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U.S. Soccer: The German Way

Peter Collorafi

Staff Writer

The U.S. and Germany have had a long and complicated history, to say the least. After fighting two world wars against Germany in the 20th century, the U.S. established a large military presence in the country to guard against the Soviet Union, a presence which, nevertheless, continues to this day and has produced a strange phenomenon with regards to soccer in both countries.

In 2011, 70 years after the U.S. and Germany declared war on each other, the U.S. national soccer team hired a German coach to lead them to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The new coach, Jurgen Klinsman, is a former player for Tottenham Hotspur in London and also coached Germany to a third- place finish at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. What has caught the attention of American soccer fans during Klinsman’s first two years in charge is that he has invited many German- American players to the American national side. What’s re- markable about this move is that all of these players Klinsman has brought on were born and raised in Germany, speak German, and play for German teams. In fact, most of them had previously represented Germany in interna- tional competitions.

The fact that these players are eligible to play for America is due to the fact that each of their fathers had served in Germany with the U.S. military after World War Two. If the American na- tional team‘s current roster is any indication, the U.S. may field five such German-speaking players in their starting lineup at the 2014 World Cup. This is certainly a unique phenomenon in Ameri- can sports and was highlighted
in a 2012 profile by ESPN. When asked by ESPN why he chose to play for the U.S. instead of Ger- many, Danny Williams, who plays for TSG Hoffenheim along with fellow German-American Fabian Johnson, Williams said that even after growing up in Germany and playing for German teams he still did not feel as if he was accepted as a ‘real German’ by his German compatriots, most likely, one imagines, because his father was an American serviceman of African descent.

Americans, Williams added, are better at accepting people who are different than them than Germans are. After all, America has always been more of a het- erogeneous society than most European countries. However, coach Klinsman is not bringing so many German-American play- ers onto the team simply for the sake of diversity. All but one of these players play in the German Bundesliga, one of the best soccer leagues in the world. Indeed, one of them, midfielder Jermaine Jones of Schalke, scored a crucial goal in a Champions league match in February against Galatasaray, a Turkish team which featured superstar players Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder, formerly of Chelsea and Inter Milan, respectively.

Thanks to Jurgen Klinsman, the U.S. national side will not be short on talent. Nevertheless, as evidenced by its 2-1 World Cup qualifying loss to Honduras in early February, its biggest con- cern between now and in the World Cup finals in Brazil in 2014 will be finding a way to play as a team. The team may have talent, but against Honduras it looked like a collection of individuals each looking to make their own mark. The next qualifying game for the American side will be on March 22 against Costa Rica in Colorado.

If his comments at the USC School of Journalism event in February are any indication, former U.S. national team player and all-time leading scorer Land- on Donovan might be rejoining the national side for its upcoming qualifiers. Donovan’s last game with the team was in an August, 2012 win in Mexico but he has not been featured with the national side since then, having taken a sabbatical of sorts from soccer in order to ‘rediscover’ himself. Hopefully, if the U.S. is able to regain its former scoring leader and finally play together as a coherent unit, unlike its performance in Honduras, there just might be a chance of the U.S. pulling an upset in Brazil next year.

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