Ghana game hero John Brooks part of U.S. team melting pot
By RONALD BLUM Associated Press June 17, 2014 9:06AM
United States' John Brooks celebrates scoring his side's second goal during the group G World Cup soccer match between Ghana and the United States at the Arena das Dunas in Natal, Brazil, Monday, June 16, 2014. The United States defeated Ghana 2-1. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
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Updated: June 17, 2014 12:59PM
SAO PAULO (AP) — Timmy Chandler says the melting pot of the U.S. soccer team speaks the same language.
“We understand everything good: English, German, Mexican, Chinese,” the defender explained.
But, ja, German is a plus on this year’s American World Cup team.
Chandler is among five German-Americans on the 23-man roster, the sons of American servicemen and German mothers. A sixth was among the final cuts, and another three members of the player pool weren’t even invited to the 30-man training camp last month in California.
All speak decent English, some more accented than others. Thomas Dooley said that puts them far ahead of where he was when he joined the U.S. team in 1992, 5 1/2 weeks after picking up his U.S. passport. The tall defender started all four American games at the 1994 World Cup and was captain in 1998.
“I had no connection to the U.S. at all, and that’s what made it the most difficult part for me, to communicate with the group,” said Dooley, who retired to Laguna Niguel, California, and is now coach of the national team of the Philippines.
Right back Fabian Johnson and midfielder Jermaine Jones, barring injuries, are sure to start against Ghana in the Americans’ World Cup opener Monday. Chandler is competing with DaMarcus Beasley for the left back spot, while John Brooks is a backup central defender, and 19-year-old Julian Green a reserve winger.
All are looking forward to the Americans’ first-round finale on June 26 against — of course — Germany.
During the U.S. portion of the training camp, none of the German-Americans roomed together. An effort was made to avoid cliques.
In Brazil, it’s not an issue. For the first time in the U.S. program, all players get single rooms.
“We talk German sometimes, but we have respect for the guys who don’t talk German,” Jones said. “So if we see that somebody is there with us that doesn’t understand the German language, then we talk 100 percent English.”
Jones and Chandler were recruited by coach Bob Bradley, and the other three joined under Jurgen Klinsmann, the former star forward for Germany who replaced Bradley in July 2011.
German-born Terrence Boyd, cut from the roster in late May, is convinced the German-Americans bring a different mindset.
“Germany is more disciplined, it’s true,” he said. “... You have to be punctual and other things. When it comes to German culture, you’re not very content with yourself, especially as an athlete. You just want to — I don’t know — you just want to improve every day, want to get better every day, compared to Americans, where they think, hey, I scored today, I’m good.”
Jones, 32, played for Germany in exhibitions in 2008, when he was among the final three cuts for the European Championship. He switched to the U.S. the following year after FIFA eliminated an age restriction and allowed a player to change countries if he had not played for a senior team in an official match.
Since his debut in 2010, Jones has become the American tough guy, getting 11 yellow cards in 42 appearances.
Johnson, 26, even won a title with Germany, where his father played basketball for Byern Munich. Johnson started for the German under-21 European Championship team in 2009, playing alongside stars Manuel Neuer, Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Jerome Boateng and Mats Humels.
“We had a great team there,” Johnson said.
He had been to America only on vacations. Klinsmann called him shortly after he was hired, and Johnson quickly agreed to make the switch.
To Klinsmann, Germany’s system develops players faster than high school or college soccer. With European media’s intense focus on soccer, even youth players must endure pressure.
“It’s even a bigger challenge for the American players because they don’t feel yet that type of recognition that German players will get if they come through the system and suddenly play in the Bundesliga,” he said.
Chandler has been scrutinized for his devotion to the U.S. program. He made his debut in March 2011 in an exhibition against Argentina, but declined to be a part of that year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup and World Cup qualifiers in 2012. That kept open his ability to switch to Germany.
Chandler didn’t appear in a competitive match for the U.S. until a World Cup qualifier at Honduras in February 2013. He played poorly, and Klinsmann didn’t bring him back until last month — after the speedy 24-year-old recovered from knee injury.
“I thought it was gone,” he said of his World Cup chances.
Brooks and Green were among the more surprising picks for the roster. A 21-year-old central defender, Brooks made his U.S. debut in August.
“I never lived here. Only for visits with my family in Chicago, twice or something like that,” Brooks said. “When I’m here, I’m a full American. I play with heart for America.”
Green, who turned 19 on June 6, is the third-youngest player at the World Cup, and he is thought to be on the team to develop for the future.
Klinsmann was extremely protective of Green, who was born in Tampa but grew up mostly in Germany. The coach wouldn’t allow him to speak with reporters before the announcement of the 23-man roster.
Having the older German-speaking players made Green’s assimilation easier.
“Of course, it’s important to have guys like them,” he said. “But I also have to deal with everyone on the team. We are one team, and right now, we are focused on the World Cup.”