Is the US Finally Winning the Foreign Player Battle?
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.