POLITICS: PennAve

How dual nationals play a key role on U.S. World Cup team

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Politics,Sports,Immigration,PennAve,Sean Lengell,World Cup,Soccer,Citizenship

What does it take to be a real American?

For seven members of the U.S. men's national soccer team, which begins World Cup play Monday against Ghana, foreign accents and nearly a lifetime of living abroad are good enough.

The players hold dual passports with the U.S. and one of three European countries, and in each case has a legitimate, legal right to claim U.S. citizenship — either through an American parent or because the player was born in the U.S., or both.

But depending on who you ask, their inclusion on the squad represents the United States' long, proud, immigrant, multicultural history -- and the country's passion for winning -- or a roadblock to the development of native players and the growth of the sport in the U.S.

Five of the players hail from Germany: Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler, John Brooks and Julian Green. Four were born in Germany to American military fathers. The fifth, Green, born in Tampa, Fla., to an American Army dad and German mother, has lived in Deutschland since he was 2.

The team's other two dual nationals are Mikkel “Mix” Diskerud, who was born and raised in Norway to an American mother, and Aron Johannsson, born in Mobile, Ala., and who moved with his parents to their native Iceland at age 3.

The players, who all speak fluent or near-fluent English, aren't the first dual nationals to don a U.S. uniform, as American squads throughout the decades often have had a sprinkling of foreign-born players.

And the United States is hardly alone in recruiting "foreign" players, as the practice has been accepted throughout international soccer. Spanish forward Diego Costa is from Brazil, which is his hosting this year's tournament, but controversially declared his allegiance to Spain, where he plays professionally. And Switzerland, which also appears in this year's tournament, has several key players either born outside the country or who are the children of immigrants.

The trend also has affected the U.S. team in reverse. California-born Isaác Brizuela was named to Mexico's World Cup squad, while Giuseppe Rossi, a talented but injury-prone forward who represents Italy -- though he was left off the Azzurri's World Cup team -- lived in New Jersey until the age of 12.

"It’s a process other nations went through 10 to 20 years ago," said U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who played in three World Cups for Germany and coached his native country to the 2006 tournament. "Now it’s happening more and more with the United States. It gives us a new dimension.”

Brooks, 21, is so proud of his American heritage that he has a large tattoo on one elbow in the shape of Illinois with a star representing Chicago, where his father is from. On his other elbow is a tattoo representing his birthplace, Berlin.

"I never lived [in the U.S.]; only for visits with my family in Chicago, twice or something like that," Brooks said. But "when I'm here, I'm a full American. I play with heart for America."

But Los Angeles Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena, who coached the U.S. national team to the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, doesn't think relying on dual nationals is good for soccer's growth in the U.S.

"I’m a big believer in the American player and producing them out of our system," Arena told USA Today. "I think that ultimately is what will develop the sport in our country; not on the field but with the consumer."

He suggested that fielding players who grew up in the U.S. will do more to inspire American soccer fans, particularly casual ones, to support Team USA.

"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," he said. "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."

But Diskerud says that despite living most of his life in Norway, he considered himself equally American, relishing his frequent visits to the mother's native Arizona.

“It’s my name, I’m a mix, I’m 50-50,” he said, referring to his nickname “Mix,” during an April interview with Major League Soccer’s “Extra Time” podcast. “I feel like I’m a mix between an American and a Norwegian. I would love to play for both countries but you can’t, so I feel like I made the right decision.”

And how does Diskerud cope with Norwegian fans upset that he chose to play for the Stars and Stripes?

“I ask them a simple question; what team is in the World Cup right now?” he said.

Not Norway.

• Associated Press reports were used in this article.

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