When the subject is possible international call-ups, Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney has more on his plate than most MLS bosses.
In addition to players representing Canada, Panama, and the United States at the Gold Cup this summer might be added El Salvador, for which defender Eriq Zavaleta could be representing in the near future.
His father, Carlos Zavaleta, was born in El Salvador and played for that country after moving to the United States and attending UCLA. Eriq Zavaleta has been a member of U.S. U-17, U-19 and U-20 teams but can apply to FIFA for a change of allegiance once the necessary paperwork is processed to certify his right to Salvadoran citizenship.
“This is something I've been thinking for a few years,” TFC defender told The Canadian Press. “They've actually been interested in me, contacted me for a good number of years now and have called me into camps over the past few couple of years. And it's been almost a different coach every time. So it feels good to being noticed, that I can play at the international level.”
The current head coach, Eduardo Lara, is holding a training camp in March and could call in Zavaleta if the paperwork is ready. The squad is captained by San Jose Earthquake midfielder Darwin Ceren and if selected Zavaleta would follow in the footsteps of former Quake and current Fire midfielder Arturo Alvarez, who played for the U.S. at several youth levels but was never called up for the senior team. Born in Houston to Salvadoran parents, Alvarez opted for El Salvador in 2009 and has played more than 40 games for the national team.
Zavaleta played every minute in the playoffs after making just 15 appearances (14 starts) during the regular season. He may have been hoping the U.S. change of national-team head coaches would present him with a chance but Bruce Arena didn’t summon him last month
“I'm 24, going to be 25 this year,” he said. “There's a lot of good young centerbacks in the U.S. group. I thought maybe that there was a chance at the January camp this year for me. There obviously wasn't. I think with continued progress there will be, hopefully, some interest from the U.S. But again your career's not forever and if I can play international football now, then that's better."
Another former Quake and TFC teammate, Steven Beitashour, parlayed his MLS performances into a spot on the Iranian national team and made the squad for the 2014 World Cup. Beitashour never played for the U.S. at the youth level and stayed on the bench during his only callup for a U.S. friendly in 2012. He’s not been summoned by Iran since the World Cup.
There’s a close family connection in play as well. Zavaleta is a nephew of Vanney, who as a youth was coached by Carlos Zavaleta. “For us it's tough because we might be losing another guy to some of these important events, said Vanney, who played 37 games for the USA from 1996 to 2006. “But I wouldn't say don't do it because of that.”
As one who knew only very well the Zavaleta Brothers, Raul and Carlos, I will admit that I was mildly to very surprised that Carlos has married Coach Vanney's sister, and even more surprised when I saw a grown young man in Eriq at the then Home Depot Center some years ago. I spoke briefly to him and of course asked him to please extend my regards to both Raul and his father Carlos. Both brothers were excellent players and contributed greatly to the UCLA program, then coached by Steve Gay (US 1960s Olympian & team mate of both Hugo Salcedo and Luis Sagastume) and the Bruins aptly assisted by Sigi Schimd, at times Steve Sampson, and Fehhesa Woldeemanuel. So Eriq comes from an excellent playing background and is obviosuly well rounded in the sport. My only concern is why hasn't he been picked up by the USMNT, lest the Salvadoran MNT does so once he obtains his ES passport? Buena Suerte Eriq!!!
This is the flip side of what happens every time a dual citizen commits to the US. As with Zavaleta, it's because they aren't good enough to represent the countries they are actually from.