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Is the US Finally Winning the Foreign Player Battle?

CHESTER, PA - OCTOBER 12: Jermaine Jones  of the United States fights off Teofilo Gutierrez  of Colombia at PPL Park on October 12, 2010 in Chester, Pennsylvania. The game ended in a 0-0 tie. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

Bob Bradley went against conventional wisdom with his squad for the South Africa match next week and picked a good number of young players to make the squad.  Three young MLS players and three international professionals will have the chance to earn their first international cap next week in Cape Town.  What’s interesting about the Rookie Six is that most of them are dual internationals the U.S. has been chasing to join the U.S. National Team.

The most surprising call-up was Teal Bunbury, the first-year striker for the Kansas City Wizards.  Bunbury’s father was a Canadian national team star, but his American mother raised him in Minnesota, causing the national team dilemma for the 20 year old.  In college, CBC quoted him saying “I was born in Canada, I have a lot of family members there, and it would feel wrong for me to play for the U.S. I feel a connection with Canada.”  However, after his selection, the striker said “I felt a better tie with the U.S.  I had to do what was best for me.”  He has turned down Canada’s national team for three matches as well as the U-23.

Mikkel Diskerud is another half-American through his mother who is currently playing in the Norwegian league for Stabaeck.  Diskerud played for two U.S. youth teams but because he was raised in Norway and plays in Scandinavia, his decision was never a slam dunk.  Another call-up, New York Red Bulls Juan Agudelo, has dual American-Colombian citizenship but played in the U.S. youth system.  Gale Agbossoumonde was born in Togo before coming to the U.S. in his youth.  The same week all of these dual-citizenship players were called-up, MLS Rookie of the Year Andy Najar rejected a call-up from the Honduras national team, citing his busy schedule.

Just to note, all of these players are free to choose another national team until they play in a FIFA qualifying match, so it is possible they could never play another match for the U.S.  But it is a good sign for Bob Bradley.

This continues a positive trend for U.S. soccer of dual-citizen soccer players choosing to play for the U.S. national team.  The emphasis on recruiting such players came after the high-profile defection of Giuseppe Rossi to the Italian team, robbing the team of an offensive threat it could use.  But this year Jermaine Jones left the German system to play for the U.S. as well as Polish-American Eric Lichaj.  The U.S. needs to continue this type of recruiting to supplement the youth academy and take advantage of other countries’ youth development.

For the U.S., there are some major battles in the near future.  Andy Najar is still undecided for his international future, and the MLS itself is host to a number of possible American national players, Steve Zakuani and Danny Mwanga as the biggest names.  It’s unrealistic that Bob Bradley will win all these battles, as position depth or nationalistic reasons will be a determining factor for many of these players.  However, more players leaning to the U.S. increases the talent pool and allows Bob Bradley and his successors to build better teams.  In this sense, the experience of the Rookie Six in South Africa may be more important than we think.

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  1. Armando

    December 24, 2010 at 7:19 am

    What are the rules for playing for one national team while living in another country? Rules differ for youth national teams versus full adult tems. Is dual citizenship required? Or only proof that at least one parent or grandparent was born in the country where the player is signed up with the national team?
    Once the player plays for one youth team, can he then switch to another national team at youth level, or to a different full national team?

  2. Huffy

    November 15, 2010 at 8:59 am

    If you do more research, I’m pretty sure you will discover that Dom Cervi, the second choice goalkeeper for this trip to South Africa should have been included on your list. Cervi was a standout collegiate goalkeeper at the University of Tulsa, which is an emerging team that has been consistently ranked for the last ten years or so. He was raised in the States, but his family is Italian. He holds an Italian passport and that explains his ability to join a club like Rangers quickly.

    It also serves to refute some of the comments above. If Cervi has a choice between Italy and the USA, (and I have no idea if he has such a choice), it does bode well for US soccer.

    I refuse to speculate that Bob Bradley had anything to do with it. I would think that most players would agree that playing for your country brings out emotions that no coach could overcome. I really doubt Bob Bradley or any other coach could persuade players to join a particular side. While there are always exceptions to the rule, I would think that if a player was forced to choose between sides, it would have more to do with patriotic emotion, playing time, familiarity with teammates, language and travel barriers, as well as input from their club on their availability, etc. I just do not see international coaches being that persuasive. It isnt like they are recruiting kids to a college or an academy or something.

    • Dave C

      November 15, 2010 at 12:07 pm

      Cervi actually plays for Celtic, not Rangers. And I think saying “his family is Italian” is a bit of a stretch of the definition (actually his great grandparents were Italian, according to Wiki), but I’ll let that peculiarity of American identities slide.

      It also serves to refute some of the comments above. If Cervi has a choice between Italy and the USA, (and I have no idea if he has such a choice), it does bode well for US soccer.

      Not necessarily – it could be possible that he simply had no realistic chance of ever playing for Italy (and given that he’s the third choice keeper at Celtic, and Italy are traditionally strong in the GK department), so he didn’t really have any “choice” to make – it was either USA or nothing.

      • Huffy

        November 15, 2010 at 12:59 pm

        You are quite right on the Celtic issue. I should have fact checked prior to posting. Its Edu at Rangers and I guess I switched them in my head for a minute. Cheers.

  3. Unak78

    November 13, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    With Zakuani accepting a call-up to Congo’s National side that limits his future options to Congo and England even if he eventually gets US citizenship. Let’s be honest, England won’t call up an MLS player. So I hope for Zakuani’s sake that he can spur some improvement in the Congolese side. Perhaps he can get them to an African Cup, but I doubt it. West and North African teams are way too strong for them.

    • Dave C

      November 15, 2010 at 10:49 am

      I don’t get it – how are his options limited to Congo and England, if he’s accepted a call-up to the Congolese side? Either he plays for Congo in a competetive match, in which case he’s tied to Congo, or he doesn’t, in which case England and the US are both options for him.

      In what situation can he be ruled out of US selection, but still eligible for both England AND Congo?

  4. CA

    November 13, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Good solid post. More like this please.

    Also, Zakuani announced yesterday that he’ll be playing for the Congo. Damn.

  5. jackie

    November 12, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    james November 12, 2010 at 1:33 pm
    Lol, come on. No one is choosing Canada, Norway or Togo when they have the opportunity to play for a team that has a shot at the WC. It will be big news when someone like Rossi picks us instead of a country like Italy.



  6. Dan

    November 12, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    agreed James. could you imagine if Rossi and Subotic chose USA. We probably would’ve beaten Ghana have a serious attacking threat with Rossi. Altidore is useless

    • Charles

      November 12, 2010 at 2:02 pm

      You say you agree Dan, but it seems to me you disagree.

      IF those players chose US, we will win games, meaning they are getting likely to come here. Not over Italy of course, but still getting closer, no ?

  7. james

    November 12, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    Lol, come on. No one is choosing Canada, Norway or Togo when they have the opportunity to play for a team that has a shot at the WC. It will be big news when someone like Rossi picks us instead of a country like Italy.

  8. Dave C

    November 12, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    Nice article… however, I have a few minor linguistic quibbles. I don’t intend to sound like some a-hole grammar police, but I just thought a couple of things could appear confusing:

    “Three young MLS play­ers and three inter­na­tional pro­fes­sion­als”

    By “international professionals”, do you mean guys playing in foreign countries (i.e. outside of the USA)? That’s what I assume you mean, but your story only mentions one guy fitting this profile (M Diskerrud at Staebeck). If this is the case, perhaps you could have used an alternative like “three professionals playing abroad”.

    “all of these play­ers are free to choose another national club until they play in a FIFA qual­i­fy­ing match

    Firstly, the phrase “national club” is kind of weird. I’ve seen it used in other American media, and I think it is a mis-useof the term “club.” A club is a team like Man Utd, NY Red Bulls, Barcelona, etc. A national team is never described as a club. “Club” is not directly synonymous with “team”. Calling the national team a club would be like calling the US Olympic Basketball team “the US Olympic basketball franchise”.

    Secondly, saying they are “free to choose another national club” implies that this choice is unrestricted – like they could just choose to play for Brazil, or Japan, or Australia, or whoever they liked. I can’t think of a better alternative in this case though, unless I get particularly wordy.

    Also, the use of the term “foreign player” in the headline is slightly ambiguous, and potentially offensive to some people. They are players with dual-nationality, which isn’t the same as being “foreign.”

    Ok, nitpicking over, don’t mean to sound like a jerk. I think it’s a good article, and great news that the US is making progress in appealing to more of its potential player pool.

    • Robert Hay

      November 12, 2010 at 10:27 pm

      Your points are well taken, especially on calling the team a “club”. I actually meant to change that but missed it. Thanks for keeping me honest.

      • Dave C

        November 13, 2010 at 7:15 pm

        Thanks for taking it well – I’ve become a stickler for spelling, grammar and phraseology recently, so I’m glad you didn’t just think I was being a dick.

  9. Robert

    November 12, 2010 at 10:25 am

    Glad to see the US system courting foreign-american talent. We got a lot of talent south of the border and if we can capture herc and torres that says a lot about our system!

  10. Chris Riordan

    November 12, 2010 at 8:16 am

    Nice piece Robert … really glad you are part of the MLS Talk family now, I have really enjoyed your writing.

    • Charles

      November 12, 2010 at 8:51 am


      Although you will be more challenged and can mature faster as writer over at EPL Talk and should transfer as soon as possible. 😉

      Happy Friday everyone.

      • Robert Hay

        November 12, 2010 at 10:26 pm

        Switch to EPL Talk? Then I’d miss discussions over Eastern Conference finals in Denver and three different drafts over the next five months!

        In all seriousness, the MLS is a unique and fun league, and I always appreciate feedback, so keep it coming please!

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