I’m going to keep this one short for a change; no charts, no numbers, just some thoughts as the US Men’s National Team moves forward in World Cup qualifying against Jamaica and Mexico. The team is on a 12 game winning streak, capped by a 4-3 victory in a friendly against Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo. While the run of victories is noteworthy in and of itself, the first-team debuts of Icelandic-American forward Aron Jóhannsson and German-American defender John Brooks in the Bosnia friendly also reignited a debate about American “imports” on the national team, a term suggested on Twitter.
This isn’t a new discussion by any means, particularly under Klinsmann, who has scoured the globe for talented players with American ties. However, some people feel that these players lack an authentic connection to the United States, that they are taking the place of players who were “developed” in America, that they aren’t integrated into team’s mindset – in short, in some way, they just aren’t American enough to be here and we’ve get enough “real” Americans at home.
So, here are the questions I would ask of a player to determine whether they should play for the national team:
1.) Are you eligible to play for the United States under FIFA regulations?
2.) Do you love soccer?
3.) Do you want to play for the US?
That’s it. I am not interested in how many days, months, or years you have spent in the US or how good your English is. The bottom line is the desire to play your best soccer wearing a US jersey.
Now for the why. I have two reasons. The first is pragmatic: when you get down to it, this is soccer and soccer is a game. We watch and play to be entertained, for the catharsis of a win and the torment of a loss. The very existence of the nation isn’t usually on the line. Players and fans are passionate, of course, but demanding that soccer matches validate any one person’s patriotic sensibilities is to misplace that passion.
My second reason is, I believe, more important. Why would we want every player on the team to have had exactly the same experience? Ten guys running around trying to do exactly the same thing on the field would be one-dimensional. Even more, in what way is that particularly American? Where I live, not everybody speaks English. Not everybody was born here, nor were their parents. Some have always had American passports, some have just gotten them, and some don’t have them. Some of them are made to feel less American than others and I think that is a problem.
Now, I don’t believe that soccer is going to fix that, but I don’t want us to use football to keep drawing lines around who belongs and who doesn’t based on some elementary notions about what makes an American soccer player American.
Will you wear the shirt and play hard in it? Then welcome to the side.