NEW YORK — Bruce Arena, coach of the U.S. men’s national soccer team, said Tuesday that he doesn’t expect his players to kneel during the playing of the national anthem at the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
“If we need to discuss it, we’ll discuss it,” he said of the squad. “But I don’t think that’s an issue we’re going to deal with. We’ve got enough to deal with on October 6 besides kneeling and stuff.”
The Americans need points from their final qualifiers — Oct. 6 vs. Panama in Orlando and Oct. 10 at Trinidad and Tobago — to stay in contention for a World Cup berth in Russia next summer.
Several U.S. players, most notably captain Michael Bradley, have spoken passionately and eloquently about political and social issues in the aftermath of the presidential election. They are also members of a team that represents the country as a whole more regularly than any other sport.
In the wake of women’s star Megan Rapinoe kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner” three times last fall, the U.S. Soccer Federation early this year passed a policy mandating that players stand during the anthem.
“The national team is different,” said Arena, who cited the new bylaw. “You don’t have to play in the national team. You can choose not to play. Those guys [in the NFL and Major League Baseball] are professionals in their club teams. That’s their jobs. They have to be there. Our guys don’t have to be.”
Arena said the demonstrations by players in other sports “are appropriate. I can’t question that. I don’t want to get into a political debate here,” he said to several reporters at a Fox Sports World Cup event.
So what if some U.S. players violated the policy and kneel during the anthem before next week’s home qualifier?
“What do you think I should do then? Right then and there,” he said with sarcasm. “Take him off? Burn a few substitutions. If four guys do it, we’re screwed. What do you think I should do?”
In reality, any player, male or female, who demonstrates during the anthem while representing the U.S. national team would face discipline afterward. USSF President Sunil Gulati has said such action would be determined case by case.
The USSF bylaw states: “All persons representing a Federation national team shall stand respectfully during the playing of the national anthems at any event in which the Federation is represented.”
Last fall, in support of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest against injustices against minorities, Rapinoe took a knee before a match with her NWSL team, the Seattle Reign, and prior to two U.S. friendlies. She was not disciplined.