The best American striker – and a guaranteed starter against England on June 12 – was not destined to be Jozy Altidore, Charlie Davies or (certainly) Robbie Findley. The best American striker is New Jersey-born, rap-music loving, Playstation-playing Giuseppe Rossi. Unfortunately, four years ago Rossi turned down the opportunity to play with the US to make himself available for Italy, where he father was born and where he holds a passport to go with his American citizenship. Today Rossi was cut from the Italian team and will be watching the World Cup on TV.
“Off the field, I have always felt American. On the field I’ve always felt Italian,” Rossi told ESPN last month. I guess he is set for a very American summer as he will not be seen on a soccer pitch for the next couple of months.
All gloating aside, this is bad news for Rossi. Coming off a good year for Villarreal (a career-high 17 goals in 46 appearances), Rossi is out of contract and free to go to any team. A solid World Cup appearance would have increased his demand and fattened his next contract. However, being cut from the Italian team will not help his future plans.
Italian soccer is very provincial, and despite his solid season in Spain and a good performance in the Confederations Cup last summer, Rossi was viewed as a little bit of an odd-duck by the Italian soccer community. His youth was spent in Teaneck, New Jersey and his training was as an academy player for Manchester United, and he simply never fully bonded into the Italian soccer society.
For the rest of the world, there is a lesson to be had here. As Thomas Dooley found out in the 1990s, soccer players with American and foreign citizenships can catch a huge break by declaring for the US team. The path to quality playing time in major tournaments is easier and America has always been judgment-free about where our players come from. In fact, the US soccer community rejoices in having foreign-born players as a sign of America’s immigrant traditions.
Had Rossi chosen differently, he would have been a sure starter for the US team. He would be in South Africa right now preparing to play against England, and if he had played well in that game, the sky would be the limit as he looked to sign a new contract with a new club team.
Rossi is still young, and he still has at least one World Cup left in him. However, the amount of World Cups in a player’s career is very finite, and to lose one will be a tough blow for Rossi. It did not need to be, but Rossi chose the more perilous route and has been punished for that choice.