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BRIAN SCIARETTA - Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Last week saw USA Under-17 coach Wilmer Cabrera release his final roster for the 2009 Under-17 World Cup in Nigeria and while it was arguably one of the strongest youth rosters ever assembled by the USA for a major competition, many USA fans have seen their excitement tempered by a few players that did not make the team.

It was announced by Cabrera ahead of the tournament that Charles Renken, Joseph Gyau, and Sebastian Lletget were not going to be on the roster for various reasons ranging from injury, declining an invitation, or simply not being good enough. The omission of Lletget is of the most curious because while he just joined the prestigious West Ham academy, club commitments are rarely a reason for not accepting an invitation to play in the U17 World Cup.

Normally, a few teenagers not making a youth team would not cause much concern because, after all, not all talented players can make a single team with only 21 available roster spots. This situation is different, however, because Renken, Gyau, and Lletget all have dual passports and could each still represent another country if they so wanted.

As everyone is well aware, this has become a very sensitive issue among USA fans because in the past few years the USA soccer program has seen two USA citizens achieve great success in top European leagues while choosing to internationally represent other countries.

First there was New Jersey-born Giuseppe Rossi, who was consistently adamant about representing Italy and not the USA. Then there was Neven Subotic, born in the former Yugoslavia, who represented the USA at the 2005 U-17 World Cup but filed his one-time switch to represent Serbia for the remainder of his career.

Subotic's decision to defect has been frequently debated and discussed. To just recap, it followed a fallout with USA U20 coach Thomas Rongen after Rongen made some public statements Subotic viewed as critical. Rongen would later offer Subotic a spot on the U20 team but Subotic declined (contrary to what many USA fans have come to believe, Subotic was not cut from this team).

Afterward, Subotic quickly rose to success in Germany. After holding out for many months, he officially chose to represent Serbia, possibly because Germany was no longer an option. While Subotic has said that the decision to leave the USA program was not based on Rongen's comments, it has not stopped USA fans from engaging in harsh criticisms over the entire youth system.

Since Subotic's defection, the fear of losing dual nationals has served as an unfortunate distraction to many USA fans when it comes to youth national teams. Since then, whenever a youth roster is announced by USSF, focus quickly shifts from excitement over the team to which dual nationals were left off the team.

For example, just this past year, Rongen's 2009 U20 roster selection was most criticized by fans for leaving off Vincenzo Bernardo, a largely unproven player who played only a handful of games all year in the Italian Primavera.

To make matters worse, there have been various statements by certain dual nationals that if they are cut from a specific USA team, they will entertain offers from other national team which they are qualified. These statements have only increased the panic of USA fans.

This type of reaction by USA fans is misguided. Youth national teams need to be about developing players and introducing them into the USSF system. It is not about appeasing dual nationals.

It's certainly understandable that fans do not want to lose more players to other national teams, but coaches cannot cater to the demands of teenagers. If that were to happen, the coach's ability to run the team would be greatly undermined by not being able to organize a team as he sees fit.

A lot of the criticism on how the USSF handles dual nationals is also unfounded. Aside from the Subotic situation, the USA has gained far more than it has lost when it comes to winning the allegiance of these players. A large portion of the USA senior national team has dual passports. There are recent converts such as Edgar Castillo and Jermaine Jones, and there are also players such as Oguchi Onyewu, Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard, Benny Feilhaber, Stuart Holden, and Maurice Edu who have shown allegiance to the Stars and Stripes since the beginning of their careers despite having other opportunities.

The reality is that with so many young players in the country having eligibility for multiple national teams, the USA will not be able to win the allegiance of all of them. The players that really do want to play for the USA team will not let the opinions of a single youth coach determine the future of their international careers.

The USSF needs to focus primarily on the players that are committed to the USA. That's certainly not to say that they should not make an effort persuade dual nationals to represent the USA. But the USSF needs to be hesitant in working with players that remain uncommitted to the USA's soccer program after they have begun participation in the program.

The USA simply should not be in the business of developing players for other national teams. If players like Gyau, Lletget, Bernardo, or Renken are unsure of which country they would like to represent, they should not be named to the roster.

The problems with having uncommitted kids on the roster are twofold. The first is that it takes away a roster spot from another player that really wants to play for the USA. Developing players takes time and money and the USSF needs to be certain that the money is not going to a player who will leave the program.

The second problem is that giving roster spots to players who may be willing to defect also provides those players with a higher platform to audition their talents in front of the other national teams for whom they are also eligible.

So now with the USA underway with their U17 World Cup campaign, the focus and excitement needs to surround the incredible talent that is on this team which has the ability to go very far in this tournament despite an opening 2-1 loss to a talented Spanish team. Players like Luis Gil, Jack McInerney, and Stefan Jerome have all shown enormous potential, and they are all excited to represent the USA. If a player like Sebastian Lletget wants to leave the program and represent Italy or Argentina, that is how it is going to be.

The bitterness over losing a player really shouldn't linger as long as it has with some USA fans over Rossi or Subotic. Neither player really wanted to represent the USA. What separates national team soccer from club soccer is that the players and fans are all bonded by a common nationality and an allegiance to the national team. If a particular player doesn't feel that allegiance, they really should have no part of that team.

The good news is that lots of players would love to play for the USA. The focus should be on these players and not those that remain undecided or have turned their back on the USA team altogether. It is, after all, more fun to win with players whose hearts and efforts are firmly behind their country's national team.
Freddy
Tuesday October 12, 2010 7:45 pm
You know what, Rossi has a right to play either Italy or USA. he choose Italy, good because it's Europe and more competions, other than North America it's USA or mexico that's it. Rossi did on the field it's up to him, players celebrate all the time on Football pitch. Rossi doesn't owe anything to USSF or USA because he was fully train in European soil with italian program, and they made him a complete Football player. US did not spent a penny. If he would train in USA he would Stuck in Mickey mouse league MLS. Iam glad he went Europe.
Jose
Wednesday November 4, 2009 2:10 pm
Players like Rossi,Lletget,Subotic ,, would play for USA if they know that we have a first class coach ,, What can they learn with Bradley ,,lets face it they know with american coach they will go no whereand probably they would not been take it serius from another first class team ,, thats the reality ,,no matter how you put it ,,, put Sir Fergunson there and you see will be a line of players willing to were the national jersey ,, even from another country
Kung Fu Kangaroos
Tuesday November 3, 2009 6:48 pm
The root cause of the anxiety ... or the real question is ... is the US National system doing a good job developing US talent? Based on US team's inconsistent performances, the answer is not really:

At World Cups ... 90 group stage exit, 94 2nd round exit, 98 group stage exit, 02 quarterfinals exit, 06 group stage exit ... 10?

When qualifiing, the US is always fighting it out to the end ... and it comes down to the last game or two to lock up a World Cup spot. This is not Europe where teams are within 10 to 20 ranking spots of each other and can knock eah other off. Except for Mexico, all the other CONCACAF teams are outside of the top 35 ... at least 25 spots worse than the US's ranking!

If the US did a better job of developing talent that are US only nationals, then it would not be much of an issue at all. Brazil has folks playing for all sorts of national teams and it doesn't affect them much.
John
Monday November 2, 2009 6:32 pm
Good article. I am not sure I agree though. Each player is raised in an environment that begets his own set of beliefs and goals. Asking a 15-17 year old to make a wise decision that will impact the rest of his life is just not realistic. Part of the glory of being a teenager is that you can make poor decisions. Ultmately, players are going to give it all for the guys on the field with them, not their country. Perhaps this is why Clint Dempsey never leaves it all on the field for the USMNT.
clarence
Friday October 30, 2009 11:27 pm
On a planet where nation boundaries are so well defined, I find it amusing that people care whether men like Rossi want to play in Italy. If Italy needs a guy from Jersey that badly...good...go...good luck!

U.S. soccer fans are few and far between compared to other national fans. I'll take my team...tough,loyal, and U.S. American like Gooch.
J.D. Springer
Friday October 30, 2009 2:05 pm
One simple rule I would propose FIFA adopt to cut down on the number of players ditching the nation where they were born to play for another (whether it's Giuseppe Rossi leaving or Jermaine Jones coming over): If you want to play for the full national team of any country other than the one in which you were born, you have to renounce your citizenship in the country of your birth and surrender that passport and any other passports you may hold for life. This would go a long way toward determining whether it's a switch of expediency or a serious change in national allegiance.
Tiger
Thursday October 29, 2009 2:23 pm
Thank you , and kudos for an informative article on a difficult topic with many divergent views, as evidenced by the many also well thought, well spoken valid opinions blogged by writers to this website.

The current rules that govern dual nationality players seem to attempt to give individuals some degree of flexibility in determining their best options and choices, before those options and choices are somewhat precluded by FIFA regulations and individual countries laws concerning naturalized citizens.

Given this current state of affairs, it makes good sense for everyone concerned to always give all best efforts to best help develop and make US soccer the standard to which the rest of the world aspires.

This will attract and hold the best and the brightest players to aspire to play for the US, regardless of whether they were born/bred/raised/reared, in the US. or however otherwise connected to the US.

The more prestigious and distinguished US soccer becomes, the younger most promising and eligible players will aspire to become part of such a legacy.
Joel
Thursday October 29, 2009 10:52 am
I think a lot of people get blinded by nationalism and/or patriotism in these situations with the whole, "USA: Love it or leave it" type arguments. Very few would have this attitude with a business they're trying to run. They're more than likely going to want to attract the best talent they can.

I'm sure it's not an easy decision for some of these players. Some kids have multiple options and it's not an easy situation based on personal feelings, family expectations, etc. Think of recruiting in college football. That'd be like a team saying, "Well, if he isn't with us from day one then move along. We have no time for people that have options." I realize it isn't a perfectly analagous situation, but if they're worthy, I see nothing wrong with trying to persuade and recruit them to stay.
Good Shootin### Tex
Thursday October 29, 2009 10:23 am
Rossi = traditrice

no, I did NOT get the gender wrong...
matt
Thursday October 29, 2009 12:06 am
We are climbing....slowly but we are getting respect....honestly who cares if Rossi doesnt want to play...I won't quit watching the USA...or cheering all out...the guys on the field are my guys.....
recently people have complained endlessly about Clarke..Bornstein..Casey....and amazingly these guys have got the goals the have put us in the CUP......did Rongen lose Subotic?? Who cares anymore really...he might end up injured....DeMerit might be a star where he would have played....
Said it before and again...the USA will be in EVERY world cup from now on...we will have options...all these guys are pros and every dog has its day......If Rongen or Bradley dont chose ALL the dual natonals...who cares...they are the coaches and they make the teams...we have to give faith because Bradley took first place...he GETS his WCup...if he does well brilliant if not we move on to another coach...2010 is on...our guys have all put in their show...these are our guys!!! GO USA!!! Win or lose we are cheering for you!!!
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