Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month – MLS Edition

Representation matters.

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month has been a long-standing tradition in my home and Major League Soccer. As a fan of the league, it has been interesting to watch the number of ways the MLS and clubs have chosen to honor the month-long celebration digitally, in-game, and through local events. This year is now more prevalent with the growing roster of Latino representation both on and off the field.

According to ESPN, Latino players have been dominating club rosters since 2019 compared to other professional leagues like MLB, NBA, and the NFL.

“In 2019, 33.4% of MLS players reported as being Latino. MLS, in turn, has 25.0% of its head coaches reported as being Latino. No other U.S. men’s professional league can come close to this ratio of players and head coaches of color.” ~ Richard Lapchick, ESPN.com

Since then we have seen the signings of Rodolfo Pizarro, Ricardo Pepi, Federico “Fede” Navarro, etc. Their additions to the current roster have taken the league in a positive direction regarding having diversity in marketing both on and off the field.

Lately, there has been a large influx of Liga MX players joining the MLS in the past few years, with more players have expressed interest in making that transition themselves.

Of course, Latino players joining is not a new phenomenon given talented players like Jorge Campos, Claudio Suarez, Omar Bravo, Rafa Marquez, and so many others representing the Latino population have participated since the induction of the league.

Mexican National Team members Carlos Vela, Alan Pulido, Jonathan Dos Santos, Chicharito, Efrain Alvarez, and Rodolfo Pizarro – are just a few examples of players who have joined various MLS clubs from Liga MX. And most of them credited Vela with the decision for the switch.

Vela joined the Los Angeles Football Club in 2018 as their first designated player. The Mexican captain has won the MVP, Golden Boot title, and has broken several records with the Black and Gold thus far.

*Image provided by MLS

And I think it is safe to assume their inclusion also led to the first All-Star rivalry of its kind between MLS and Liga MX this summer – that took place in Los Angeles, California. Along with inspiring the expansion and new format of the Leagues Cup between both leagues set to begin in 2023.

New York Times reporter Kevin Draper calls the 47-team tournament a “linchpin” of the strategy

“The monthlong tournament will take place in July and August, beginning in 2023, expanding the collaboration between Major League Soccer and Liga MX and adding more matches to an already crowded world soccer calendar.”

And I agree.

Liga MX took home the win for the MLS All-Star Skills Challenge, but the MLS rose victorious during the penalty kick shootout of the All-Star match at the Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles.

The Leagues Cup was widely criticized when first introduced in 2019. Fans and reporters alike think the league is still too young and unstable to consider such a tournament, especially in its expansion efforts. But maybe we will be proven wrong.

Aside from the influence Latino players have made on the league, their stories are reaching younger players. Youth players are now given guidance from their favorite players and choose different paths to the pros, even if some are controversial.

Real Salt Lake goalkeeper David Ochoa recently raised questions after announcing he chose to play for Seleccion Mexico, better known as El Tri, then the USMNT.

Born and raised in Oxnard, California, the 20-year-old keeper wrote an emotional piece for The Players’ Tribune explaining his decision and the pain typically associated with Hispanics born in the U.S.

Unlike Ricardo Pepi, the 18-year-old striker from FC Dallas chose the U.S Men’s National Team over El Tri. 

*Image provided by 90min.com

The dual-national drama resolved in late August and has already impacted scoring the winning goal in the 4-1 victory over Honduras on September 8 for his debut.

Pepi told reporters of his decision:

“I want to start by saying that I am a Mexican-American and that I am super proud of my heritage,” Pepi continued. “It’s something that will never be taken away from me, no matter what national team I play for.”

I’m glad to see more representation within the league and watch supporters groups that attract fans from all backgrounds.

Article Written by Araceli Villanueva – Connect with her on LinkedIn!

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