Black community this year. “When there are people who look like me, I’m much more interested. … That’s what makes me want to tune in,” McDaniel said. “Frankly, I’ve never seen this many people Black people more legitimately into the game and the World Cup.”
The U.S. team plays its first match June 12 in a highly anticipated clash with team England.