[MY VIEW] National team loyalty isn't what it used to be(*). More and more players are shopping themselves around to find the best situation before deciding which country to represent. Thanks to FIFA's amended eligibility rules, players are, in certain circumstances, changing colors, representing more than one country. It is having profound effects on the U.S. national team programs -- men's and women's -- and those of other countries with large immigrant populations.
The U.S. under-20 national team, which will compete in Concacaf qualifying this winter for a berth in the 2011 world championships in Colombia, is in the process of adding Fabian Huerzeler and Alex Zahavi, who have previously represented Germany and Portugal at the under-17 level.
Several other U.S. U-20 candidates -- notably Omar Salgado, the No. 1 pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft -- played for Mexico before trying out with the USA.
On the girls side, Sydney Leroux represented Canada, where she grew up, at the 2004 U-19 World Cup but switched allegiances and joined the USA, which she led to the 2008 U-20 World Cup title.
But the movement goes both ways.
Just recently, Teresa Noyola announced her intention to represent Mexico, which as qualified for the 2011 Women's World Cup, after playing with Leroux for the USA at the 2010 U-20 Women's World Cup in Germany.
The most notable case involves Neven Subotic, a Bosnian immigrant who represented the USA at the 2005 Under-17 World Cup, moved to Germany, where efforts to join its national team were rejected because he did not meet eligibility requirements, and ultimately chose to represent Serbia. He plays for runaway Bundesliga leader Borussia Dortmund and is considered one of the top young players in Europe -- a central defender who would fit very well -- thank you -- into the middle of the U.S. national team's aging backline.
Some players never switch or wait before making a decision about which country to represent.
American fans were hoping that New Jersey-born Giuseppe Rossi would represent the United States, but he remained loyal to Italy, whose stars he idolized as a child growing up in Jersey and where he moved to at the age of 12 to pursue his soccer dream. He played for the Azzurri at the 2008 Olympics and has since represented the senior national team, ruling out any switch.
Texan Conor Doyle, another candidate for the U.S. U-20 national team, must choose between the USA and Ireland, his father David's birthplace. Conor attended the recent U.S. U-20 camp in Florida but might attend at Irish U-21 camp next month.
The national teams who have benefited the most from the rule changes are African. France won the 2001 Under-17 World Cup, but with their national team careers blocked on the Bleus' senior team, players have gone on to represent Algeria, Ivory Coast and Senegal at the national team level.
It took eight years for Algerian Hassan Yebda to switch national teams, but others are changing teams quicker.
Huerzeler's road to the senior German national team is blocked by a slew of young midfield stars, so the switch from Germany -- whose U-17 team he captained a year ago -- to the USA -- where he was born -- makes sense.
Noyola said style of play had a lot to do with her move to join Mexico, but the fact of the matter is that Mexico, not the USA, gives her her only shot at playing in the 2011 Women's World Cup.
FIFA rules allow players to switch national teams once -- as long as they held dual nationality at the time they represented the first national team in an official competition and they don't play in the same competition for more than one country. The other requirement is that the player have his request approved by FIFA before he switches teams.
That requirement appears to have tripped up El Salvador, which qualified for the 2011 Concacaf U-20 championship thanks to two goals from Dustin Corea in its playoff win over El Salvador. That's the same Dustin Corea who represented the USA in 2009 in Concacaf U-17 qualifying. Corea apparently never petitioned FIFA to play for El Salvador, and Costa Rica is appealing to get El Salvador thrown out of the competition for using an ineligible player.
Article 18 of the FIFA statutes has tripped up much bigger federations.
The English FA publicly pursued Everton's Spanish midfielder Mikael Arteta last summer until it discovered to its embarrassment that he was not eligible to switch national teams since he was not an English citizen at the time he played for Spain at the youth level ...
* Until the early 1960s, it was possible to represent two or more senior national teams. The great Alfredo Di Stefano played for Argentina, Colombia and Spain, while oriundi Raimundo Orsi and Luis Monti played for Argentina in the 1930 World Cup final and won the 1934 World Cup with Italy.