You don’t have to be born in America to play for the United States national soccer team. In fact, seven players who will play for Team USA at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil once displayed their skills on the pitch for a different flag.
Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler, John Brooks and, most notably, Julian Green, are all German-Americans, raised in Deutschland. In fact, English is a second language for all five men, KENS 5 in San Antonio notes. Team USA’s manager, Jürgen Klinsmann, coached the German national team from 2004 to 2006.
Aron Johannsson was born in America to parents that were studying abroad and raised in their native Iceland. Mikkel "Mix" Diskerud, a midfielder, was raised in Norway.
Once a footballer has played a game for a national team at an international level, he has no choice but to play for that team for the rest of his career. However, FIFA makes an exception for players who only played for another country at the amateur level; these players, such as 19-year-old Green, have the ability to choose which of the two nations they represent on the international level.
Green’s father, Jerry, is a former member of the U.S. military. In May, he told USA Today’s For The Win that he believed his son chose Team USA for the chance to work with Klinsmann, a renowned, if polarizing, figure within the international soccer world. It’s unclear whether the midfielder will see extended action during the World Cup, but Green said his decision has roots in patriotism.
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“It was the right decision,” Green said, according to KENS 5. “It didn’t matter whether I was on this World Cup squad or not. It’s the country. I’m born in this country; my dad lives here. The team is good, and players are very good to me.”
Some Americans have questioned the logic behind allowing dual citizens to represent Team USA in Brazil while domestic products, such as former team captain Landon Donovan, were left off the roster. But the United States is hardly the only country to enlist foreign-born or -raised players, and the vitriol directed at those players is far worse in nations where soccer is considered as much a religion as it is a sport.
For example, Diego Costa, a 25-year-old rising star born in Lagarto, Brazil, shocked his countrymen when he revealed that he’d play for Spain at the 2014 World Cup. The backlash against Costa was stunning; Luis Felipe Scolari, manager of the Brazilian national team, said, “A Brazilian player who refuses to wear the shirt of the Brazilian national side and take part in the World Cup in his own country must automatically be uninvited.”
Meanwhile, Jose Maria Marin, chairman of the Brazilian Football Federation, or CBF, declared his desire to strip Costa of his Brazilian citizenship, while simultaneously launching a campaign to block him from playing for Spain.
Still, for the 32 nations who begin their quest for the World Cup on June 12, the use of dual nationals isn’t so much lack of patriotism as it is a tactic in the pursuit of the one thing that matters – victory.