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).
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?
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…
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…
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?
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.