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What More Must U.S. Soccer Do to Be More Inclusive of Young Latino Talent?

Jonathan Gonzalez is part of a larger conversation. Brad Rothenberg, co-founder of Alianza de Fútbol, joins Grant Wahl on the Planet Fútbol Podcast to give his insight on what has become a more prevalent issue in U.S. Soccer circles.

On the new Planet Fútbol Podcast, we interview Brad Rothenberg, the co-founder of Alianza de Fútbol, which hosts tryouts for young Latino soccer players around the United States and helps connect the best of them with pro teams in Mexico and the United States.

Jonathan González of northern California won the Sueño Alianza national competition in 2013 and subsequently signed a pro contract with Monterrey. Though González, a dual-national, played for U.S. youth national teams, he recently decided to play for Mexico’s senior national team and made his debut on Wednesday night against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Rothenberg, the son of former U.S. Soccer president Alan Rothenberg, remains close to González’s family, and on the new podcast he speaks about not just his frustration over U.S. Soccer’s failure to land González, but also his opinion that the U.S. federation will continue to lose dual-nationals to Mexico if it doesn’t change its policies and actions.

Here are some of quotes from Rothenberg’s interview, which can be heard in full in the podcast below (You can subscribe and download the podcast on iTunes here):

On his frustration and anger with U.S. Soccer over not just the Jonathan González story but the general response from U.S. Soccer to Alianza de Fútbol:

“This is not just because of Jonathan. There are too many kids … who don’t ever rise to Jonathan’s level who could have opportunities playing in the youth system if only the federation would change their definition of what they’re looking for when they say they’re out looking for the best talent.”

On the main problems he sees with U.S. Soccer’s approach to Latino players:

“There are two things here. One, and I don’t know that this was necessarily Jonathan’s problem, but there’s other issues that I’ve heard about from other Latino players: They don’t feel like their style of play is appreciated … The federation has to expand their definition of what a talented youth player looks like in the United States now. Our vision has been very narrow, and we’ve got some excellent players who have come through that vision. But to do what we need to do to really expand our universe of talent, we need to look for different types of players and create a system where they’re welcome.

As Blame Game Continues Over Jonathan Gonzalez's Decision, U.S. Soccer Denies Neglect

“The second thing, really, in the case of Jonathan: We have such a big country. The federation isn’t big enough, or it doesn’t have a department that’s deep enough, to manage these kids, to let them know that there’s going to be ups and downs and there’s going to be a cycle to their development. Jonathan was part of the U-17 cycle and had an opportunity there. He wasn’t picked to go to the World Cup, and there was an opportunity for him to play for the U-20s, but he didn’t go to the World Cup. But those things alone did not cost us Jonathan. Even when Dave [Sarachan, the U.S. senior interim coach] didn’t pick him to play against Portugal in November, a lot of people said that was the final straw. There was no final straw, and I know this because I know the family, and I was with Jonathan the day before he decided he was going with Mexico.

“The fact is it was an accumulation of a lack of attention. When [the federation] said we were communicating with him, we weren’t talking to him. We weren’t flying to Monterrey to see him play. There were random text messages kind of left to Tab [Ramos] to be the lead on this, and it wasn’t enough. And it’s evidence that there will be more. Because until we change the way we handle kids like this, we will lose kids that have dual citizenship to Mexico.”