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Union's Alejandro Bedoya extols U.S. soccer team's diversity

COLUMBUS, Ohio - At the end of a week in which United States men's national soccer team players have skilfully sidestepped daily questions on the presidential election and its possible impact on Friday night's game with Mexico, midfielder Alejandro Bedoya decided to say something of substance.

COLUMBUS, Ohio - At the end of a week in which United States men's national soccer team players have skilfully sidestepped daily questions on the presidential election and its possible impact on Friday night's game with Mexico, midfielder Alejandro Bedoya decided to say something of substance.

Throughout their days of preparation in Columbus, the American players had avoided saying anything which might make headlines. Captain Michael Bradley had spoken like a true leader with his message to the fans in Columbus to bring their passion to the rivalry game but to show respect to the Mexican fans.

I intend no criticism of the players who chose to state their lack of interest in talking about politics. It is not their job to talk about the election if they don't wish, and because games against Mexico are always heated affairs, there was some common sense in avoiding potentially sensational headlines, further stirring up emotions in the wake of Donald Trump's victory.

But Bedoya, who was born in Florida and has Colombian heritage, thinks about politics and discusses issues in an articulate fashion, and it wasn't a surprise when he was the player who decided to open up a little more on his thoughts.

"This Columbus crowd has always been a good pro-American crowd and is the reason why we play these games here," he said. "The atmosphere is awesome and one of kind, and that is what people will bring here and hopefully nothing else. There is no need for negative chants from either side. People want to politicize this game, but I don't think there is a need for that.

"But the one thing that I am very proud about is to be part of the U.S. national team and the diversity that you see on this team. This a true representation of what America is all about. The diversity on this team is a truly awesome thing".

Coached by a German Juergen Klinsmann, the U.S. men's national team features players from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds.

Defenders Omar Gonzalez and Michael Orozco are both Californians from Mexican-American families, who play for clubs in the Mexican league. Backup goalkeeper William Yarbrough was born in Mexico to American missionary parents. Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, John Brooks, Julian Green and Timothy Chandler are all from mixed German and African-American parentage and grew up in Germany.

Starting forward Jozy Altidore is from a Haitian-American family, and his strike partner Bobby Wood was born in Hawaii of Japanese-American and African-American heritage. DeAndre Yedlin plays in England and is probably the most diverse individual player being of Latvian-Jewish, African-American, Native American and Dominican descent. Striker Aron Johannsson has perhaps the most unusual combination: He was born in Alabama to Icelandic parents.

Young defender Cameron Carter-Vickers was born in raised in England but has an American father, a former NBA player. Lyndon Gooch was born in California to a British father and Irish mother. Talented midfielder Christian Pulisic has a Croatian background while Californian Sacha Kljestan's father is a Bosnian-Serb and goalkeeper Tim Howard's mother is Hungarian.

Surely no team in any sport in the U.S. is more diverse, and likely no national soccer team anywhere in the world has a greater mix of backgrounds.

And the impressive thing? No one cares. It is almost never an issue.

Apart from the comments from former women's team striker Abby Wambach about "foreign guys" on the team and whether they have the "killer instinct" and former national team coach Bruce Arena saying national team players should be "Americans" rather than foreign-born, the diversity of the team is rarely discussed.

Of course, Arena misses the point that all those players are Americans; the rules of the international game wouldn't allow them to play for the U.S unless they were. Some had the opportunity to play for other countries, but all chose the United States. As far as Klinsmann, his players and the overwhelming majority of soccer fans, that is all that counts. They chose to be Americans and one of the beautiful things about this country, as opposed to some ethnic-national states, is that you can become an American.

Soccer has always been a sport with a strong connection to immigrants in this country. From the early days of German, Hungarian, Italian and Polish clubs in New Jersey and New York, to the Copa Latina tournament in South Florida and the Mexican-American teams in Texas, the game's grassroots have often been connected to the immigrant experience.

For decades, soccer was a way that immigrants kept a connection to the cultures of their birth countries while becoming Americans. Now soccer has become a way that Americans can be part of a global community, a worldwide obsession, sharing the interest and passion of soccer fans worldwide.

Bedoya's comment, though, surely had a more pointed aim than just acknowledging this history.

Like Americans in diverse workplaces, ethnically mixed families, and multicultural communities across this country -- the U.S national team players get along, get on with the job, get on with life, share the joy and the pain of sport without their or their parents' background being an issue.

It is a refreshing reminder from Bedoya after a week in which we have heard so much about division, tensions and fears.

Ohio was one of the rust-belt states that swung behind Trump in Tuesday's vote, and given his inflammatory rhetoric about illegal immigrants from Mexico, some have wondered if the atmosphere tonight in Mapfre Stadium will have a hostility that goes beyond sporting rivalry.

The American players have made it clear they want none of that and expect only sporting passion. Given the culture of the majority of soccer fans in this country, unpleasant incidents seem unlikely even if they cannot be ruled out.

But surely, as Bedoya suggests, soccer in this country is better than that.