Who are the best African-American soccer players in the history of the game?

Who are the best African-American soccer players in the history of the game?

Kenneth Mwenda
January 28, 2024 at 1:41 PM
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African-American soccer players have significantly influenced the sport, demonstrating remarkable skill and passion. Their impact is visible across various leagues and international platforms, where they have shown extraordinary talent and tenacity. These athletes have not only excelled in their game but have also become symbols of resilience and determination.

African-American soccer players Jermaine Jones applauds next to Tim Howard after the FIFA World Cup match between the USA and Germany at Arena Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil, June 26 2014.
Jermaine Jones applauds next to Tim Howard after the FIFA World Cup match between the USA and Germany at Arena Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil, June 26 2014. Photo: Marcus Brandt (modified by author)
Source: Getty Images

Their journey in soccer is a testament to breaking barriers and setting new standards in the sport. These players, through their achievements, have become inspirations for upcoming generations, proving that dedication and hard work pave the way to success. Their stories are not just about athletic prowess but also about overcoming challenges and excelling against the odds.

Top 10 best African-American soccer players in the history

Their contributions have reshaped the perception and dynamics of soccer, particularly in the United States. Their legacy in the sport continues to inspire and motivate young athletes around the world. As their influence grows, it prompts an important question: are there any African-American soccer players?

10. James Riley

African-American soccer players
James Riley of Chivas USA during the MLS match against Seattle Sounders at The Home Depot Center on August 25, 2012, in Carson, California. Photo: Ric Tapia
Source: Getty Images

Number ten on our list of the best African-American soccer players is James Riley, a retired American defender. He is renowned for his versatility in playing both fullback and centre-back roles. His career spanned across several clubs, including the Colorado Rapids and Seattle Sounders.

A pivotal figure in Seattle Sounders’ U.S. Open Cup victory in 2009, Riley also earned a spot in the MLS All-Star team that year. He represented the United States Men’s National Team in friendly matches, making significant contributions to the team. Riley is currently the head coach for USL League Two club Ballard FC.

9. Fabian Johnson

Famous African-American soccer players
Fabian Johnson of the United States speaks to the media during training at Sao Paulo FC on June 19, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo: Kevin C. Cox
Source: Getty Images

A formidable defender and midfielder, Fabian Johnson has made his mark with his speed and technical proficiency. Born on December 11, 1987, Johnson has been a key player for Borussia Monchengladbach and the U.S. national team.

Born in Germany, he represented the United States national team, having also represented Germany in youth competitions. A key and influential figure in African-American soccer, his dependability and consistent performances have been noteworthy, and he represented the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup, achieving 57 caps and scoring two goals.

8. Jermaine Jones

Best African-American soccer players
Jermaine Jones of USMNT during the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup Qualifying match against Mexico at Rose Bowl on October 10, 2015, in Pasadena, California. Photo: Victor Decolongon
Source: Getty Images

Jermaine Jones is a celebrated midfielder known for his physicality and goal-scoring ability. His career includes tenures at Schalke 04, Blackburn Rovers, and the New England Revolution.

An influential African-American soccer player, Jones was born in Frankfurt, Germany, to a U.S. Army soldier father and a German mother. He spent his early years in Chicago and Mississippi, later moving to Germany after his parents’ divorce.

Jones progressed through the German club system and initially represented Germany at the U21 and senior levels. Despite this, he was not a regular in the German squad.

Seeking more international play, Jones switched allegiance to the United States, debuting in 2010. He notably scored against Portugal in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, marking a high point in his international career.

7. Crystal Dunn

Famous African-American soccer players in history
Crystal Dunn of USA during the FIFA Women's World Cup match between USA and Netherlands at Wellington Regional Stadium on July 27, 2023, in Wellington, New Zealand. Photo: Ulrik Pedersen
Source: Getty Images

Crystal Dunn, one of the most famous African-American soccer players in history, currently plays for the National Women’s Soccer League club Gotham FC and the United States women’s national team. As a versatile defender, Crystal Dunn’s international career includes over 100 appearances for the U.S. team, starting with her debut against Scotland in 2013.

Beginning her club career with the Washington Spirit and moving to Chelsea Ladies FC, Dunn has shown exceptional skill. She was instrumental in the USWNT’s 2015 World Cup victory and the 2012 Olympic gold medal. Dunn also won the LATERAL MVP and the Golden Boot awards in 2015.

6. Cobi Jones

African-American soccer players 2024
Assistant coach Cobi Jones of the Los Angeles Galaxy directs during their match against the New York Red Bulls on August 14, 2010, at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. Photo: Mike Stobe
Source: Getty Images

Cobi N’Gai Jones, born June 16, 1970, is a notable former American professional soccer player and now a respected commentator. Currently an analyst for MLS Season Pass on Apple TV, Jones has an extensive broadcasting portfolio with appearances on networks like Time Warner Cable SportsNet, Fox Sports, and BeIN Sports.

As a player, Jones was a celebrated midfielder from 1994 to 2007. His career included stints with Premier League’s Coventry City and Brazil’s Vasco da Gama. Significantly, Jones was among the pioneering American soccer players who bolstered Major League Soccer in 1996, spending 11 years with the L.A. Galaxy.

Renowned for his contributions to the sport, Jones holds the record for the most caps with the United States national team and is an inductee of the National Soccer Hall of Fame. This makes him one of the first African American soccer players to achieve such accolades.

5. DaMarcus Beasley

Influential African-American soccer players
DaMarcus Beasley sits at the broadcast desk before a game between Colombia and USWNT at America First Field on October 26, 2023, in Sandy, Utah. Photo: Brad Smith
Source: Getty Images

DaMarcus Lamont Beasley, born on May 24, 1982, is a retired American professional soccer player known for his versatility as a left-footed winger and left-wing back. Beasley, who retired after the 2019 MLS Season, was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in May 2023 alongside Landon Donovan.

His career highlights include a breakthrough at the 1999 FIFA U-17 World Championship and successful stints with Chicago Fire, PSV Eindhoven, Manchester City, Rangers, Hannover 96, Puebla, and Houston Dynamo. Remarkably, Beasley is the only U.S. man to have played in four FIFA World Cups, earning 126 caps in his 16-year international career.

4. Briana Scurry

First African-American soccer players
Briana Scurry speaks during the ‘The Ugle Side of The Beautiful Game’ panel during the International Champions Cup launch event at 107 Grand on March 28, 2019, in New York City. Photo: Mike Stobe
Source: Getty Images

Briana Collette Scurry, born September 7, 1971, is a renowned former black American soccer female goalkeeper and was an assistant coach for the Washington Spirit in 2018. The player distinguished herself as the starting goalkeeper for the U.S. women’s national soccer team, achieving significant milestones, including World Cup victories and Olympic gold medals.

Scurry’s 173 international appearances rank her highly among female soccer goalkeepers and American female players. In 2017, she made history by becoming the first woman goalkeeper and the first black woman inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

Scurry is also known for her best-selling memoir, “My Greatest Save,” and was featured in the 2022 CBS documentary “The Only.” She is openly gay, and on June 1, 2018, she married Chryssa Zizos, CEO of Live Wire Strategic Communications, LLC.

3. Shannon Boxx

Are there any African-American soccer players?
Shannon Boxx gives a speech during the 2021 National Soccer Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony at Toyota Stadium on May 21, 2022 in Frisco, Texas. Photo: Tim Heitman
Source: Getty Images

Shannon Leigh Boxx Spearman, born June 29, 1977, is a celebrated American retired soccer player known for her role as a defensive midfielder for the U.S. women’s national team and the Chicago Red Stars. She achieved remarkable success, including winning three Olympic gold medals and a World Cup.

Notably, Boxx was a 2005 FIFA World Player of the Year finalist and an NCAA champion with Notre Dame. She retired in 2015 after winning the World Cup. Boxx, who has lupus, joined the ownership group of Angel City F.C. in 2020 and was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2022.

2. Tim Howard

Good African-American soccer players
Tim Howard during the international friendly match between Mexico and USA at MetLife Stadium on September 6, 2019, in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Photo: Omar Vega
Source: Getty Images

Timothy Matthew Howard, born March 6, 1979, is renowned as one of the best American goalkeepers in history. Starting his career with the North Jersey Imperials and MetroStars, Howard made a significant leap to Manchester United in 2003, winning several titles.

He later joined Everton and scored against Bolton Wanderers, making him only the fourth goalkeeper (now six, as of January 2024) to score a goal in the Premier League. Howard returned to MLS with the Colorado Rapids in 2016 before retiring in 2019 and later took on roles as the sporting director and player for Memphis 901.

With 121 caps for the U.S. men’s national team, he is the most capped goalkeeper in the team’s history, known for his record-setting 16 saves in a World Cup match against Belgium. Being among the best black soccer players of all time in the United States, he was made the international ambassador in the country for former club Everton.

1. Freddy Adu

African-American soccer players
Freddy Adu of the Philadelphia Union moves the ball against the San Jose Earthquakes during the Major League Soccer game on April 28, 2012, at PPL Park in Chester, Pennsylvania. Photo: Rich Schultz
Source: Getty Images

Fredua Koranteng “Freddy” Adu, born June 2, 1989, is a former American professional soccer player and a noteworthy figure among African American soccer players. He played as an attacking midfielder, beginning his high-profile career with D.C. United at age 14, often compared to Pelé.

Adu became the youngest professional athlete in the United States and the youngest scorer in MLS history. His good career journeyed through multiple countries, making him a well-traveled player. Internationally, Adu represented the U.S. in tournaments like the FIFA Confederations Cup and the Summer Olympics, showcasing his talent on a global stage.

Final word

The legacy of African American soccer players is undeniable, marked by groundbreaking achievements and a profound impact on the sport. Their perseverance and skill continue to inspire and shape the future of soccer, both in America and globally.

READ MORE: Who are the 10 best American soccer players ever? A ranked list

Sports Brief published an article about the 10 best American soccer players ever. Most of the best American soccer players ever have played in the best leagues and have represented the United States national team at some point.

Some of them have played alongside the world’s best players and have even made an impact in the European Champions League. Discover fascinating facts about the top 10 best American soccer players.

Kenneth Mwenda photo
Kenneth Mwenda
Kenneth Mwenda is a business and sports writer with over five years of experience. At Sportsbrief, he contributes to writing biographies and listicles.