I used to dream in Spanish. I was born in the United States, but my parents moved our family to Argentina when I was 3 after my father received a job offer from a university in that country. I played soccer almost every day with my older brother, wearing out the Boca Juniors T-shirt I owned. We don’t have any other ties to the country, but my brother still cheers for Argentina’s national team. It’s a love from childhood.
When we returned to the United States after spending almost three years abroad, I didn’t speak any English. I distinctly remember other Spanish-speaking children laughing at me when I told them I was an American. They didn’t believe it, telling me real Americans could speak English. That feeling of otherness remained with me for a long time.
What eased some of that heartache was discovering the Mexican-American soccer community, where league games were shown every week on rabbit-ear TV sets and watching the national team was appointment television before the phrase ever existed. The passion and camaraderie was often tinged with melancholy over missing a country full of memories and loved ones still on the other side of the border. I remember taking comfort in all of that, just as I remember the first time I dreamed in English. I woke up startled, realizing my unconscious mind was making a choice.
Like many, I could thus sympathize with dual-national goalkeeper David Ochoa, whose thoughtful piece about his eventual choice of Mexico touched on some of the issues many dual nationals feel. I’ve covered the stories behind which team dual nationals ultimately choose many times, including the Flores twins, Sabrina and Monica, playing for the USA and Mexico against each other in international youth competitions. One of my favorite interviews is Martin Vasquez, a coach mentioned by Ochoa in his own article. Vasquez represented both the USA and Mexico in international competitions. Technically, he didn’t even have to choose between the two countries. He played with Mexico when they called him up early in his career and then answered the call for the USA after receiving citizenship. His advice to anyone deciding between two different countries has always been kind and consistent.
“You have to pick the doors that you think are the best for you and go through them and make the best of them,” Vasquez told me. “It’s an individual, personal decision.”
But anyone being not quite entirely from here, and not all from there knows that ultimately, the choice is their own. Whether there is a ledger of reasons why a country is chosen filled with a pro/con list of slights or enjoyable experiences, it doesn’t ultimately matter. Family pressure is powerful, but can also only do so much. It can be an excuse, even, for something a person was inclined to do anyway.
Players may have to choose, but soccer fans are left to their own devices, bound by no rules except those they make and keep for themselves. For myself, I choose both. I choose to cruise the tailgates for the best food and to cheer the best moves on the field, regardless of the jersey wearing them.
Speaking of jerseys, the bootleg, yet consistently popular half and half styles are one of my favorite sights of any big rivalry game. It’s a Frankenstein reflection of reality, a truth of modern times - a celebration of the unique blend of different cultures and an homage to how they influence each other. Now that Mexico has Ochoa, there may soon come a day when he will face on the field other Mexican-American players who have made the choice he didn’t. The talent stream of soccer doesn’t flow in only one direction. Different players have developed in the leagues on both sides of the border. Some will decide where to play, whether for club or country, based on a number of factors, including comfort, competition, and companionship. For all we know, a decision has already been made based on which locker room plays their preferred music.
I’m half expecting at some point a player to announce their choice on TikTok by saying, “I feel both American and Mexican, so I’m letting this coin toss decide!” Then they flip a penny and look down to where it lands, smiling widely. The scene fades to black without ever showing a close-up shot of the coin that landed.
Just like wearing half and half jerseys, fans are free to obsess about whether a coach said the wrong thing, or failed to say the right thing once a dual-national player chooses. Sometimes, it’s easier to assign blame rather than accept the outcome one didn’t want. Yet there is no coaching approach that works with every player and there is no approach that could possibly work with some of the players who have their hearts set on whatever they prefer.
On the field, the players themselves often set the best example for graciously accepting national team choices. Win or lose, they usually reach out after the final whistle, embracing a former teammate, and in a way, their own selves, had they chosen differently. It’s a brotherhood of understanding, not fully from here, not totally from there, walking the road less traveled of difficult decisions.