The process of recruiting dual-citizens is basically geopolitics for soccer federations, because the governing bodies are seeking out beneficial resources throughout the planet and will do what’s in their power to attain them.
It takes an extensive infrastructure to fully capitalize on the potentialities that a globalized world has to offer your country’s national soccer team. Seriously, there are professional soccer leagues all over the globe. The next Ronaldo could be some kid from Estonia, training professionally in Russia, whose dead grandmother was an American.
In accordance with this system, countries that have accumulated the greatest amount of wealth in international soccer enjoy a larger share of power. That wealth can be gauged by a myriad of factors, but some are the amount of trophies the country’s won, the prestige that playing with the country brings, the marketing potential the country offers and the legacy of retired players who’ve represented the country.
Soccer-rich countries have a greater ability to convince dual-citizens to join their camp, sometimes even if the player doesn’t have that strong of ties to the country.
Take Giuseppe Rossi. He’s a forward for the Italian national team, currently playing for Fiorentina in Italy. He was born in Teaneck, N.J. and lived in the United States until he was 12 years old, when he then moved to Parma, Italy, to play for Parma’s youth team. It was only four years later that he debuted for Italy’s U16 national team.
Rossi wasn’t someone with loose ties to Italy (his parents were Italian immigrants), but it was pretty clear that his decision had to do with Italy’s soccer wealth trumping the United States’. He scored two goals against the U.S. in the 2009 Confederations Cup, and celebrated in a fashion not embraced by U.S. fans. Many harbor ill will towards him, and fans have bestowed him as “Benedict Rossi.”
When Jurgen Klinsmann became the coach of the USMNT, he brought with him an international presence the United States never had in the soccer world. His playing career and high-profile jobs at Germany and Bayern Munich made him a household name to those who follow ‘the beautiful game’ closely.
Obviously, this reality brings with it a whole host of possible consequences. The team could receive more international coverage, the program could gain more notoriety or the team could be scrutinized more heavily here at home (former “nats” labeled the Sporting News’ article controversy as a positive step for soccer in the country, because of the attention it received.)
All of those things up the USA’s soccer wealth, and with that said, Klinsmann’s time in charge has seen an influx of talented dual-citizens.
Now, everyone knows correlation doesn’t equal causation. The questions these players (people) face when making decisions about what country they will represent can deal deeply with personal identity, family and career goals. That process produces stark differences in the circumstances each player faces when committing to the program.
Therefore, to point at any one factor and say it’s the reason for this phenomenon would be inherently shallow.
The next segment will feature U.S. dual-citizens who might be headed to the World Cup, along with more information about their decisions, and their likelihood of making an impact at the tournament.
A comprehensive guide to the 2014 USMNT: Table of Contents
A. A country’s wealth
- Germany’s top flight soccer league.
- The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football, is the continental governing body for soccer in North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Three South American entities, the independent nations of Guyana and Suriname and the French department of French Guiana, are also members.
- Federation of International Football Associations. It’s the international governing body of soccer. Its membership comprises 209 national associations.
- Basically an exhibition game. Results don’t impact a team’s chance to win any competition, but they are weighed into FIFA’s ranking system (which is used to seed teams at the World Cup).
- For our purposes, a player eligible for Germany but chose to play with the United States program.
- The fourth round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying. Called the “hex” for short, gets its name because six teams participate in this round. The hex decides who goes to the World Cup from CONCACAF; the top-three placers earn automatic bids, while the fourth-place finisher faces the winner of Oceania’s qualifiers.
- Nickname for the United States’ Men’s National Team
- Every player eligible to represent the USMNT.
- Nickname for the United States’ Men’s National Team
- United States Men’s National Team
- United States Soccer Federation
Twelve years ago I witnessed the most horrifying missed-call of my life. I was 9 years old and woke up at 4 a.m. to watch the game; I loved soccer and the United States was playing Germany in the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
The U.S. is down by one in the 50th minute when their center defender, Gregg Berhalter, connects on a header that appears to be going in. The German goalkeeper, Oliver Kahn, misplays the ball and allows it to bounce over his out-stretched arms. The ball now has a clear path to goal, except for Torsten Frings standing on the inside of the post; it bounces off the turf and strikes Frings right in the forearm, a clear handball. (play starts at 1:38)
The U.S. goes onto lose 1-0.
The United States Soccer Federation can still point to this game as “the American’s” pinnacle-showing in soccer’s most prestigious tournament. If you watch the highlights above, you’ll hear the announcer introduce the game saying, “America had defied belief”; you can really get a taste of that in the short clip. They were underdogs but played the role admirably, showcasing skill and putting in the effort that an American blue-collar worker would be proud of.
The mistake I made after this game is one I’d like to help keep you from making, and that is, I didn’t pay attention for another four years.
It’s an easy thing to do, the World Cup comes and goes in a month, and while the team will send you on a roller coaster ride, the emotional attachment doesn’t always extend beyond the reach of the quadrennial tournament.
Generally, Americans possess limited knowledge about international soccer and all of its nuances. Many fail to realize that a team’s showing at the World Cup is the culmination of four years of games and players, not just the result of one month’s work.
This guide is going to relive how the United States Men’s National Team made it into this year’s world cup, as well as explore different facets of international soccer. It will offer player commentary and analysis, especially as the World Cup draws nearer. The idea is to get you as well-informed as possible, in the hopes that the added context will make for a more enjoyable World Cup experience; as well as provide you with a base knowledge to continue following the team after the tournament is over.
If you stick with me, you’ll be running laps around the casual fan. And if you can already do that, then it’d be great to hear opinions in the comments section. Each posting will include previous articles and be accompanied by a table of contents, allowing you to easily navigate the different topics. There will also be a glossary for terms used that may not be familiar to the casual fan.
The Klinsmann era
Jurgen Klinsmann is a character. He’s animated, he’s energetic and he’s the man in charge.
U.S. Soccer pursued the German head coach two previous times before the two sides reached a deal in July 2011. Problems in previous negotiations stemmed from the United States Soccer Federation being weary of giving Klinsmann more control over the entire system, instead of just the United States senior team.
Klinsmann is a very accomplished player. He’s won the UEFA Cup twice, Bundesliga and World Cup. He retired from soccer placed in second on Germany’s all-time leading goal-scorers list. (Check out his top 5 goals at the bottom of the article, the guy could ball.)
As a coach, his career has been more uneven. His high-point came when he led his home country to a third-place finish in the 2006 World Cup, although that tournament was held in Germany. His low-point came when he was fired from Bayern Munich in 2009, after his methods caused inner-turmoil amongst the club.
Opinions were mixed when Klinsmann was hired by U.S. Soccer. The coach is a well-known motivator, but many placed the tactical acumen displayed by Germany in the 2006 World Cup on the shoulders of Klinsmann’s assistant, Jogi Low. The type of control given to the coach was a leap of faith of sorts, as deep changes in the infrastructure could significantly set the program back if those changes didn’t reflect positive results.
Klinsmann wanted to bring a high-paced offensive game to the United States Men’s National Team, implementing a more possession-oriented attack. That sounds nice and all, but is a difficult tactic to instill. It’s something only the world-class teams can accomplish consistently.
Many fans started to lose confidence in Klinsmann after his first year with the team. The side lacked width, employing as many as four defensive midfielders on the field at a time. His early selections seemed to show that the coach didn’t understand his player pool, and that the team was nowhere close to the goals he had in mind.
Pressure was mounting after a 2-1 loss to Honduras in the first game of the “hexagonal” stages of CONCACAF‘s World Cup Qualifying, when a news article came out suggesting that there were rifts amongst the team. The article painted a picture of a coach losing his locker room. More specifically, the article stated that players thought the coaching staff lacked the tactical knowledge to successfully lead the team, too much time and resources were being put into things that didn’t translate onto the field and mismanagement of personnel was resulting in disrupted team chemistry.
Interestingly enough, the article seemed to catalyze the team. Many players came out to defend the coach, and the team proceeded to win seven of their nine remaining hexagonal matches (only losing one).
On the heels of a first-place finish in the hexagonal (which results in a World Cup berth), a record-setting 12-game win streak and wins in Italy and Mexico, U.S. Soccer granted Klinsmann a four-year contract extension in 2013; and added on the title of ‘Technical Director’, a move reflective of the deeper changes the coach is committed to making to the program.
U.S. Soccer President, Sunil Gulati, stated, “One of the reasons we hired Jurgen as our head coach was to advance the program forward and we’ve seen the initial stages of that happening on the field and also off the field in various areas. In the past two years he has built a strong foundation from the senior team down to the youth teams and we want to continue to build upon that success.”
Klinsmann’s current record with the team stands at 28-11-8.
Discussion of dual-citizens
The United States beat England 1-0 in the 1950 World Cup, pulling off one of the most historic upsets in the tournament’s history. The man who scored the winner, Joe Gaetjens, was a Haitian accountancy student who worked part-time as a dishwasher while he attended Columbia University.
In an interview with BBC, Gaetjen’s son (Lesley Gaetjen) said, “During those days, as long as you were willing to sign a paper saying that you will become a citizen of the United States then you will be included on the team.”
Gaetjens ended up not even becoming a U.S. citizen.
Thus, we find in U.S. Soccer’s most historically-significant event, the foundation for the discussion of players who are eligible to represent more than one country in their international soccer career. (To make clear, players may be eligible to represent more than one country, but a player may only represent one country in their senior career.)
In an increasingly globalized world, the number of these cases has grown exponentially. FIFA implemented rule changes in 2004, because a trend had grown where countries were naturalizing foreign players—a running joke has been to try and guess how many Brazilians will be representing Qatar when they host the World Cup in 2022.
FIFA’s laws state that players must demonstrate a “clear connection” to a country they wish to represent. This ruling explicitly states that the player must have at least one parent or grandparent who was born in that country, or the player must have been resident in that country for at least two years (in 2008, FIFA extended this requirement to five years).
The rules allow for a player to represent one country in their youth career, while giving them the opportunity to switch allegiances for their senior career. A player who’s tied to a country through youth representation or playing in senior friendly matches is eligible to file a ‘one-time switch’. This enables the player to play for ‘B’ instead of ‘A’, but the change is permanent.
Once a player represents a country in a senior match that counts for something FIFA-sanctioned, they are then permanently tied to that country—this is a rough explanation, but it’s the easiest way to understand. For instance, a friendly’s result only affects that single game’s result, however, a World Cup Qualifying game or participation in a FIFA-sanctioned tournament has something more at stake.
Taking the United States’ history into account, it’s no wonder that players who’ve been eligible to compete for other countries have had huge roles in shaping the United States program. You have examples like Haitian Joe Gaetjens scoring the winner in 1950, German-American Thomas Dooley captaining the team in the 1998 World Cup and Dutch-American Earnie Stewart playing for that infamous 2002 squad.
Over the last decade or so, most of the dual-citizen discussion has planted its roots within the United States great rivalry with Mexico, because, logically, cases involving a Mexican-American are the most common example of the dual-citizen for U.S. Soccer—plus, getting one over your biggest rival always makes for good conversation.
This has changed under Klinsmann, not because of a diminishing fight over Mexican-American players, but because his tenure has encompassed the rise of the ‘Germericans’, in addition to the commitment of talented youngsters from other foreign leagues.