By Mike Woitalla
Although just a friendly, that was an impressive result by Coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s USA, coming back twice to earn a 2-2 tie at Russia. Achieved without the USA’s two best players, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan.
Also remarkable about the game was that the USA fielded five German-born and -raised players. Not a couple, but five, including four starters – nearly half the lineup of field players.
The starters were Timmy Chandler (age 22), Danny Williams (23), Fabian Johnson (24) and Jermaine Jones (31). Terrence Boyd (21) was a late sub.
There’s nothing controversial about them being eligible to play for the USA. All are the sons of American fathers – U.S. servicemen who were stationed in Germany, which has hosted more than 10 million U.S. military personnel since 1950.
A few foreign products have boosted the U.S. national team in the past, notably German-born Tom Dooley, who starred for the USA at the 1994 World Cup, when the USA also fielded Netherlands-raised Earnie Stewart and South African Roy Wegerle under Coach Bora Milutinovic. But no other U.S. national team coach has since relied so heavily on players raised abroad as Klinsmann.
And besides the five German products who played on Wednesday, there was Mix Diskerud, scorer of the late equalizer, who was born and raised in Norway.
The U.S. national team should welcome any Americans no matter where they were raised if they are better than the talent being produced within U.S. shores. Yet there are questions to be asked when in the first 14 months of having a German coach at the helm the USA is banking on so many German products.
The scouring of German soccer fields for players of U.S. heritage did predate Klinsmann’s appointment. Former U.S. U-20 coach Thomas Rongen identified 400 teenagers with U.S. eligibility playing in foreign countries, including scores of Germans with American serviceman fathers. Jones and Chandler debuted for the USA under Klinsmann’s predecessor, Bob Bradley.
When Dooley, a Bundesliga champion, became a fixture on the U.S. national team two decades ago, his performances left no doubt that his talents exceeded those of U.S. products in his position. But none of the German products in the current squad has proved particularly brilliant. They have yet to bring something to the team that makes one think it will soon be playing a better quality of soccer than what we’ve seen from the USA under Klinsmann’s predecessors.
That doesn’t prove they aren’t better options for Klinsmann than the available homegrown talent. The German products who started against Russia are all regular starters in the Bundesliga, certainly one of the world’s most competitive leagues.
But in the years before Klinsmann’s appointment, we’ve seen the most ambitious efforts ever to improve player development in the USA. A full-time residency program for the U-17s, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, a signficant increase in U.S. Soccer youth scouts and coaches, MLS mandating its clubs to create youth academies, the ever-expanding coaching education programs …
So when nearly half a U.S. lineup is comprised of foreign products, one is left to wonder what track American soccer is on.