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Seven members of U.S. World Cup roster have dual citizenship

United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann yells out players during first half an international friendly soccer match between United States

United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann yells out to players during the first half of an international friendly soccer match between the United States and Nigeria in Jacksonville, Fla., Saturday, June 7, 2014. (AP Photo/John Raoux) ORG XMIT: JVS

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Updated: June 10, 2014 8:17PM

Beer in hand, a U.S. fan wearing a Landon Donovan jersey walked down the stands, closer to shouting range. A few feet away, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati stood on the field before an exhibition game against Turkey at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.

“He’s a legend,” the fan said, his voice rising. “How do you sleep at night, Sunil?” The twenty-something fan raged on about coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to cut Donovan from the World Cup team before shouting, “They don’t even speak English!”

They are the dual nationals, most notably the five German-Americans on the team — Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler, John Brooks and Julian Green. Four are the sons of U.S. servicemen. All were raised in Germany and English is their second language.

Then there’s Mix Diskerud, who has an American mother but grew up in Norway. Aron Johannsson, born while his parents were studying in the USA, was raised in Iceland.

Countries relying on players who grew up elsewhere is not a new, nor American, phenomenon. “It’s a process other nations went through 10 to 20 years ago,” Klinsmann said, citing 1998 World Cup champion France, as well as Germany in the previous two World Cups. “Now it’s happening more and more with the United States. It gives us a new dimension.”

Look through the rosters of the 32 World Cup teams in Brazil, and dual nationals abound. Mexico has two players born in the USA on its squad. Iran has an American-born defender who plays for Vancouver in Major League Soccer. Spain, the defending World Cup champ, features Diego Costa, who made the controversial decision to pick La Roja over his native Brazil.

Though three of the seven dual national players were courted before Klinsmann took over the program, there has been a subtle, and not so subtle, undercurrent about the Germanification of the American team throughout his tenure.

When Klinsmann cut Donovan, the face of American soccer, and added 19-year-old Green, a promising unknown with 31 minutes of U.S. game experience, the critics took aim on social media and soccer message boards.

The crossfire, and the code words, sounded like a debate between Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow. Should a player with little connection to the country take the spot of someone who came up through the American system and helped the team qualify for Brazil? Will a player raised elsewhere fight for the flag and care as much as someone raised in red, white and blue?

“I understand the point; I don’t agree with the point,” Gulati said. “What would one do? Say to the coach, you can only pick players who have been here for 25 years and have certain roots? Well, I’d be talking to a coach who has roots somewhere else if I made that sort of statement.

“My very strong comment about it is that four of the five [German-American] players we’re talking about here are American citizens by nature of having an American serviceman father. If Bruce Arena or anyone else wants to tell me they have less of a right to play for the United States, we strongly disagree.”

Arena, who coached the 2002 and 2006 teams, doesn’t think relying on dual nationals is good for the growth of the game in the USA.

“I’m a big believer in the American player and producing them out of our system. I think that ultimately is what will develop the sport in our country; not on the field but with the consumer”
Arena said. “When they can recognize our players and who they are and where they came from, they’ll be more supportive of the sport, and that’s a big plus in terms of marketing. When we do it with randomly selecting people from all over that really have no connection, I don’t think it hits home with people we want supporting our sport and our national team.”

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