Soccer’s 20th World Cup ended in a magic moment for Germany, which needed extra time but scored just enough goals on Sunday afternoon to hoist the trophy for the fourth time. The tournament was also, from the perspective of the United States, a pretty successful run for “Germans” as well.
Not only did head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the legendary German striker and team manager, lead the U.S. out of group play and into the Round of 16, a pleasant surprise itself, but three of the five goals scored by the United States in its four matches were netted by players who were raised within the German national team system.
Klinsmann, since taking the U.S. job in 2011, has steadily recruited players around the world who are eligible for dual citizenship, but whose skills or opportunity might be a better fit with the United States roster. Seven of the 23 players taken to Brazil fell into that category, with five coming from backgrounds in Germany, one from Norway and one from Iceland.
Not everyone is on board with improving the U.S. game by means of a pocketful of new passports, but Klinsmann is running the show and this is how he intends to run it. Former U.S. coach Bruce Arena, now coach of the L.A. Galaxy in the MLS, says the United States team should be populated by players who come up through the ranks of the domestic soccer federation and play their professional club careers in the MLS. In that way, a true American style of play could be developed instead of clumsily borrowing from the styles of others.
It is a nice vision, perhaps, although it raises the question for some of exactly what a “national” team should be, and, more to the point, who exactly is an “American.” The United States is a country of immigrants, some voluntary and some not. If there were a dividing line in time that signaled the end of that process, no one marked it down. Certainly not Klinsmann, who moved to Huntington Beach, Calif., shortly after his playing career came to an end.
“It’s a process other nations went through 10 to 20 years ago. Now it’s happening more with the United States,” Klinsmann said of his wide-ranging recruiting. “It gives us a new dimension.”
In any case, it also gave the U.S. 60 percent of its World Cup goals.
The first, a header off a corner kick to provide a 2-1 win in the opener against Ghana, came from John Brooks, a second-half substitute who is the son of an American serviceman and a German mother. He was still with the German U-20 program as recently as 2012.
The second was a world-class strike from outside the 18-yard box against Portugal by Jermaine Jones, another serviceman’s son, who was with the German program for eight years and appeared in three international friendlies with the full national team.
The third goal, scored in added time against Belgium to narrow the eventual margin of defeat to 2-1, was by 19-year-old Julian Green, who converted a very nice chip pass from Michael Bradley after a great diagonal run into the box. Green, moved from Tampa to Germany by his mother as a 2-year-old, was with the German U-19’s as recently as November and didn’t decide on his eligibility switch until March.
It says something about the growing worldwide respect given the U.S. program since Klinsmann’s hire that he landed a number of these players. (Jones was with the team prior to the hire.) Along with Brooks and Green, the U.S recruited defenders Fabian Johnson and Timmy Chandler, two more servicemen’s sons raised in Germany; Mix Diskerud of Norway, whose mother is from Arizona; and Aron Johannsson, whose parents are both Icelandic, but who happened to be attending school in Alabama when Aron was born. Bingo, American!
Tactical recruiting is nothing new in American soccer, of course. Arena pursued, among others, forward Guiseppe Rossi, who plays for the Italian national team, but was raised in New Jersey until the age of 12. And, as Klinnsman pointed out, seeking eligibility for good players is far from uncommon around the world. FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, has awarded nearly 200 one-time eligibility switches in the seven years since the requirements were eased.
On the championship team, striker Miroslav Klose, who set a World Cup record by scoring his 16th career goal, is a native of Poland and could say exactly two German words — “ja” and “danke” — when he moved to Germany with his family. German fans have been saying the same two words regarding his national team participation ever since.
The Germans also have Jerome Boateng, who has dual citizenship between Ghana and Germany, and whose half-brother, Kevin-Prince Boateng, plays for Ghana. The two met on the field in both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, the only times such close relations have opposed one another in the tournament.
Obviously, the borders that separate nations become blurred on the world’s soccer map. If the team is wearing U.S. colors, does it really matter what languages some of the players speak on the field? It doesn’t matter to Klinsmann, who also wasn’t bothered about leaving home Landon Donovan, the all-time U.S. international goal scorer and assist leader, a player as domestic as domestic can be, but one not nearly dedicated enough by the standards of the coach.
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Sure, that’s still what the lady in the harbor says, and that’s still what the country is supposed to be about. But, while you’re at it, give us your deadly strikers and diligent sweepers and fleet wingers, too. An attacking central midfielder to tie it all together wouldn’t hurt, either. Send him as soon as possible.