The USMNT…A Global Endeavor

In a recent post, a reader commented on the new additions to the national team player pool being “foreigners who aren’t good enough to play for their own countries” and lamented the fact guys like Edgar Castillo and Jermaine Jones could usurp priceless WC spots from “hardworking Americans” (whose first choice was to play for the US).

Jones & Castillo...settling for playing with the USMNT?

Jones and Castillo...settling for playing with the USMNT?

Putting aside the fact that Castillo was born and raised in New Mexico, the reader’s comment got me thinking about the subject. Essentially, when it comes to the national team, what is more important…

Fielding the absolute best team, even if it means “importing” players with only technical ties to America?

OR

Fielding a team that is wholly comprised of born-and-bred, flag-respecting Americans?

The issue will never be that black-and-white because there really is a continuum of “American” from born-and-raised to I-can-trace-an-acceptable-bloodline. So before you answer consider these backgrounds in the current MNT player pool which are decidedly all over the map…

Iceman would be just as comfortable juggling in a kilt

Stuart Holden – born in Scotland, moved to Houston at age 10, became a US citizen in 2006

Clint Dempsey – born and raised in Texas

Jozy Altidore – born in New Jersey, parents are Haitian

Robbie Findley – born and raised in Phoenix, dual citizenship (USA and Trinidad & Tobago), was in camp with for the T&T U-23 squad in 2006

Freddy Adu – born in Ghana, moved to the US at age 8, became a citizen in 2003

Jonathan Spector – born and raised in Illinois, secured a German passport to play in Europe

Sacha Kljestan – born and raised in California, father is an ethnic Serb from Bosnia

Tim Howard – born and raised in New Jersey, mother was born in Hungary

Benny Feilhaber – born in Brazil, of Austrian decent, moved to the US at age 6

Carlos Bocanegra – born and raised in California, of Mexican decent

Pablo Mastoeni – born in Argentina, moved to Phoenix at age 4

And what about former MNT players…

Goose

Goose in the land of watches, army knives and neutrality?

Marcelo Balboa – grew up in California, father was Argentinean (similar to Claudio Reyna)

Tab Ramos – born in Uruguay, moved to NJ at age 11 where

Jeff Agoos – born in Switzerland (to an American diplomat), grew up in Texas

Earnie Stewart – born in the Netherlands

Fielding the best team is the right choice for two reasons. First, elevating the level of play for the USMNT would be tremendous for a variety of reasons and second…

If America stands for anything it is the acceptance of and opportunity for all people. The current USMNT represents this and with its global ties really is a true reflection of America. And besides, “foreigners” aren’t given spots, they have to earn them…another hallmark of the American experience.

In addition, a second question has emerged more recently (which the aforementioned TSG reader later clarified as his main point of contention) as result of a recent FIFA rule change. Specifically, should players that fail to catch on with foreign national teams get a second chance to play for the USMNT if they have that opportunity via American ties?

The FIFA rule change permits players of all ages who have not played a competitive match (i.e. friendlies don’t count) for a national team switch to another country in which they have citizenship. Thus, players like Jermaine Jones (28 years old) and Edgar Castillo (23) who have failed to represent their first countries, German and Mexico respectively, are attempting to make it with the USMNT. And I am guessing that this will be at least somewhat more common going forward.

Lest you think US Soccer only imports “foreign” talent, it has also lost a few along the way. Arturo Alvarez (born and raised in Texas) took advantage of the rule change and now represents El Salvador after playing in US youth programs. Meanwhile Guiseppe Rossi and Neven Subotic, both of whom played for the various US youth teams, decided even before the rule change and their 21st birthdays to represent Italy and Serbia, respectively.

So, is this right? Does it matter? Do you care?

USSF crest

This is what is most important.

One of my favorite things about being a fan of the USMNT is that you get the opportunity to root for the flag and display some patriotism throughout the year. But since I root for the name / crest on the front of the shirt, not the one on the back, adding players like Jones or Castillo, if they are worthy, makes no difference to me. Better competition breeds more intensity and overall higher level of play. That is what is most important.

Would it be nice if the USMNT had 20+ born-and-raised, America-loving individuals capable of playing world class soccer at a high level?…Sure. But, a a more successful program will always trump a more “American” one.

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29 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Thomas on 2009/11/03 at 8:27 AM

    Don’t forget Thomas Dooley –
    Dooley (born May 12, 1961, in Bechhofen, Germany to a German mother and a U.S. Army father) is a retired German-American soccer defender and defensive midfielder, a long-time member and former captain of the United States national team.

    Great Post

    Reply

  2. Posted by kaya on 2009/11/03 at 8:34 AM

    I see what you did there with Clint. Ha!
    Not sure if what you did with Claudio “Claudia” Reyna was intentional… poor guy isn’t even playing anymore.

    Reply

    • Posted by Mark T on 2009/11/03 at 8:43 AM

      “Claudia” was a typo.

      Dempsey was just included as an example of “born-and-raised” in America. It could have just as easily been Michael Bradley, Conor Casey or Rico Clark. (What did you think I was trying to do there?)

      Reply

  3. Posted by Matthew N on 2009/11/03 at 8:42 AM

    I care less about where they were born or where their parents are from and more about whether they desired to play for the US their whole career. I can understand if say, you grow up in another country, play in that country’s youth system, but you want to play for your/your parent’s country and switch at the senior level of play. I think the FIFA rule is spot on in that respect. However, I think it doesn’t go far enough in limiting older players who may have been passed over for their desired squad (ex. Jermaine Jones), and now want to play in a World Cup any way possible, so they use their American heritage to possibly get on the USMNT. It isn’t something anti-immigrant.. it is simply the belief that we should use talent that wants to play for us, and not the cast aways from other, more powerful programs. In the end, it won’t bother me, but it would make me sad to see Bornstein or Spector left off of the WC roster for Castillo or someone like him (who is already capped for Mexico). I keep using Castillo and Jones in the same way, but they are a lot different. Both were born and bred in the US, both have caps for another country at the senior level, but one is 23 and one is 28. Jones, 28, clearly was not good enough for the German WC squad, since he would have been picked up younger in his career. While we don’t know his motivations for sure, it can only be assumed that he sees the USMNT as his “last chance” to play in a World Cup. Castillo, on the other hand, is likely still either in his prime or yet to reach his prime. He would have been 19 or 20 during the last World Cup, so he probably wouldn’t have been selected for either nation had he been available. In theory, I agree that if Castillo really wants to play for the US, he should be allowed, but the question still remains in my mind: “Why did he play for the Mexico U-23 squad?”

    Like I said, it isn’t some sort of hypernationalism or anti-immigrant thing, I just don’t want to see people who view the USMNT as their second choice playing for us. Either way, it isn’t going to break my heart and I’ll still cheer for either, but I would hate to see guys who are talented enough and have paid their dues get left behind and guys like Castillo and Jones hop on the plane to South Africa.

    My family is Irish on one side and German on the other, but we are a few generations off the boat so I guess I probably don’t know what its like to be in their shoes. I guess I will reserve judgment on both individual cases until I hear it from the horse’s mouth, but my general feelings still stand.

    Reply

    • Posted by Mark T on 2009/11/03 at 8:55 AM

      Matthew,

      I wasn’t attempting to single you out for your views…just wanted to relay the impetus for the post.

      “Talented enough” doesn’t cut it at the World Cup. The US needs to take the best possible players available. Everyone has an opportunity to make the squad, but Bradley seems to favor players he knows (which leaves a guy like Jones at a disadvantage coming in late, if he ever does, regardless of club play).

      Players that “pay their dues” but don’t possess the talent, like Jay Heaps, should get called up for friendlies (i off WC years) and Gold Cup duty, not be given tickets the most important tournament in the solar system.

      Reply

      • Posted by Matthew N on 2009/11/03 at 9:23 AM

        Yeah, I was more talking about guys who were almost as good or equally skilled but had much more experience playing with the USMNT. It has been a long time since I played the game competitively, but having a familiarity with your fellow teammates is one of the biggest assets you can have regarding chance creation and making that long pass. If these gents were willing to come in a year or so ago and play in the qualifiers, I think I would care a lot less. They are basically trying to walk on to an already-made team that will only have a few practice friendlies before the real thing. Can you really get to know your fellow teammates that quickly? I agree with pretty much all of what you’re saying.. we should take the best people, but the most talented player isn’t necessarily the best player for a situation, especially if that more talented player has a dearth of experience. Like I said, I won’t care if either is on the team, I will love them just the same.. I just want the best team, and we have seen before that these guys coming in at the last second haven’t worked out.

        Reply

  4. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/11/03 at 9:23 AM

    I’d just like ask if that is really a picture of Jeff Agoos or is it Andryi Veronin or a porn star? Better commentary from me shortly.

    Reply

  5. Posted by kaya on 2009/11/03 at 9:41 AM

    @ Matthew N
    I don’t particularly care for the idea of fielding players that couldn’t cut it on other squads, either. That’s a good part of the reason I just can’t get that excited about Jermaine Jones. a) By all appearances, he decided to change alliance as a last ditch effort to play in a WC b) I have a suspicion it wasn’t necssarily a lack of talent that held him back from playing for Germany… and those kinds of shortcomings would make him tough to play with for any country.
    I don’t know how long Jones lived in the US, but I don’t have the impression it was long. Castillo, otoh, seems like an awful lot of latino-americans and has strong connections to both sides of the border. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that US Soccer screwed up in the first place with him ;)

    Reply

    • The reasons why Jones never played for Germany sound more like he’s too bloody American, not because he isn’t good enough. There are upsides and downsides to holding multiple passports. You better believe that no one in Germany ever thought Jones was German enough to represent their national side. He was the odd man out for Germany but will probably just be one of the boys in our mix. Should be interesting to see whether he and Clint get on like a house on fire – they’ll probably come out with a World Cup single.

      Reply

      • Posted by Mark T on 2009/11/03 at 10:18 AM

        That’s a good point I hadn’t considered, tuesday. Given the nationalistic tendencies of SOME nations, it may drive player with dual US citizenship to play for the USMNT. However, I can’t think of any specific players off the top of my head. Can you?

        As for Jones, he’s publicly stated that he thought some of his, for lack of a better term, “non-Germaness” was a factor in his failed attempt to have success for the German National Team, but I am not familiar enough with his situation to know how true that is.

        Reply

      • Posted by kaya on 2009/11/03 at 1:26 PM

        @ i like tuesday
        I’m going off impression…. I don’t know the reason Jones never played for Germany. Are you sure it’s because he’s not “German enough”? What about Klose, Podolski, Odonkor? I don’t follow the German team, but I know I’ve also heard a couple Turkish names on the rosters… thus my inclination (along with some childish sounding quotes attributed to Jones) to believe there might more to it than his side of the story.
        I was aware his father was an american serviceman… what I didn’t know is that he ever actually lived in the states.

        Reply

  6. Posted by Mark T on 2009/11/03 at 9:58 AM

    What does it say about the US program if Jones can’t cut it in Germany, but catches on for the USMNT? You know where I stand, but in regard to how long Jones lived in the US, it is worth noting that Jones’ dad was a US soldier stationed in Germany.

    I should also have mentioned that this is a strategy for the USSF. They are actively going after players with dual citizenship. I’ll see if I can dig up where I read that.

    Reply

  7. Posted by Dylan on 2009/11/03 at 1:47 PM

    My feelings are that the rule should be 1 cap for a senior squad and that’s your national team. Until you step on that field make your choice, but when you do….

    Also what are the rules on that whole thing?

    Reply

    • Posted by Mark T on 2009/11/03 at 2:12 PM

      One switch is allowed provided you have not been capped in a competitive competition at the senior team level.

      For example, if a player is capped for the USMNT at the World Cup, WC Qualifiers, Gold Cup or Confed Cup he is tied to the US. Otherwise he is free to switch team once regardless of any play in friendlies or at the Under – / youth levels.

      Reply

  8. I have absolutely no qualms with Jermaine Jones playing for the USMNT. His father is American, but he lives in Germany. He grew up in Germany. That doesn’t mean he can’t also love the United States and feel proud representing them. If he ends up being too much of an instigator or ends up being unable to beat out Edu or Clark for defensive central mid, then I’m sure Bradley will make the move that is best for the team. I don’t want to stick words in Jones’ mouth though.

    Reply

  9. Posted by Shane on 2009/11/03 at 2:07 PM

    I’m not sure the lack of German-ess left Jones out of the squad.. I think that in Jones case this is a last minute attempt to book a trip to SA in 2010… Jones was Born in Germany to an African American Soldier and German mother.. He lived in Chicago/ and Mississippi as a kid then moved back to Germany when his parents split.. Has been there ever since.. This dude is as German Volts Wagon..

    Reply

  10. Posted by Thomas on 2009/11/03 at 2:19 PM

    Knowing that BB does some unconventional things that I may not understand or agree with in regards to the roster or strategy of the USMNT, we have to remember this isn’t Steve Sampson, and it’s not France 98. I can’t foresee BB taking any player to South Africa who doesn’t deserve to be there, not with the countless calls for his head. Remember that Jones and Castillo are in there own right coming into the player pool very late in the game which provides them both with a small window of opportunity to impress and mesh with the seasoned player pool.

    Reply

  11. Posted by Shane on 2009/11/03 at 2:23 PM

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKygSSkciFo Hmm…. Yea he’s an American… On a serious note after watching his style of play he is very good…

    Reply

  12. Posted by Shane on 2009/11/03 at 2:43 PM

    After reading this Article im not sure what to make of Jermaine Jones.. On one hand it looks like he is willing to throw his entire German Reputation out the window.. On the other hand it could be that he is reaching for support from the U.S. fans.. Either way, he still plays in Germany and he should tread softly.. Link –> http://www.goal.com/en-us/news/1679/us-national-team/2009/06/14/1325304/jermaine-jones-looks-for-acceptance-in-usa

    Reply

  13. Posted by kaya on 2009/11/03 at 3:39 PM

    The interview links posted are the reason I think maybe his attitude has as much to do with it as anything…. and he might not work out any better on the US side.
    Like I said in my response to i like tuesday above –
    Why are Klose, Podolski, Odonkor and Gomes “German enough” and Jones isn’t?
    I think the answer may be that the Germanity (ha!) was never an issue. Sometimes people don’t “fit in” because they don’t want to.

    Reply

  14. Posted by Antonio H. on 2009/11/03 at 8:14 PM

    Just a Random thought. . but does anyone know if Israel Sesay was supposed to play in the U-17 world cup?

    Reply

  15. Posted by Mark T on 2009/11/04 at 8:19 AM

    I thought about his when I was writing the above piece, but didn’t mention it…

    On Sunday a big thing happened; an American won the NYC Marathon for the first time since 1982. The runner was Meb Keflezighi, a native of Eritrea who was naturalized in 1998.

    Apparently, CNBC report (and former ESPN reporter) Darren Rovell thinks the “American win” is hollow as Keflezighi is only “technically America”…Rovell’s words, not mine.

    Here is the article: http://www.cnbc.com/id/33587668

    Reply

    • Posted by kaya on 2009/11/04 at 9:54 AM

      I saw this on the Colbert Report (Stephen pretty hilariously renamed him Brian Larson.) Nothing about the “hollow win” thing, though.
      11 years is a pretty long time to be naturalized. I only saw the footage of him crossing the finish line, and he looked american to me. I’m used to seeing highlights of guys half his weight running across the finish line =)

      Reply

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