Will U.S. men's team make statement during national anthem Friday?


Martin Rogers, Special for USA TODAY Sports
Published 5:02 p.m. ET Oct. 3, 2017 | Updated 7:26 p.m. ET Oct. 3, 2017

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SANFORD, Fla. – Silence, not protest, is expected to prevail before the United States men’s soccer team’s crucial World Cup qualifier against Panama on Friday.

In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting in which a gunmen killed 59 people on Monday, US Soccer has petitioned FIFA, the sport’s governing body, to have a minute of silence at Orlando City Stadium before the teams square off in a game vital meeting.

As for a protest, such as players taking a knee to fall in support of the social statements made around the NFL and other sports in recent weeks, don’t hold your breath.

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“I am sure they will talk to me about it if that is the case, but we have not discussed it,” Arena said on Tuesday morning. “I think our guys are focused on the game. They have constitutional rights like anyone else. I can’t tell you what would happen if someone expressed themselves in protest if that’s what that is … but I don’t anticipate that happening.”

The team takes its responsibility in representing the nation seriously. Captain Michael Bradley is due to discuss the Las Vegas tragedy with the news media on Wednesday. Last month, in the wake of the devastating hurricanes that caused extensive damage to areas in the southern and eastern U.S., Bradley said successful performances from an American team can provide small measures of unity and comfort in a time of difficulty.

Protests, particularly those that would involve kneeling for the anthem, are a slightly thornier issue. US Soccer has a policy on the matter, stating that players are expected to “stand respectfully” during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner.

Megan Rapinoe, one of the stars of the women’s national team, received attention last year after taking a knee in support of then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Exactly what “standing respectfully” constitutes is unclear, though a scenario whereby the players stood with arms interlocked like several NFL teams this season would be unlikely to be met with punishment.

Major League Soccer has come out in support of the rights of players to protest, a response to President Trump’s incendiary comments on the matter of the NFL protests. Arena said last week that he supports the rights of athletes wishing to protest yet suggested that in the case of players representing a country the goalposts are somewhat shifted.

“I think the demonstrations by the (NFL) players are appropriate,” Arena told reporters. “I can’t question that. I don’t want to get into a political debate here. The national team’s different. You don’t have to play in the national team. You can choose not to play.

“Those guys are professionals in their club teams. That’s their jobs. They have to be there. Our guys don’t have to be. We have a policy at US Soccer, that our players respect the national anthem. What more can I say?”

Arena is squarely focused on Friday’s critical game right now, with the U.S. needing victory to get back on course for a World Cup spot. It currently sits in fourth place in the CONCACAF regional qualifying group with nine points, one behind Panama, with two games remaining. The top three CONCACAF teams will play in Russia next summer, and the fourth-place team goes into a playoff against either Australia or Syria next month. The U.S. travels to Trinidad and Tobago for its final group game Tuesday.

Making the World Cup is the immediate goal Arena was given when he took over for Jurgen Klinsmann last year. If a player was to take a knee, or engage in some other form of protest, it would not influence the coach in the moment or affect his substitution policy.

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