CARSON, Calif. – This year, there are 650,000 registered players in the American Youth Soccer Organization. There are 50,000 certified teams. And that’s just AYSO. All in all, there are more than 17.5 million youth soccer players in the United States, reports CNN.com. It’s the single most popular sport among young Americans.
For that reason, US international Herculez Gomez expects a bright future for American soccer.
“There’s a huge talent to be tapped here,” the Pachuca striker recently told MLSsoccer.com. “All of a sudden, our national team is being talked about by Brazilian players and by Spanish players as a team they don’t want to face. They’re looking at the American player as a very capable player.”
Gomez, who served as part of the United States roster that competed in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, is representative of a growing group within the surge of American youth soccer players: the young Latino.
According to the 2000 US Census, Hispanic-Americans comprise 15.5 percent of the overall population of the country, and that number is projected to double somewhere around 2070. The group represents a huge population for whom soccer is often the favored sport.
“I think guys like José Francisco Torres [Gomez's teammate at Pachuca and the National Team] and I are starting to open doors,” said Gomez of his influence on young Hispanic players in America. “We didn’t do it intentionally; it’s just the way it happened.
“If you look Mexican teams, they’re opening academies all over the United States. They want to take advantage of this growing population and grab players before the US teams do. I’m from Las Vegas, Nevada and [Mexican First Division side] Pumas has an academy there. That shows how far we’ve come.”
Gomez believes Latinos will form an important piece of the American soccer mosaic in the coming years. With players like himself, Torres, Jonathan Bornstein (whose mother is Mexican), Edgar Castillo, Alejandro Bedoya and Andy Najar all readying to make an impact on the international level in the next World Cup cycle, Gomez might be right.
“I see D.C. United have that Andy Najar kid,” said Gómez. “I think we need more of that. We need to take more chances. Teams all around the world take million-dollar chances on kids, and if they work out, that’s great. If they don’t, well then they’re one of many. But they at least take those chances. We need to be doing that.”
As the melting pot of American soccer continues to boil, there will be more and more players coming up through the ranks who will challenge for places at the international level. And that, says Gomez, is how the United States will finally become a world power.
“I’m 28 years old and the way I see the talent moving up the ranks, there’s no way that I’ll be around in 2014,” said Gómez with a smile. “With the way the US is progressing with the youth national teams, there’s going to be bigger, better, stronger [players]. That’s the name of the game. There’s always going to be some kid nipping at your heels. It’s refreshing to see that.”