Mikey Ambrose (Atlanta United)
Brad Stuver (Austin FC)
In addition to being Austin FC’s starting goalkeeper, Brad Stuver is a community activist, using his platform as a professional soccer player to be a force for good in the Austin community. In addition to operating The Laundry Project–a program that assists lower-income families with meeting a basic need, washing clothes and linens, by turning laundromats into community centers of hope, covering laundry fees and gathering volunteers to assist–Stuver has also lent his voice to help advocate for transgender inclusion in youth sports, as well as penning an op-ed titled “Keep Fighting” which served as an ode to the Austin FC community following a challenging run of results.
Jonathan Bornstein (Chicago Fire FC)
Bornstein serves as the club’s ambassador for Special Olympics Illinois. As an ambassador, Bornstein provides advocacy and social/digital media support for the organization. Special Olympics Illinois is a not-for-profit sports organization offering year-round training and competition in 18 sports for more than 23,100 athletes with intellectual disabilities and over 13,000 young athletes ages 2-7 with and without intellectual disabilities.
Maxime Crépeau (FC Cincinnati)
Nick Hagglund has been a staple in the Cincinnati community since his arrival in 2019. The Queen City native has been involved in giving back to hometown throughout 2021, both virtually and in person. He handed out medals and congratulated Cincinnati school students at the FC Cincinnati Foundation’s “Learning is Cool” event, which honored more than 6,000 students who made the honor roll.
Hagglund also served at the FCC Foundation’s “Served by the Pros” event, where he interacted with VIP guests and worked various food and drink stations throughout the stadium to “serve” guests their meal for this Foundation fundraiser event. He has made virtual appearances throughout 2021 to support the FCC Foundation’s efforts and events.
Josh Williams (Columbus Crew)
Josh Williams, an Ohio native, is currently in his 12th MLS season as well as his 10th season with the Black & Gold. A member of the Crew Foundation Board of Directors, Williams represents the first team players and has a voice in the community work done in Columbus. In 2021, Williams hosted the Special Olympics Ohio Team at Lower.com Field as part of a VIP tour, addressing athletes ahead of their participation in the 2022 USA Games. The defender was also involved in the opening of a mini-pitch at Northgate Intermediate School, in a location less than two miles from FUGEES Academy, Community Refugee Immigration Services and the local Big Brothers, Big Sisters branch.
Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids)
More than just a stalwart presence on the U.S. Men’s National Team and the Colorado Rapids, Kellyn Acosta is a model of leadership and dedication off the pitch as well. As a member of Black Players for Change, Acosta consistently uses his platform to speak out against social injustice and elevate those around him. When a young, Black player on the Colorado Rapids Youth Soccer Club was racially abused during a recent match, Acosta reached out to him to comfort him, share his own experiences with racial abuse and inspire him to rise above it.
With COVID-19 very much still a part of our reality and limiting player access to community events, Acosta has still found ways to be present in the community, such as making a virtual appearance with healthcare workers during Nurse Appreciation Week. He has also been a longtime supporter of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, participating in their annual Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show in pre-pandemic times, along with making financial donations to the organization.
Julian Gressel (D.C. United)
Gressel has continued to use his elevated platform in 2021 to bring awareness to childhood cancer in addition to social issues that have been prevalent in the last year such as racial and gender inequality. There have been multiple instances throughout the season in which Gressel has used his time with the media to discuss his personal connection with Owen, a young Atlanta United fan who passed away from pediatric cancer in 2021, and how fans can do more in the battle to eliminate childhood cancer. He has also worked with the Children’s National Hospital to connect with inpatients through virtual appearances.
Nkosi Tafari (FC Dallas)
A man who wants everybody to be treated with respect, Nkosi also gives back to his community whether it’s by creating t-shirts with a :) on them or bringing light to his own name. Nkosi Tafari continues to be an advocate for his community.
On April 17, Nkosi made the 20-man roster and posted a photo of his jersey with the name Tafari. He announced he was going by his middle name instead of his last name, Burgess, because it is a better representation of who he is as a person and is proud of being African. He wanted to be proud of his background and not carry a name (Burgess) that was passed down from master to slave.
On Sept. 1, Nkosi partnered with the FC Dallas Foundation to launch his :) t-shirts that would benefit the FC Dallas Foundation and the Frank & Michael Vertullo Foundation. The Frank & Michael Vertullo Foundation provides scholarships to graduating high school seniors with special needs who would like to continue their education in college or trade schools. Frank Vertullo is an art teacher from Nkosi’s alma mater, Deer Park High School in Long Island, N.Y.
Nkosi also continues to be an active member of the Black Players for Change and led FC Dallas during the Juneteenth match against Minnesota United FC by teaching players and staff about the importance of the holiday.
Zarek Valentin (Houston Dynamo FC)
Valentin, a nine-year league veteran, joined the Dynamo ahead of the 2020 season, and quickly established himself as a staple of the Houston-community.
Last November, Zarek started an online campaign to raise money for the ABC 13 Holiday Food Drive where he collected more than $15,000 in cash donation as well as 300 pounds of food that were all donated to the Houston Food Bank. He will continue the campaign this year.
In February, Valentin led the charge for starting the Dynamo and Dash campaign to raise money for those affected by the freeze that left millions throughout the state without power. The club was able to raise more than $30,000 in donations that were then given to Kids Meals Houston and the Houston Food Bank.
Later in the year, he and some of his childhood friends started a campaign called a Scoop of Hope to help raise money to assemble curated, transitional backpacks for those recovering from addiction. This was a project set up by him and his high school friends to honor one of their close friends who passed away from addiction. They have raised more than $30,000.
Zarek also participated in multiple events with kids at MD Anderson hospital including virtual patient visits and taking part in the virtual Bingo with Kids in the pediatric cancer ward.
Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy)
Despite his youth, 20-year-old LA Galaxy defender Julian Araujo has been a champion for his home city of Lompoc, Calif. His father, Jorge, was a former farmworker who started in the fields in Lompoc when he was 15, which made Julian aware of the hardships that farmworkers experienced every day. Araujo, with support from the LA Galaxy Foundation, handed out $26,000 worth of gift cards and backpacks filled with food and cloth face masks to farmworkers and others in the parking lot of Lompoc High School. Additionally, Araujo donated $1,700 dollars to the United Farm Workers Foundation to kick off a fundraising campaign, using his Twitter account to raise more.
Jordan Harvey (Los Angeles Football Club)
Since joining LAFC, Jordan Harvey has been a constant in the Los Angeles Community, becoming the face of the Club committed to being a Force For Good in Los Angeles. The Southern California native stepped up to participate in various events, appearances and activations throughout the last difficult year and pandemic. During the start of the pandemic Jordan participated in LAFC’s 30-day fit challenge as a way for fans to stay active. Harvey's highlights include:
· Jordan was and remains active in speaking up an out during the social justice movement.
· Served as a spokesperson for the state of California’s anti-smoking campaign and vaccination program
· Continues to be an active ally around LGBTQ+
· Participated in LAFC’s La Familia program by supporting local Angeleno participating in youth soccer
Victor Ulloa (Inter Miami FC)
Ulloa has participated in numerous community initiatives in South Florida. The midfielder surprised Baptist Health South Florida workers to show appreciation for the workers’ efforts during the pandemic, conducted a virtual jersey swap with a doctor to show gratitude for taking care of many people in these difficult times, distributed toys to kids at Baptist Health South Florida during the Christmas holidays, and was one the faces of the vaccination campaign the club conducted in collaboration with Baptist Health.
Jacori Hayes (Minnesota United FC)
Midfielder Jacori Hayes has been a strong voice for not just for Minnesota United, but the Twin Cities community during the civil unrest still boiling in our community. He has boldly and proudly shared his perspective penning a first-person statement following the murder of George Floyd that made viral rounds earlier this season. In honor of Black History Month, the Maryland native focused on educating the public to celebrate the entire Black community in this country, not just those featured in the history books. As a Wake Forest University alum, he has been a driving force as our team focused on the advancement of our educational equity efforts. With the leadership from Hayes, our club launched the Forever United Scholarship in 2021 in conjunction with the University of Minnesota focusing on low income, first-generation students. In its first year, Minnesota United and the University of Minnesota awarded the Forever United Scholarship to three students looking to advance their education.
Victor Wanyama (CF Montréal)
CF Montréal midfielder Victor Wanyama leads a foundation in his local Kenya which has made significant contributions to Africa’s charitable and non-profit sectors this past year. Striving to continuously create opportunities for Kenyan youth and enrich the lives of communities across the country, the Victor Wanyama Foundation is organized across different themes including Football, Social Engagement, Sport, Wellness, School and Education. In 2020, the foundation positively impacted the lives of more than 5,000 Kenyans and indeed surpassed this number in 2021. Among other things, the organization assisted with major environmental cleaning efforts and face mask manufacturing shops, where unemployed persons were given the opportunity to participate in the confection and distribution of personal protective equipment. In conjunction with UN-Habitat, the foundation has also successfully created employment for over 40 women that collectively produced over 7,000 masks. Moreover, the foundation established its maiden scholarship fund to assist students from underprivileged backgrounds and contributed to the construction of 12 residential properties with the ultimate goal of building 50 homes in the Korogocho and Mathare neighborhoods. In his hometown of Busia, Victor also created the Victor Wanyama Academy. Construction of its facilities are expected to be completed by year’s end. A bus has been acquired recently to facilitate transport needs.
Teal Bunbury (New England Revolution)
Revolution forward Teal Bunbury continues to dedicate his time and energy to uplifting families in the Boston and Providence communities through various initiatives including the third annual Back to School with the Revs shopping spree. In September, Bunbury and his teammates treated 50 Boston-area families to $300 shopping sprees at the Target store in Dorchester, Mass. to purchase school supplies, clothing, and more. In addition, 2021 marked the first year of his new Teal’s Team program, which welcomes local kids from underprivileged backgrounds to Gillette Stadium for unforgettable matchday experience.
Taylor Washington (Nashville SC)
Taylor Washington has been a pillar in the Nashville community since moving to the Music City. Washington has been heavily involved in a variety of ways to serve in the community. Washington is extremely invested in the Special Olympics group here in Nashville and prior to the Covid-19 pandemic was active in teaching Special Olympic athletes how to play soccer.
A week after Nashville SC’s inaugural match in MLS, a tornado ripped through the Middle Tennessee area, causing destruction across the city. Washington led his teammates in outreach efforts to help clean up the destruction and help neighbors in the community get back on their feet.
Washington along with teammates Jalil Anibaba and others were vital in starting the first Juneteenth act of service day with Nashville SC.
In both seasons at the MLS level, Washington has been vital towards Nashville SC’s Kick Childhood Cancer (KCC) initiatives. In his first MLS season with Nashville, Washington participated in numerous Zoom visits with the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt. This season, Washington welcomed back one of the very patients he spoke with last year to the broadcast booth as the KCC 2021 guest commentator. Washington also gave special messages to participates who were active in Nashville SC’s 2021 KCC night.
Off the pitch Washington is extremely active within the church community in Nashville, surviving at the local food kitchen and spending time with ministry under the bridge, providing guidance for unhoused citizens in Nashville. Washington was also able to share his testimony via a podcast through Cross Point Church in Nashville, which can be found here.
Sean Johnson (New York City FC)
NYCFC team captain, goalkeeper, and U.S. Men’s National Team member Sean Johnson–has continued to step up for his community as a player ambassador for NYCFC’s community work with City in the Community (CITC) foundation. He leads by example and ensures that all NYCFC first-team players and coaches understand and act on their responsibility to support the communities across the five boroughs that the club is so proud to represent. As a Black Players for Change (BPC) Board Member, he played a pivotal role in helping the club construct a brand-new mini-soccer pitch in partnership with the BPC and BWPC. This mini-pitch was opened on Juneteenth at Colonel Charles Yong Playground in Harlem–a park named after a pioneering African American Army officer, cartographer, teacher, and diplomat–and will help further the club’s goal of increasing access to free soccer across all neighborhoods in New York City.
Nani (Orlando City SC)
Nani is passionate about serving others in his community, especially those who are less fortunate, and has used his good fortune to spread kindness and help those in need in Central Florida. In recognition of National Good Samaritan Day, he helped give back to New Image Youth Center (NIYC), a local nonprofit organization that serves youth in the Parramore neighborhood where Exploria Stadium is located. Through Nani’s contribution, groceries were provided to over 100 NIYC families who were hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nani is also a sponsor of Orlando City’s annual Thanksgiving event, which provides holiday turkeys and fixings to over 600 local residents. With COVID-19 restrictions in place throughout the season, Nani provided personalized video messages to pediatric cancer patients in lieu of hospital visits. As captain of Orlando City, his leadership is also evident in how he dutifully serves the Orlando community with his personalized touch.
Matt Freese (Philadelphia Union)
Matt Freese has played an active role in his local community since he signed with the Union. In 2019, Freese joined the Big Brother Big Sister of America program, a program dedicated to matching mentors with youth from underserved families. Growing up in a single-mother household, Freese recognized the importance of having a positive male role model in the lives of young boys. With his background, Freese was paired with a child also being raised in a single-mother household and has taken on the big brother role to him for the past three years. Additionally, Freese is part of the AW7 initiative formed under the Philadelphia Union Foundation. This initiative focuses on mental health and was formed following the tragic death of Freese’s former teammate and close friend, Austin Wylie. Using his platform and through AW7, Freese has given several talks about the importance of mental health and the AW7 initiative to local high schoolers.
Outside of the Philadelphia community, Freese was also voted on to the US Athlete’s Council, representing the players of U.S. Soccer. He was voted in by eligible U.S. athletes based on his candidacy platform focused on ensuring representation where he felt it was lacking, specifically focused on youth and minority groups. Since being voted in, Freese has been an active participant and leader in conversations focused on changes in bylaws to ensure a fair and comprehensive definition of athletes and focusing on groups such as the Paralympic and blind and deaf soccer teams. Lastly, this past season Freese was a voted-in member of the MLS Caucus of 25 for The Football Club, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for human rights and democracy in the world of soccer.
Diego Chara (Portland Timbers)
Diego Chara, the Timbers’ captain and veteran has been a big part of the club’s reach into the community of Portland. This year, the Colombian midfielder volunteered in multiple events for the club’s community brand, Stand Together. Diego joined volunteers to help beautify the health center and work in the garden that provides food to the local community, as well as the center services for the majority Latinx population, providing important healthcare. Diego loves connecting with the patients and staff to share experiences of the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center. Alongside his brother, Yimmi, Diego has held youth soccer clinics, helping engage the new generation by leading youth soccer clinics around Portland. Diego is also the Player Ambassador for this year's MLS WORKS Community MVPs Program presented by Wells Fargo, helping raise awareness money for a local organization that is using soccer for change in Portland.
Sean Davis (New York Red Bulls)
Sean believes that clean water should be a basic, universal right, but most of us are fortunate enough that we never even consider this to be an issue to begin with. Sean Davis went back to his hometown in July to provide fresh, drinkable water.
He bought cases of water for people in need for the organization, FULFILL (formerly known as Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean County), and distributed them to families in need. Sean went to the building and loaded the cases of waters into people’s cars and trucks to bring fresh water and food home.
Zac MacMath (Real Salt Lake)
Named Real Salt Lake’s 2021 Jordan Guernsey Humanitarian of the Year, MacMath has been at the center of Utah’s Special Olympics programs over the past two seasons with RSL Unified signing day and the Unified Sports Championships held at Rio Tinto Stadium this past September. Additionally, MacMath played a role as a representative of the club in the Healing Fields project to commemorate and remember the tragic events of September 11, 2001.
MacMath was also named the Humanitarian of the Year for the Colorado Rapids in 2017 and 2018 for having played an active role in the Rapids’ Special Olympics Unified Program while providing mentorship and guidance to the athletes. He also participated in soccer clinics for local nonprofits and military and provided resources for donations to the American Heart Association with the Transamerica Saves Campaign.
In 2015, the club announced that the Humanitarian of the Year Award would be named in honor of one of Real Salt Lake’s biggest fans, the late Jordan Guernsey, whose passion for work in the community embodied the spirit of the award. Each player who receives the award is presented the award by Guernsey’s wife, Paola, and their children, Izzy and Kyle, along with RSL Community.
Stefan Frei (Seattle Sounders FC)
In 2021, Stefan Frei used his voice and his platform to advocate for social justice. Frei amplified the importance of voting in every election, every time by working with Washington’s Secretary of State to encourage youth to register to vote early so that when they turn 18, they are ready to have their voices count. He also co-led a fan-facing virtual “Goals for Art” class with local Black artist Teddy “Stat” Phillips, raising funds for Sounders FC’s charitable arm, RAVE Foundation, and the work that RAVE does in underserved communities.
Frei is an active advocate for supporting local BIPOC and minority-owned businesses, encouraging the team and community to think about where they spend their money and the stories of local business owners. He worked with club leadership to ensure that meals being catered to players and staff at the team facility supported such businesses and has supported the club’s partnership with Intentionalist, an online resource to help guide intentional spending that supports small businesses and diverse communities. Frei is also a vocal supporter of COVID vaccinations to help protect those in our community who are unable to get vaccinated.
Additionally, Frei has continued his passion to assist kids battling cancer; in 2021 he used his artistic skill to partner with Seattle-based glass décor company glassybaby to help design a custom piece. Named “Watters” in honor of eight-year-old Lucy Watters who passed away earlier this year, the limited-edition glassybaby sold out in under 90 minutes and the proceeds helped support the glassybaby foundation.
JT Marcinkowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
Since the onset of COVID-19, JT Marcinkowski has displayed a strong commitment to the San Jose Earthquakes’ Pledge 74 initiative, created to fight food insecurity in San Jose and the greater Bay Area. He has continued to support the club’s Soccer For All partners, including the San Jose Steamrollers and the club’s Unified Team. In addition to becoming a designated ambassador for Special Olympics North America, he has also provided leadership to local youth during Kick Childhood Cancer Awareness month. Marcinkowski continues to represent the club in a shining light and positively reinforce its values on and off the pitch.
Ilie Sanchez (Sporting Kansas City)
Sporting KC’s Ilie Sanchez has embraced an active role in the Kansas City region by consistently going above and beyond to make an impact through his humanitarian efforts, so much so that the club’s Community Relations staff has discovered “everyone has an Ilie story” about a time he has exceeded expectations with his generosity and thoughtfulness. After coaching a team of Special Olympics players, Ilie went the extra mile by attending a graduation ceremony for one of the participants. After meeting a critically ill child through Dream Factory, Ilie spent 90 minutes on Zoom with the child, invited him to a VIP matchday experience and surprised him at his youth soccer game to show his support. Ilie is an incredible ambassador for The Victory Project – Sporting’s philanthropic foundation – and volunteers his time and talents to Kick Childhood Cancer initiatives, including conducting a photo shoot with a local pediatric cancer patient to raise money and awareness for the cause, as well as donating autographed memorabilia for charitable purposes. Ilie takes pride in taking time to speak to and personally connect with Victory Project Honorees who are battling cancer, disabilities or other challenges while honorees attend Sporting practices and matches. He has also shown a dedication to empowering the next generation of aspiring athletes, becoming an assistant coach with the Sporting KC Academy U-14’s this year and meeting with members of Ryogoku Soccer Academy to encourage them in their endeavors.
Justin Morrow (Toronto FC)
Justin is playing his final season in MLS, having announced his plan to retire at the conclusion of the 2021 season.
“Both on and off the field, Justin has been a model professional,” said Toronto FC President Bill Manning. “He will retire as one of the best players to ever wear a TFC jersey, a gentleman and a great family man who gave everything he had for the club and the city.”
“Justin has had an exceptional career. He has been the type of player that gives everything he has and more–to his teammates, coaches, the environment, and the fans. I am so happy that I had the chance to work with him, and get to know him,” said Toronto FC General Manager Ali Curtis. “While his contributions on the field have been important over the years, I believe his greatest contributions will be off the field in the years to come. We have seen a glimpse of that in his role with Black Players for Change. I really feel he has a bright future.”
Tosaint Ricketts (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)
Tosaint Ricketts exemplifies the values of Whitecaps FC and MLS WORKS both on and off the pitch. He is a trailblazing connector that leads with his values and heart (here). Ricketts is a member of Black Players for Change and consistently uses his voice to denounce hate and marginalization. At every opportunity, he uses his elevated platform to advocate for concrete actions that advance anti-racism, equity, and social justice (here and here).
His passion for driving transformative change was not diminished when the ’Caps relocated to Salt Lake City, Utah for the first half of the season. In fact, his contributions to the local community were no different than in Vancouver. While in Salt Lake City, Ricketts participated in a tree planting ceremony to commemorate Arbor Day and the MLS Greener Goals initiative (here). He partnered with RSL player Ashtone Morgan to spearhead a collaboration between WFC and RSL supporters groups around Juneteenth, which included a tifo produced in two countries and meaningful discussions on social justice as well as the significance of Juneteenth (here). Prior to returning to Vancouver, Ricketts rallied his team to collect and donate the household items purchased when in Salt Lake City such as clothing, toys, linens and non-perishable food to donate them to a local charity (here).
He is also an active staff member of WFC’s Diversity, Inclusion & Community department. His perspectives and ideas have enriched and elevated community initiatives. He doesn’t do it alone – inspiring his teammates to join him. He inspires supporters to work alongside him and works with partners to lift the most vulnerable in our community.
For example, Ricketts was a leader for WFC’s largest community activation of the season which included a youth soccer clinic and full match presentation to recognize and centre Indigenous causes (here and here). Ricketts was actively involved in the planning, lead the first team activations, and worked with WFC supporter groups on the production of an “Every Child Matters” tifo.
He represented WFC at the opening ceremonies of a mini-pitch on Penelakut Island, home of the Penelakut Tribe. He helped mark the significance of the partnership and gave the youth of this Indigenous community an experience of a lifetime (here).
Though in-person community engagement has been challenging, Ricketts participated in a virtual visit with patients at BC Children’s Hospital as part of Kick Childhood Cancer month (here). He initiated a partnership with Vancouver’s Strathcona community as they have been significantly impacted by the region’s homelessness epidemic. Ricketts proactively reached out to see how we can help uplift their community and support the pride, safety and well-being of residents. Once COVID protocols permit, plans are in place for WFC to participate in projects within the Strathcona community to support one of Vancouver’s most diverse and underserved communities (here).
“When you have the platform, the resources and the outreach, you want to create true positive change,” said Ricketts.
Among Ricketts’s most endearing initiatives is spearheading what has become a beloved tradition after wins at home. Ricketts chose the song “Stand By Me” to be played in stadium after every win. WFC players, coaches and staff join the fans in a serenade of the 1961 classic in a true show of celebration and unity (here).
For all the contributions mentioned above, and for his passion for giving back, WFC’s Diversity, Inclusion & Community staff select Tosaint Ricketts as the 2021 Humanitarian of the Year.