Allnutt Thrives as an Underdog : Soccer: Adversity on the field and off has not kept player from spot on U.S. Olympic team.


American flags are lit ablaze. Firecrackers pop off sporadically. Bottles and rocks become trajectories aimed at the U.S. under-23 soccer team in Mexico City, a city in which no U.S. team has won, trying to qualify for the Barcelona Olympics.

Yari Allnutt, who grew up in the shadows of the Golden Triangle’s shining office towers, soaks up the atmosphere on this Wednesday in late March.

“It definitely wasn’t La Jolla,” Allnutt said. “And it didn’t look too hopeful.”

Then the game, the first round of Olympic qualifying, begins, and suddenly the altitude and smog join the crowd’s anti-U.S. conspiracy.


“You felt it burn the first sprint you took,” Allnutt remembered of the haze that passes for air in the world’s most polluted metropolis. “You could feel it in your lungs.”

The Mexican players are used to it, though, and they go up, 1-0.

The jeering stops and rebuilds into a roar for the home team. Now to every pass the Mexican team strings together the throng of 50,000 adds punctuation: “Ole, ole.”

“They kept chanting that, ‘Ole, ole, ole’ ” Allnutt said, an indication that the American defenders weren’t sticking with their opponents with the same grip as the ozone was sticking to their throats.

“But we’re a clutch team,” Allnutt continued. “We play with heart. The U.S., when it comes to the Olympics, for some reason we seem to show more heart and more guts. We play our hardest because it’s for the Olympics.”

The young U.S. team, made up of college students given a semester’s reprieve by the NCAA, comes back.

The score is 1-1.

The score is 2-1, and suddenly history isn’t so daunting.

Neither is the crowd.

“When we went up,” Allnutt recalled, a blank look on his face remolding into a proud grin, “they (the fans) just turned completely around. I made this sneaky, back-heel pass, and it started. ‘Ole, ole.’ They started saying that every time we connected on a pass. It was pretty exciting.”

The game ends, 2-1, and the U.S. team takes off for home toting a little more respect than that with which it arrived.


It was a homecoming of sorts for Allnutt, who was adopted by his family shortly before it moved from Baltimore to Mexico. He spent his early years in the small town of Ajijic, Jalisco, 25 miles south of Guadalajara.

Allnutt, 22, becomes uncomfortable when asked about how the family ended up in Mexico.

“Well, my father, when he was alive, took a sabbatical, from whatever he did, in Mexico,” Allnutt said, suddenly unsure of his words. “He passed away there, and we decided to live there for a while. We had a house there.”

Although Allnutt watched his older brother, Micah Allnutt, now 29, play soccer in Ajijic, and although he himself kicked the ball around with other neighborhood kids, he insists he didn’t begin playing until he moved to California.

When Allnutt reached the age of seven, his mother, Donna Allnutt, decided to move the family back to the United States where her children could receive a better education.

They landed in Linda Vista before moving to University City.

Although the family began in the United States, it felt as though it was entering a foreign land. Yari and his younger brothers and sister spoke no English.

“I came here and I didn’t know any English except for what my mother spoke around the house,” Allnutt said. “But we always used to tell her, ‘ No hablas asi. Don’t talk like that. We don’t understand that.’ ”

After coming from behind for a 4-3 victory over Honduras at St. Louis in the second game of regional qualifying, the U.S. team prepared for Game 3 in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on April 19.


“It’s definitely Third World,” Allnutt said. “You fly in, and all you see is a lot of banana trees and dirt roads, and then a little rinky-dink airport. And then you go into the city and it’s not much different. It’s definitely not the States.

“They don’t even let us out of the hotel in a place like Honduras. . . . But you’re there to play, and I’m there to play, and that’s about it.”

Not quite. In South America, soccer is worshiped as some sort of deity, especially when a game carries international significance, especially when that international significance can mean superiority over the United States.

Allnutt and the rest of the U.S. team found that out as a crowd outside their hotel awoke them early on game day.

“I woke up that morning to these drums and cymbals outside the hotel,” Allnutt said. “There’s at least 200 people out there playing their drums and singing their music and chanting, ‘Down the United States, 5-1, 5-1.’

“I’m looking down about five stories. The soccer players are just sitting there, and my butterflies are rattling--everybody’s are because it’s pretty intense. I mean, we just wake up for breakfast and we hear all this.”


The game was scheduled for 1 p.m., the hottest time of day when the humid tropical air is more an enemy than the 102-degree temperature.

“They don’t even practice at that time of the day,” Allnutt said. “But they figured by playing when it’s hottest, we would do poor. . . . It was hot. It was hot. We’re playing out there and our feet were burning but we’re playing all right even though we started getting pretty tired.”

Honduras took a 2-1 lead into halftime, then increased it to 3-1 early in the final half before the U.S. tied it with two goals two minutes apart midway through the half. Allnutt assisted on the goal by Steve Snow that tied the score.

With less than three minutes remaining, Dante Washington won it for the United States after collecting a long punt from goalie Brad Friedel.

“I didn’t even see him get to that ball, he’s so fast,” Allnutt said. “The guy is blinding.”

When Donna Allnutt moved her family to San Diego, she decided her children would get involved in sports. That would give them a focus, she thought, “and keep them out of other things, and I’m sure their coaches were a great influence because there was no father.”


But there was a catch. In order to go to practice or play in games, Yari and his younger brothers and sister had to keep up their grades.

All the incentive Yari needed to keep up with his class work was to be held out of a few practices and a couple games by his mom.

“My mother gave us discipline,” Allnutt said. “She stressed academics and sports all the time. You couldn’t have one without the other. If you don’t do well in school, you weren’t going to be out there having fun, either.

“She’s for real, she doesn’t mess around. Her requiring that level of intensity in school allowed me to get the offers I did academically and go to college.”

Allnutt was recruited from all over the country. He even turned down a scholarship offer from UCLA to play at Portland, where he’s working on a double major in Spanish and business.

Donna Allnutt accepts little of the credit her son heaps on her.

“Every parent gives it their best,” she said. “And you really need a little luck.”

Yari Allnutt still recalls his experience of growing up sharing a three-bedroom apartment with four brothers and a sister. He thinks of all the problems they gave their mother, and wonders how she handled it all.


“I’m real proud of her,” he said. “She’s a single mom with six kids and she instilled good morals in all of us. So if she can do that, I’m sure I can play ball and do well academically.”

When the U.S. squad clinched its spot for Barcelona, Yari Allnutt watched his teammates on television. He was home serving a one-game suspension for receiving two yellow cards in the previous three games when the U.S. team took a 3-0 victory from Mexico at Bethlehem, Pa.

Even if the United States lost its remaining two games, it already had a 4-0 record, which assured it of at least a second-place finish. The top two teams from each region advance to the Olympics.

When the team regrouped for the tournament’s fifth game in Indiana against Canada, Allnutt had lost his starting position. The team played so well in shutting out Mexico that Coach Lothar Osiander did not want to break up the lineup.

But eventually Allnutt was inserted into the game. He came through with three assists.

“Colby Jones got hurt, so I went in,” Allnutt said. “And I just got lucky. I assisted on all of our goals.”

In the final game, Allnutt scored the United States’ lone goal during a 2-1 defeat by Canada. In the five qualifying matches in which Allnutt played, he came through with four assists and two goals.


“And that’s been enough to placate and please the coaches,” he said. “They figure I’m getting the job done, so I get to start.”

Allnutt has played all three field positions for the Olympic team. And although he prefers forward--”less running, more glory”--he’s happy with his current role as midfielder.

“You’re so busy in the midfield, you don’t think,” Allnutt said. “It’s really exciting because you can make or break a game. The midfield is the stronghold of the game.”

Osiander has noticed the ferocity Allnutt brings on the field.

“He does a lot of defensive work and a lot of the dirty work for the other players,” Osiander said. “And he has been doing really well putting the ball through to the forwards.”

The next time Allnutt and his teammates take the field it will be in Spain against Italy on July 24.

“God, I never thought he would be playing in an Olympics,” Donna Allnutt said. “I’m amazed he has got to this point.”