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Defending Guiseppe Rossi and His Decision to Play for Italy Instead of the United States


In the eyes and opinions of many of you, I am about to defend the indefensible: the decision of Guiseppe Rossi to play for the Italian National Team instead of the United States National Team. This issue came to head this week, with many calling Rossi a Judas or Benedict Arnold, because on Monday Rossi scored two of Italy’s 3 goals against the US at the Confederations Cup in South Africa.

Despite playing for the Italian National Team, Rossi was not born in Italy, he was born in lovely Teaneck, New Jersey on February 1, 1987. His parents, Ferdinando and Cleonilde Rossi; however, were born in Italy and had moved to New Jersey, where they taught at Clifton High School.

Rossi’s football skills were noticed by Parma, of Italy’s Serie A, when Rossi was only 13 years old. Parma offered Rossi a spot in its youth program, which he accepted, moving to Italy with his family. In 2004, after two years in Parma’s youth system, Manchester United bought Rossi’s contract and brought him over to England where he spent two years in Manchester United’s youth system. By this time, Rossi had already attracted attention from Italy’s National Team and had played for several of the National Team’s youth sides, including its U-16 squad.

Rossi ultimately made five appearances with Manchester United’s senior team, scoring a goal against Sunderland, but Manchester United also loaned him out to Newcastle United and Parma. In 2007, Rossi was sold to La Liga’s Villarreal, and there is currently speculation that he might return to Italy via a sale to Serie A’s Juventus this summer.

It was not until the build up to the 2006 World Cup, several years after Rossi first suited up for the Azzurri’s youth squads, that the U.S. National Team made an overt effort to pull Rossi into the USSF’s fold. However, Rossi turned down Bruce Arena’s offer and expressed his desire to play for Italy’s National Team.

Rossi’s dream to play for Italy’s Senior National Team came true in October 2008, when Marcello Lippi called him up for Italy’s match with Bulgaria. In less then a year, Rossi has made six appearances for the Italian National Team and has scored three goals. Baring the unforeseeable, Rossi will most likely be playing for the Azzurri when it defends its World Cup Title in South Africa next summer.

While Rossi was born in the United States, his football skills have been grown and nurtured not by the U.S.’s suburban club soccer, high school soccer, or college soccer, but by the youth systems established by Italy, Parma, and Manchester United. Rossi has developed his technical skills outside of the standard U.S. system, and, as such, is a foreign entity in terms of the USSF system. While Arena might have had an interest in Rossi, I find it hard to believe that Rossi would see serious playing time under the current Bradley regime, which seems to favor past personal relationships and toeing the line over technical ability and independence.

Instead of heaping blame and hate upon Rossi, a young, competitive athlete who chose to play for a team with a proven winning record, fans of the U.S. National Team should criticize the USSF for allowing such a talent to get away. Indeed, fans of the U.S. National Team should start putting pressure on USSF to get Vincenzo Bernardo capped. Like Rossi, Bernardo is an Italian-American who was born in New Jersey and has the option of playing for either the U.S. or Italy. Bernardo, who recently turned 19, is currently a member of SCC Napoli’s Primavera side. While Bernardo has indicated a desire to play for the U.S. Senior National Team, that interest has not been reciprocated and it might only be a matter of team before he turns his eyes toward the Azzurri.

I know the following position will not endure me to many fans of the U.S. National Team, but I cannot help but point out how hypocritical it is for U.S. fans to criticize a player who does not play for the country he was born in. Among those who have been capped by the U.S. National Team, but who were not born in the United States are Tab Ramos, Freddy Adu, Dominic Kinnear, Hugo Perez, Predrag “Preki” Radosavljevic, and Joe Gaetjens, among others. Meanwhile, many U.S. fans are expressing a strong desire to see Jermaine Jones, who was born in Frankfurt and has already played for the German Senior National Team in several friendlies, take advantage to recent FIFA eligibility changes that allow him to play for the U.S. National Team.

The reality is that FIFA’s rules regarding nationality have always had grey areas and wiggle room, and as the world grows more mobile there will be more and more instances of players choosing to play for a national side that does not represent the country in which he was born. Instead of blaming the player for the side he ultimately chooses, attention should be focused on why he made the decision he made. When it comes to players who shun the U.S. National Team, that fault might fall upon the dysfunctional, insular ways of the USSF, not the player.

Click here to watch Rossi’s press conference following Monday’s game against the U.S.

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  1. Rigoberto

    November 6, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    Italy lost to U.S.A in the Confederation Cup

  2. Rex Lee

    July 25, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    I think people are smoking the good stuff if they think that Subotic would have played ever for the US seniors after the fallout with Rongen.

    Like someone mentioned above, the MNT is not about talent and skills but toeing the party line and being in good terms with the coaching staff.
    What are the odds that Subotic would have even been invited after what happened?

    If someone is not good for our u-20 team, why should we force them to stick around in hope that maybe they would get an invite?
    It would be different if he had gotten an invitation to the MNT senior squad and I didnt see that happen.

    And Im against all this italian-american (just example) BS.
    You are born in the US, you are an american. It doesnt matter where your parents are born. It should be where you are born or if youve lived long enough like Preki, if you are naturalized citizen.

    And nice job people. Imagine if you were on a baseball blog and someone said “Kill David Ortiz”.
    Class. Pure class.

  3. Mike

    June 20, 2009 at 8:25 am

    You’re right. The federation has a chance to bring Klinsman. He wanted to revamp our whole system and I am sure he knows how to make it better than it is but the federation was too proud to give him that much control. We have to check out ego and stop pretending that MLS is on par with European leagues or South American leagues. It isn’t. We have to be humble and bring in mentors who know how to play the game at a higher level. Until we admit where we are we can not take realistic steps to move forward. We’re a proud country who expects to be number one at everything and that pride is killing us.

  4. Thomas Cope

    June 18, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    I’m not mad at Rossi or the US Federation. In international soccer a player should always follow his heart. In club soccer things are different. It is one reason I love this game.

  5. kqql

    June 18, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Your facts are bit off, but good article.

    Feb 1987 – Winter of 1999 -> NJ
    Jonied Parma youth Academy Jan, 2000 at 12.11
    (after try-out w/parma in summer of 1999)
    Jan, 2000 – Jun 2004 -> Parma =
    Jul 2004 – Jul 2006 -> Man. Utd
    Aug 2006 – Dec 2006 -> Newcastle Utd (on Loan from Man U)
    Jan 2007 – Jun 2007 -> Parma (on Loan from Man U)
    July 2007 – Present -> Villarreal

    Played for Italy U16, U18, U21 teams since 2002/2003….and NT since

  6. CleartheBall

    June 17, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    As a huge fan of the Nats, I would have loved to have Rossi. However, as a child of an immigrant, I still feel for the fatherland. Had I any talent, I would have preferred to play for the U.S., but I also care about Germany and I would have been honored to play for them as well. Still hate those **** Iti’s, but I hope Rossi has a great career.

  7. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    June 17, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Martin, thanks for the above clarification but we have more as of this morning from Mr. Jones: “It is since February that I have not understood why I was not in the following international games,” he said. “The basis upon which they make decisions annoys me – certainly it does not come down to performance.

    “In my case, it was unfair and not correct. I did not have a fair chance with the DFB.”

    “You have always got to keep your mouth shut, agree with everything and obey the DFB,” he explained. “I am a lad with a strong character. With the DFB, there are two leaders in Torsten Frings and Michael Ballack, but that is it.

    “All of the rest just follow (rules) and keep quiet, which I can understand because there is a climate of uniformity. But that is not me.”

    “The coach always says that everybody has a chance here, but that did not seem to be the case. Marko Marin, Patrick Helmes and I were called up to Mallorca (last month) but as soon as we got there, we were given the last numbers in the squad. We asked (general manager Oliver) Bierhoff immediately if this meant anything and he said ‘no’, but everything was heading in that direction from the very beginning. We had a bitter taste back then and that remains to this day since our feelings were confirmed.”

    Two weeks later Jones applied with FIFA to change his national team to the USA.

    From Soccernet:

    Jones’ decision to represent the USA in future may have repercussions at club level.

    New Schalke coach Felix Magath admitted the extra travelling involved in representing his new country “leaves its mark after a while”.

    He added: “This choice has disadvantages for him. He will have to travel half the way around the world for his games. You can cope with that for maybe two or three times.”

  8. Daniel Feuerstein

    June 17, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Brian. One error you made. When Bruce Arena was the head coach and he was the one talking to Rossi. Rossi demanded a roster spot on the 2006 World Cup squad. That’s the only way he would be an American. Rossi trying to bribe his way on the USA Nats is the wrong way to go in my eyes. So let him be Azzurri. He was never an American anyway.

    Better to not have him if his head and heart isn’t for the Stars and Stripes.

  9. Don57

    June 17, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    If a player thinks of himself as an American (German, Ghanaian, Mexican, Japanese, etc.), he should play for HIS national team, if invited to do so. If he is not invited to play for HIS nation’s team, but is eligible under FIFA rules to play for another nation’s team, he should be free to choose. Simple. Honorable.

    If a player who thinks of himself as an American (German, etc.) plays for another nation’s team, he is obligated to perform to the best of his ability for that team. However, a decent respect for the feelings of his fellow countryman should lead him to be careful in celebrating goals he scores over HIS nation’s team. Simple. Honorable.

  10. George H

    June 17, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    For anyone to make parallels between Rossi and players who have suited up for the US, but weren’t born here is not making any sense. With the exception of maybe Adu, none of those players were viable national team players for their native country. There only option was to play for the US and we were happy to have them.

    Also, to try to drag Subotic into the equation is equally flawed. Rossi is a very special player who will end up playing at the highest levels for both club and country. Subotic is a good defender who may turn out to be great, but you can find many players of his caliber throughout the world where in Rossi’s case, it’s much rarer. Hence, the anger against the fact that he’ll achieve this for Italy rather than the country where he lived a majority of his life and also where his family currently resides.

    I have never faulted Rossi for his decision. It’s his life and he doesn’t have to answer to anyone for his choices. However, Chris B makes an excellent point that he should have been more subdued in his celebration (remember Podolski’s lack of celebration when he scored against his home country of Poland in Euro ’08). To me, that’s what bothers US fans the most. He said how difficult it was to play against his home country yet his over-the-top celebrations seemed to reflect a much different feeling towards the US.

  11. Kartik

    June 17, 2009 at 11:01 am

    Glad to see someone make this point. Subotic is the one that deserves this “traitor” label, but he won’t because he’s a “non-goalsorer.” In fact, I would have taken subotic over bocanegra, but alas, the motherfacking b*st*rd needs to be shot for choosing Serbia after all the United States had done for the facker. Screw rossi of course, but kill subotic

  12. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    June 17, 2009 at 10:44 am

    We would probably have had the most unsuccessful run of a World Cup host if we had not sought players eligible to play for the US living abroad like Tom Dooley, Earnie Stewart and others. So what goes around comes around.

    It’s is totally irresponsible for US fans to show bitterness to Rossi now when we’ve been one of the greatest culprits of exploiting FIFA rules in the past. (Mexico right now is the greatest culprit)

  13. Bayou

    June 17, 2009 at 10:16 am

    But we’re speaking as fans, aren’t we? These are young men who want to play and that’s their driving force. The fact that so many Brazilians are showing up on other national teams isn’t a sign of disrespecting Brazil, it’s a sign that the men want to play and wouldn’t have a shot on their own national team. Jones falls into this category. It’s not patriotism, it’s a desire to be capped at an international level with a national squad, nothing more and nothing less.

    Rossi is the rare case where the player goes for the better team and is successful.

  14. eplnfl

    June 17, 2009 at 6:55 am

    A well written piece Brian. I strongly disagree with the conclusion however. I speak as an Italian-American who if the US can not win would like to see Italy advance.

    I feel strongly as is pointed out by Kartik in the Subotic case that while it is not wrong to play for another country it is turning your back on the land that did so much for you. What the players that make the choice to play for another country decide imho is that they would have a bigger profile=more money by being a star on a European national team and make a financial choice. Each of them forget that they may become the one player or help the US achieve a soccer title that will explode the sport onto the front pages and make them popular in the place it really matters to be a star in the US. Ask a guy named Beckham about that.

    Until FIFA changes it’s rules to make it difficult to play for a country other then where your actual citizenship is I say get all the players you can from wherever.

  15. Alissa

    June 17, 2009 at 3:22 am

    Absolute class post. It’s so nice to see rationality and maturity from a US fan. Thank you so much. I’m emotionally exhausted from spending the last 24 hours trying to make all these same points. Now, I’m just going to link them to this and let it speak for me. Thanks again.

  16. Chris B

    June 17, 2009 at 1:31 am

    I have absolutely no problem with Rossi’s choice. My only problem is I believe he was a bit much with his goal celebrations. I have seen people show more class towards former clubs than Rossi showed his birth country.

  17. Martin

    June 17, 2009 at 1:23 am


    “Schalke’s Jermaine Jones has reacted angrily to an article about him which appeared in an American newspaper, claiming he has been misquoted.

    The article implied Jones’ decision to represent the US national team in future and turn his back on Germany was racially motivated – something the 27-year-old firmly denies.

    In a statement on the Bundesliga club’s website, Jones attempted to put the record straight.

    “As we discussed possible reasons why I continue to be ignored by the DFB (German Football Association), after considering a few other thoughts, the journalist came to the issue of skin colour,” explained Jones.

    “I said quite the opposite of what is written in the article, being: ‘It has nothing to do with racism. I do not think that you have got to have blond hair and blue eyes to play for Germany.”

    Jones also claimed an agreement that the story would be emailed to him for approval was not respected and that the article contains other mistakes.

    “I am really sorry that a wrong impression has been created by an article,” he added.

    “I feel very happy in Germany and would have loved to continue playing for the national team, but coach Joachim Low had made it very clear to me that I was not in his plans.” ”

  18. Michael W.

    June 17, 2009 at 1:08 am

    I agree with most of what has been said on this post, by the original writer and the follow ups. The original article states however that Bob Bradley wouldn’t find much playing time for Giuseppe Rossi if he would have declared for the US. I think this is absolute crazy talk, had Rossi declared for the US he would be as certain to start each game as Landon Donovan. Bradley has some unexplainable favorites when picking amongst the case of mediocre US talent, but Rossi is clearly world class as noted by the likes of Manchester United, Villareal and now Juventus. Overall, I wish FIFA had more strict guidelines, just because it all seems a bit contrived when every major national team has a Brazilian playing for them. But its the nature of today’s game, I don’t see FIFA going backward on this. So bring on Jones.

  19. Football world> usa

    June 17, 2009 at 12:35 am

    Of course Rossi will play for the World Champs, rather than the one nations that pisses on the sport of football… usgay. Kudos to Guissepe. He made the right choice.

  20. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    June 17, 2009 at 12:34 am

    Jones rationale for the decision is either totally contrived to get sympathy or shows he has been the subject of intense racism in Germany. You decide. Here are his quotes:

    “I’m a player, when you see me, I have tattoos and in Germany the people maybe don’t like that stuff,” he said. “When I want to say something, then I say it. In Germany, it is all about the team and now there are more players who say nothing. Maybe this is the problem with me. I thought I maybe would have a chance with the national team of Germany. But for me, now this is over.

    “When somebody looks at me, I’m not the perfect German. When I look at people in the States, they look more like me. In Germany with my tattoos people say, ‘Ooh, he’s not a good man.’ But look at Beckham, he has tattoos and no one says that. Maybe because I don’t have blue eyes and blond hair. But that is not a problem for me. I don’t have a good feeling about stuff in Germany.

    “It is funny because in Germany they do not like different guys like me. I have so much people who don’t like it. When I say something I think is right they say: ‘You can’t say that. Why you say that? You can think it, but don’t say it.’ ”

  21. ryan

    June 17, 2009 at 12:32 am

    well done. and well put.

  22. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    June 17, 2009 at 12:32 am

    Taking Hannah’s point a step further…………

    the ire of US fans should really be directed at Nevan Subotic.

    Let’s review Subotic’s life story. He was a refugee taken in by USA.

    He was part of a development academy team at a young age.

    He then was selected to participate in the USSF’s national academy in Bradenton.

    Subotic graduated from the US National Academy and then played for both the U-17s and U-20s.

    I should know, I was at his very last US match down here in Boca Raton when he got cut from the U-20 team before the World Cup.

    He then does well with Mainz and because he spent a few years as a kid in Germany begins shopping for a national team offering at various times to play for Serbia, Bosnia and Germany while leaving the USSF which spent time and money developing the kid hanging.

    Finally when he couldn’t play for Germany he choose Serbia despite having about 15 USA youth national team caps.

    Rossi never talked about playing for anyone but Italy. Subotic came up through the US system and because of a dispute with Thomas Rongen began country shopping. He is who we should be directing our ire at.

  23. Mike

    June 17, 2009 at 12:27 am

    Hannah I must disagree with what you said about Jones. While he may have capped in 3 friendlies for Germany, FIFA rules still would allow him to play for the US. Jones is 27 and wants an opportunity to PLAY, something he feels he might not do with Germany’s strong national team. I am proud of Jones’ father’s military service to our country and equally as proud of Jones stepping up to serve our country as well.

  24. Hannah

    June 16, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    Nice Brian. I don’t agree with Jermaine Jones playing for the US, yes we can use a player like him but once you put on national team colors I don’t think you should be able to take them off. Rossi never put on the US colors and he has all right to play for the country that holds his heart.

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