Friday Newsletter: The USMNT's Exclusive 'Cut Man
New York City-Area Barber Has Earned So Much Trust From USMNT Players That They Pay to Fly Him Out to Them During Every World Cup Qualifying Window
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — David Marulanda is ready for his call-up to the national team. When the USMNT gathers in Houston on Sunday and Monday ahead of this week’s huge rivalry game with Mexico and two more pivotal World Cup qualifiers, one of the U.S.’s secret weapons against Mexico will be there, too.
Marulanda, the Bronx-born proprietor of the Authentic Hair Studio outside New York City, has earned so much trust from the U.S. players that they now pay for him to fly out with his right-hand man, Sebastián Morales, and cut everyone’s hair at each national team camp. When I visited Marulanda on Thursday at his barber shop—complete with framed and signed jerseys of Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie and the entire U.S. team—he told the story of how he became the USMNT’s most trusted ‘cut man.
It all started ahead of the U.S. game against Mexico in the Gold Cup final in Las Vegas last August. Marulanda, whose clients include most of the players for MLS champion New York City, sent a text to City goalkeeper Sean Johnson congratulating him and the U.S. on making the final.
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“Thank you, homie, I appreciate it,” Marulanda says Johnson told him, adding: “Man, I wish you were here this way, because we all look a mess, and we need to play in this final. And we don’t know a barber in Vegas.”
“You just say the word, man, and I’m there,” the barber told him.
“Bro, are you serious? You’ll really come?”
“Yeah. Make it happen.”
Johnson made it happen. Marulanda and Morales got their Covid tests taken care of, flew out to Vegas and gave haircuts to everyone in the U.S. camp, including Miles Robinson, who scored the game-winner over Mexico in extra-time to win the tournament. After the game, the triumphant U.S. players invited them down on the field to celebrate with them and the Gold Cup trophy
Marulanda and Morales returned for World Cup qualifying, including in November ahead of another big game against Mexico in Cincinnati. By now the trust of the U.S.’s European-based stars had been earned as well, and the Yanks had a resounding 2-0 victory over their archrivals. Marulanda and Morales came back for the last round of qualifiers in January, and they’ll be in Houston ahead of these games as well.
“They’ve been great,” U.S. midfielder Kellyn Acosta told me. “I mean, barbers are always interesting because they're not only providing a service, but they're building self-esteem, especially for guys on our team. It’s one of those things where you look good, feel good, play good type of deal. Them coming in is huge for us because we’re going to be on camera, so having a nice fade is always good. Having that consistency is huge because you know what kind of cut you’re going to get, they already know you're comfortable with them. So it's like your everyday barber, but you’re coming to the team, so it's great. Even Gregg [Berhalter] gets a cut, so it's quite funny.”
For players of color who live in Europe, it can be especially hard to find a barber they can trust. On a recent podcast interview with former U.S. stars DaMarcus Beasley and Oguchi Onyewu, they told me how difficult it was during their playing days to do so, eventually resulting in Beasley deciding to start shaving his head when he was playing for Rangers in Glasgow.
Marulanda hears a common refrain from the current U.S. players. “You have no idea about the complaints the guys give when they come to the camps,” he says, “like, ‘Bro, I couldn't wait to come and get a good haircut,’ you know? And I don't think it's because the barbers in Europe are bad, it's just not so common for curly hair out there. Maybe they don't have the practice. Me, I grew up in the Bronx, you know. Spanish and Black people. That's my people. I lived amongst us, and that's how we have our hair.”
Marulanda says the most complex assignment on the USMNT has been McKennie, due to the blond streak in his hair, and several players don’t even bother getting their hair cut in Europe now as long as they know they’ll meet up with Marulanda during FIFA windows. But there’s far more to a good barber than just technical skills. Listening to the guy whose hair you're cutting is part of the process, and Marulanda has a good ear. The barber shop is a place for honesty, which is why LeBron James named his HBO show The Shop.
“I have my own barber, you know, and I like how he cuts my hair,” Marulanda says. “And it's like therapy. I can even tell him some issues I'm going through in my life, and he gives me good advice and he doesn't spread it around the world. He keeps it private. He's a pretty solid dude, and he cuts very well. And I think I'm like that too. My motto is if you put out good vibes in the world, you're most likely going to get that back. And honestly, good vibes are contagious, just like bad ones, you know? So if you go to a barber and this guy always puts a good face on, gives you good vibes, good advice and encouragement, and then on top of that he gives you a great haircut? You're maybe going to like the guy.”
Nor is Marulanda seeking fame for what he does. I only found out about him when I saw a post on McKennie’s IG Stories and then sent Marulanda a message (at @authentic_barbers) to see if he’d be OK with me visiting his shop. He was.
Marulanda has a fascinating back story, too. Born to Colombian parents in the Bronx, he spent time growing up in Colombia and Spain, but returned to live in the U.S. at age 14. He opened his barber shop in 2013 and got his first celebrity athlete client when Allan Houston, the former New York Knicks star, walked in one day in 2015 to get change for the parking meter. Marulanda didn’t ask for a dollar bill but suggested Houston come in for a haircut, and he became a regular client.
Marulanda also makes regular trips to West Africa, including Togo and Burkina Faso, to volunteer in communities and help build wells and houses.
And he has built close ties to the New York City soccer team, starting with former player Ronald Matarrita and also cutting the hair of current stars like Taty Castellanos and Maxi Morález and previous ones like Andrea Pirlo, David Villa and former coach Patrick Vieira.
“Matarrita opened the door for bigger things,” he says. “At one point, Villa needed a haircut at the facility. I even trimmed Pirlo's tips a little bit, gave a little baldy to Vieira. And then afterward I come back to the shop and I'm like, man, did I just really cut those guys? Those guys won the World Cup.”
The World Cup is what everyone connected to the USMNT is thinking about right now, and they know that good performances in the next three games will clinch a World Cup berth for the first time since 2014. And if the U.S. makes it, does Marulanda want to be in Qatar in November?
“Man, what kind of question is that?” he says with a smile. “I'm a soccer fan, and I love my country. So that would be a dream come true, to be honest, if I can go to a World Cup with my team and not only that, but I get to groom them before every game? Man, what else can I ask for? Honestly, that would be amazing.”
OPENING THE MAILBAG
It seems clear from Derek Rae's reporting that John Anthony Brooks wants to be a part of this team, especially in the run-up to the World Cup. While it may seem plausible that Gregg thinks it is too late to reintroduce him, why is there no honesty or reality in the reasoning for his exclusion? He is bound to excel more with a full-strength squad, something that was not the case in September, and he is the only player in our pool that can break defensive presses with accurate through balls to our offensive players.
I think Brooks is one of those players who Berhalter thinks either has to start or not be brought into the camp. I don't think Brooks is a guy who handles it well when he's with the team but not starting. (The fact that Brooks puts out press statements when he’s not called in actually kind of backs that up.) There have been a few players like this over the years, including Jermaine Jones. I don't think Berhalter would say this publicly, but I think that's the situation he's in. Right now Berhalter doesn't see Brooks as one of his two best centerbacks, and so he's not in the squad. That said, Berhalter did say in Thursday’s press conference that he just spoke to Brooks, and Brooks told Rae he wants to fight to get his spot back in the USMNT. So it sounds like the relationship is not totally broken.
What are your thoughts and what are you hearing on squad rotation for the upcoming qualifiers?
This is an important question, considering the second U.S. game, against Panama at home, is far more important than the first game at Mexico and just three days afterward. Plus keep in mind that the U.S. has struggled mightily in the second games of the three-game qualifying windows. I was a little frustrated during Berhalter’s press conference on Thursday because the media members who asked ahead of me sort of danced around the topic without directly asking: Are you considering not starting your best 11 players against Mexico? As expected, Berhalter said he’s aiming to win the Mexico game, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll start his best 11 players. I think getting a point against a Mexico team that has struggled at home is hardly out of the question, even with a U.S. lineup that isn’t its best 11, and my guess is we’ll see that.
Does Gregg’s press conference answer put to bed the rumor of Turner’s foot injury by frostbite?
Honestly, I was bummed out that the question was even asked. I’m so tired of conspiracy theories, and if some random Twitter poster fan cites “multiple rumors” as his sources, that tells you all you need to know right there. Plus, as Berhalter said, if you simply watched the New England preseason game where it happened, you could see where in that game Turner was injured.
Have a good weekend!
Thanks for this wonderful story
Great story Grant!