Honoring Our Players: Black History Month

During Black History Month, we asked AO members to share their favorite U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Team players, and why – perhaps it’s their on-field performance, their service off the field, or a story from meeting them.

We shared several of those responses on social media throughout February and have compiled them below.

We lead off with a submission from Marcus Cranston of AO Las Vegas:

Yari Allnutt, MNT 1992-1993

“I think I had a bit of a fire. For me, I persevered, and I made it to the highest level. When I write autographs to the kids, I always say, ‘Follow your dreams.’” – Yari Allnutt

Yari Allnutt was born in Baltimore, and immediately after birth began an extraordinary life path. “I was adopted by a white, Russian, Jewish, American hippie family, and we moved to Mexico, near Guadalajara.” Like other children in the neighborhood, Allnutt took to soccer at a young age, unaware of his destiny to play for his birth country. “We used to play in the bullring in huaraches, cheap Mexican sandals made out of tire on the bottom and leather on top. I was speaking Spanish and playing in the streets, but my mom used to speak English to me. I’d say, ‘Mom stop talking to me like that.’ I was an American citizen, but I wanted to play in Mexico.” When the family returned to the United States, Yari was "8 or 9," and his passion for soccer continued. “In San Diego, soccer really wasn't played at the elementary schools, and I was always playing with the Latinos. They thought ‘el moreno,’ the brown one, was pretty good.”

A few years later, Allnutt’s soccer talent and difficult family situation were featured in the San Diego Union-Tribune. "I still have the photo of the spindly big ‘fro kid.’ I wasn't the best player, but now in my 50s, I realize why they did it. The story was my dad died of a heroin overdose, and we lived on welfare – six kids, one mom.” Allnutt’s credits his mother for his decision to attend University of Portland where he played for the legendary coach Clive Charles. “I grew up in an area where there were a lot of Mexicans, and where I played soccer was very affluent La Jolla, and then being raised in a white family, I remember thinking, ‘How do I act black?’” Allnutt chose one particular “learning opportunity” to illustrate his relationship with Coach Charles, an interaction after he was red-carded for throwing a punch in response to a racial epitaph. “Charles came in the locker room at halftime and threw the big Gatorade container down and said, ‘You dumb, mother$%&er, you let someone like that get to you. You lost it for the team.’ Then he went on to tell a story about growing up in England when they threw bananas on the field and made ape gestures. It was a big learning curve for me to be around someone like that.”

In 1992, Allnutt left college to train for the Barcelona Olympic games and months later he was a senior national team player earning his first regular paycheck after a childhood of poverty. “You signed a one-year contract with the National Team. They paid you, and they gave you a free hotel, as well. A lot of the guys went to Mission Viejo or San Diego, and they shared a townhome or got a house for their wife and their family. But for me, it was a free hotel right there, which meant free food, and my room overlooked the pool. I was so happy.”

If not for injuries, Allnutt may have had very different pathway through professional soccer. “Prior to the World Cup, I tore both groins. It is something that still haunts me. I wish I would have been on the World Cup team. It would have been a huge difference in my career.” Despite the disappointing end to his international career in 1994, Allnutt has another barometer to judge his career - the newspaper article from childhood. “I said, ‘I want to be a professional soccer player, I want to play in the Olympics, and I want free soccer shoes.’ I played in the Olympics, and I played pro, and I still get free soccer shoes from Nike. I followed my dreams, and it came to fruition.”

Tony Sanneh, MNT 1997-2005

“He was the back I modeled my defensive play after. Nothing fancy or flashy, but he was consistent, strong and dependable.”

- Sean Leaks, AO Houston

Jimmy Banks, MNT 1986-1991

"1990 World Cup player. Inspired and mentored a community."

- Chris Thiel, AO Milwaukee

Sydney Leroux, USWNT 2011-2017

“Seeing another woman come back and be so strong as a working mother is amazing. She's always been clear about her goals + dreams as a female athlete, and she continues to live them!”

- Whitney Zaleski, AO Omaha

DeMarcus Beasley, MNT 2001-2017

“Never outworked, always positive, represented the USA in multiple leagues all over the world and in four World Cups. Now owns a USL team and still helping to build U.S. soccer."

- Brock Elder, AO Anderson

Jozy Altidore, MNT 2007-?

"Jozy has never given up on his team. Even when times were rough, he put on the jersey and gave it his all. Even today, he is constantly supporting the team on social media."

- Jacob Warenke, AOKC

Oguchi Onyewu, MNT 2004-2014

"An absolute brick wall in the MNT backline in the 2010 WCQ cycle (as well as the 2009 Confederations Cup). Now a great addition to the CBS team. (And the Borgetti staredown, obviously.)"

- Matthew Anderson, AO Lincoln

John Brooks, MNT 2013-present

"His goal against Ghana at the 2014 World Cup sold me on the AO experience. I was at the AOIE watch party and the whole place went mental when he scored. His celebration is in FIFA and it's my favorite to use."

- Antonio Borjon, AO Inland Empire

Crystal Dunn, WNT 2013-present

“The best left back in the world. She also happens to be one of the best midfielders and strikers in the world. She will forever live as the most underrated player in USWNT history, and she shouldn't be. She's one of the best players of all time, and she does all that while fighting for equality for Black women everywhere. She is the face of U.S. Soccer, and it's time people gave her that respect!"

- Donald Wine, AODC

Eddie Pope, MNT 1996-2006

"I remember watching the 2002 World Cup and feeling a sense of pride that MLS' own Eddie Pope matched up with the best in the world. They didn't have the scouting report on Eddie."

- Max Croes, AO Helena

"His tenacity. His fearlessness. And his instinct to always make the play that is needed to win. He's one of the best players to ever put on the national team uniform."

- Donald Wine, AODC

February 26, 2022