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5 Influential African American Soccer Players – Celebrating MLK Day

Freddy Edu

Although Freddy Adu didn’t help the United States win a World Cup like many anticipated he would, he, without a doubt, made a substantial difference in American soccer and proved to all players in North America that anything is possible.

Freddy Edu with Pele
Freddy Edu and Pele – Click to Watch More

Freddy’s ability to surpass the traditional path to the professional level was unheard of in America. Most sports in the US include high school and or college before you get to the professional level, but Edu was ahead of his time.  At the age of 14, Freddy signed his first professional contract with DC United, becoming the youngest player in MLS history to do so. Only three months after signing his contract, he took the field, and later scored a goal, proving he was not just a marketing ploy and that he could compete with America’s best.

As the sport of soccer grew in popularity in the early 2000s, Freddy Edu had a massive cultural impact on the game, increasing its publicity, and driving interest around the MLS. Without a doubt, he will go down as the young soccer star who proved anything is possible for aspiring youth soccer players around the world.

Sydney Leroux

With their success in the ’90s and after winning back-to-back World Cups, the US Women’s National Team as a whole has undeniably paved the way for the game of soccer. After becoming the best women’s side in the history of the sport, players like Sydney Leroux have ignited a love for soccer throughout the country. 

Sydney Leroux
Click for Sydney Leroux Highlights

Similar to Freddy Edu, Leroux started her career early as a teen. At the age of 15, she made her first start for the Vancouver Whitecaps, becoming the youngest female to ever play professionally. Her ability to connect with fans and drive social change through her reach, has made a tremendous impact off the field, as well. Along with these accomplishments, her role as a mother of two, reveals the multiple avenues in which Leroux acts as a role model for all females and athletes alike. Coming back into the game stronger than ever, her prevalence over adversity has and will continue to challenge and inspire each of us.

Cobi Jones

Cobi Jones was simply outstanding. Although he is not the first African American to take the pitch on American soil, he was the first African American player to have the skill and media reach to inspire African Americans to play the beautiful game. After 392 games for the LA Galaxy, 164 National Team Caps, and earning two MLS Cup trophies, Jones will go down as one of the best players in American history. Jones’ accomplishments on the field were outstanding, but his impact off the pitch cannot go unnoticed.

Cobi Jones

Cobi Jones in action against Romania during 1994 World Cup | Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports (picture) Click to see highlights!

As an active member of the US Soccer Foundation, Jones has helped fight the economic barriers that hold back African American and Hispanic communities from getting access to the game. If you are an attacking player, be sure to check these highlights and learn from one of the most productive American Soccer Players of all time. 

Briana Scurry

If you are surprised to see this name, you have some homework to do. Briana Scurry dominated the women’s game, becoming the first African American to be inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2017. With 173 caps and 159 starts in her international career, she managed to produce 71 shoutouts.

Briana Scurry
Los Angeles, CA – July 10, 1999: USA vs China, Women’s World Cup 1999 Finals. USA 0, China 0. USA wins 5-4 on penalty kicks. Click to watch more!

In 1999, she won the best goalkeeper award after producing four shoutouts and saving the infamous penalty pick that lead the USWNT to World Cup gold in the final match against China. Briana Scurry set the tone early for goalkeepers like Hope Solo and Alyssa Naeher, creating the culture of USWNT dominance that we all know and love today. 

Eddie Pope

Although Eddie Pope is not the sexiest name for this list, we believe he is one of the most underrated American Soccer Players of all time. Eddie Pope played on the biggest stages in soccer, participating in three World Cups during a time not many African Americans played soccer in the United States. Not only was he one of the few African Americans on the USMNT, but Pope also contributed to some of the most successful runs in the history of American soccer. Pope started each of the USMNT’s games in the 2002 World Cup, surprising the world by making it to the quarterfinals, losing in a close match-up vs. Germany, 1-0.   

Eddie Pope
Click for Eddie Pope Highlights!

Pope is arguably the best center back the United States has ever produced. He was extraordinarily smart, possessed outstanding leadership skills, and was naturally stronger and faster than most opponents, deeming him one of the most complete American players of all time. Although Eddie Pope never tested his abilities in Europe at the club level, his willingness to stay in the MLS during its developing years allowed the league to grow and benefit from retaining its most influential players. If you are a younger player, regardless of your position, Eddie Pope is someone worth studying. 

As Martin Luther King Jr. once said,
“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

These individuals have done just that… not only in the respective sport of soccer but for humanity as a whole. They have challenged the status quo, paving the way for all present and future generations to come. On this day and every day we celebrate them, we celebrate Dr. King, and we celebrate the many other African Americans who have inspired and reminded us all that the beautiful game knows no color.