Why Is the U.S. National Soccer Team So 'American?'

By David Seminara on September 23, 2009

If soccer is the world's sport, and America is the world's leading beacon for immigrants around the globe, why aren't immigrants making a bigger impact playing soccer for the Stars and Stripes? Consider the paucity of foreign born players on the U.S. Men's National Soccer Team. The team draws from a player pool of fifty eight men, only three (5%) of whom were born outside the U.S. The women's national team has no foreign born players in its player pool.

Considering the fact that one out of twelve persons living in the United States is foreign born, these are surprising figures, even accounting for the fact that not all of the foreign born are U.S. citizens eligible to compete for the team.

None of the foreign born players in the U.S. player pool are regular starters, recent immigrants, or come from countries they could easily represent at the international level. Benny Feilhaber was born in Brazil, but moved to the U.S. at age six. Pablo Mastroeni was born in Argentina and moved to the U.S. at age 4. Argentina and Brazil have two of the best teams in the world, and neither man would be able to make the national squad in their country of birth. In each case, electing to play for the U.S. team was essentially a no-brainer. Freddy Adu, the final foreign born player in the U.S. player pool, came to the U.S. at age 8 from Ghana. Ghana has a respectable team, but their world ranking is significantly lower than that of the U.S. and playing for the Ghanaian team would do little to advance Adu's profile.

An even greater cause for concern than the lack of immigrants on our national side is the fact that some top-notch U.S.-born soccer players are choosing to play for other countries. Giuseppe Rossi, who was born in Teaneck, N.J., declined an offer to train with the U.S. National Team in preparation for the 2006 World Cup, in the hopes of playing for Italy later on. He debuted for the Italian team in 2008, and appears to be on the way to becoming a star, having been chosen by Eurosport as one of the top 40 players in the world.

Rossi helped Italy defeat the U.S. in June 2009 at the FIFA Confederations Cup, scoring two goals in a 3-1 win. Perhaps it's time for Congress to consider adding, "scoring goals for a foreign country against the U.S. soccer team" to the list of "potentially expatriating acts" that can cost someone their U.S. citizenship?

Arturo Alvarez, who was born in Houston and competed for U.S. national youth teams, recently decided to compete for the national team of El Salvador, the country of his parents' birth. Alvarez, 24, had not been able to crack the starting lineup for the U.S. national team, but was thought to have a future in U.S. soccer had he not thrown in his lot with El Salvador. He was in El Salvador's starting lineup in a 1-2 loss to the U.S. on September 5. Neven Subotic, 20, is another promising young star that played for U.S. national youth teams before electing to play for Serbia in March 2009.

Occasionally, a U.S.-born player casts his lot with a foreign team and then changes his mind when things go south. Edgar Castillo, for example, was born and raised in Las Cruces, N.M., but chose to play for the Mexican national team. Now, two years after claiming he'd never play for the U.S., Castillo has come down with a case of Yankee Doodle patriotism and wants to play for the U.S. team. Castillo, who was nicknamed "El Gringo" by his Mexican teammates, reportedly had a falling out with the coach of the Mexican team before having his change of heart.

Make no mistake: there are immigrants, and the children of immigrants that are willingly choosing to play for the U.S., but shouldn't immigration be helping our national soccer team much more than it has? The fact that our national team sometimes gets booed while competing on its own soil probably doesn't do much to help recruit immigrants to play for the U.S. side.

Perhaps the issue here is one of assimilation, or lack thereof in a post-American society, or perhaps it's just the free agency concept spilling over from professional leagues into international competition. Either way, it sure would be nice to see all of our best players representing the Stars and Stripes, and being cheered by the home crowds.