[USA CONFIDENTIAL] Four players born and raised in Germany played for the USA in its loss to France on Friday and five are on the current roster. Six more German-bred players are in the U.S. U-23 national team camp. The trend recalls Tom Dooley’s great contributions of nearly two decades ago, but also raises some questions.
Dooley, like the current German products in the national-team fold, was born to a German mother and an American father, who served in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Dooley first stepped on U.S. soil at age 30 and quickly became a key part of the national team as a strong, smart defender who also attacked and scored goals. He was the only player who started all U.S. games at the 1994 and 1998 World Cups.
Perhaps because German soccer declined in the following years, no more Dooleys found their way to the U.S. program. But starting in the 2000s, German youth development rebounded, its national teams again produced successful and exciting teams – and U.S. Soccer began scouring German soccer for American-sounding surnames.
Of the four German-bred players U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann put on the field against France, two – Jermaine Jones and Timothy Chandler -- made their debuts under Klinsmann’s predecessor,Bob Bradley, who also capped German-bred keeper David Yelldell.
Jones is the oldest and most accomplished of the German-Americans. The 29-year-old earns an annual salary of more than $5 million from Schalke 04, according to German media. He played three times for Germany, in 2008, but remained eligible for the USA because the games weren’t part of official competition.
In the 66th minute of the 1-0 loss to France, Jones replaced Kyle Beckerman at defensive midfielder to earn his 13th U.S. cap.
Chandler, a 21-year-old, made his seventh U.S. appearance against France, starting at left back.
“He still has to learn a lot of things,” Klinsmann said. “He knows that. And there's a lot of upside in his game that can develop. But for right now, he has that starting position. It's his. And he's moving along in that process."
Danny Williams, 22, made his third U.S. start against France, and Fabian Johnson, 23, debuted on Friday in the 71st minute, replacing Williams.
Johnson, in theory, should be the most promising of the young German-Americans. He lined up alongside Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil in a midfield that led Germany to the U-21 European Championship title in 2009 on a team that sparked talk in Germany of a golden generation.
The fifth German product in Klinsmann’s current squad that on Tuesday faces Slovenia is Alfredo Morales, a 21-year-old Berlin-born defender who made his Bundesliga 1 debut for Hertha Berlin in August.
There’s a big difference between the current crop of German players vying for national team spots and Dooley, who was head and shoulders above the talent for his position that the U.S.-bred pool had to offer at the time.
Dooley starred for Bundesliga and German Cup winners Kaiserslautern when he joined the U.S. team. None of the current German-Americans come close to what he had accomplished.
Even Jones, despite his huge salary, has been in and out Schalke’s starting lineup because of injuries and a clash with previous Schalke coach Felix Magath led to a loan to Blackburn Rovers. He recently regained a starting role under Coach Huub Stevens.
And Jones is a rugged defensive midfielder who’s been getting yellow cards in half the games he plays for his club. He doesn’t display qualities unique to what the USA has been producing on its own.
In fact, none of the German-Americans being auditioned right now for Klinsmann’s team have displayed extraordinary talent.
Of course, all the other German-Americans who broke into Bundesliga lineups at a young age should be given a close look. Any American citizen, regardless of where he grew up, should have an equal opportunity to serve the U.S. national team. That’s not the issue.
It also makes perfect sense for U.S. Soccer to continue its scouring for foreign-based American talent. During his tenure as U.S. U-20 coach that ended in 2011, Thomas Rongen identified more than 400 teenage American players in foreign countries. They might find some who turn out as great for the USA as Dooley and Dutch-American Earnie Stewart and end up helping the USA reach a higher level.
But so far, the German pipeline isn't delivering players significantly more promising than what can be found within U.S. shores.