Ladies and gentlemen, your United States Men’s National Team for the 2014 World Cup, featuring forwards Julian Green (moved from Florida to Germany when he was 2 and got his first international experience with the German under-16s) and Aron Johansson (moved to Iceland at 3 before returning to the U.S. to attend IMG Academy in high school), midfielder Mix Diskerud (born and raised in Norway) and defenders John Brooks (born and raised in Berlin), Fabian Johnson (born and raised in Munich) and Timothy Chandler (born and raised in Frankfurt).
Wait, am I being xenophobic?
I know that I am inching (hurtling?) toward thin ice here, because it’s never a good idea to ask whether someone is “American” enough to represent the United States. Our whole deal as a mongrel nation is to welcome everyone as American as long as they are willing to eat Hot Pockets and drive a vehicle that gets 13 miles per gallon or fewer.
But there’s something about World Cup affiliation that bugs me, and I don’t think it’s any misplaced sense of patriotism. It’s more like an annoyance with the nod-and-wink approach to international sports.
I’m sincerely thrilled to have a men’s soccer team (or any team) that looks like a crayon box and reads like a mix of entry logs from Ellis Island and Angel Island. Honestly, Mix Diskerud? I believe that was the name of the Ikea four-drawer dresser I misassembled last year, and I love that.
But ideally the concept works like this: child is born to immigrant parent(s) in America, grows up to be dashing soccer player and wears red-white-and-blue in World Cup action. Or this: young man moves to the United States at 12, and despite a pronounced accent and strange attraction to pickled herring, gains acceptance through soccer, a sport he comes to dominate. Please wave the flag.
Instead, most of the athletes listed above had little or no connection to America outside of an ancestor, and maybe the vague child-memory of an episode of “L.A. Law.”
It’s no better when affiliation moves in the other direction. Isn’t everybody sick of rich Americans who find a way to compete for Zimbabwe in downhill skiing at the Winter Olympics and finish dead last but manage to meet attractive Swedes in the Olympic Village via Tinder?
OK, I’m going to stop before I completely morph into Donald Sterling. Anyway, I have no desire to kick Aron Johannsson off the USMNT. If you want to say you’re American, go right ahead, buddy. Buy an Imagine Dragons CD, for all I care. I just don’t want my compatriots to well up too spectacularly with national pride if Jurgen Klinsmann’s team (sigh) makes a deep run at the World Cup.
Go ahead and chant “U-S-A! U-S-A!” if you must. But don’t forget that the U is liable to stand for Uzbekistan, the S for Slovenia and the A for Anywhere Else It’s Harder to Make the World Cup Roster.