German-Americans raised on U.S. bases in soccer’s Fatherland have carried the team to the Round of 16. Can our Asian allies really produce the soccer stars of tomorrow?
- By Kevin BleyerKevin Bleyer is a four-time Emmy-winning television writer, occasional New York Times bestselling book writer, and once-in-a-while speechwriter. But what really matters is that his brother does play-by-play for the Portland Timbers. Follow him on Twitter: @kevinbleyer
By escaping from the Group of Death at the World Cup, the United States finally gave the lie to the notion that Americans were bad at soccer. Except Americans were never bad at soccer. The good soccer players just didn’t know they were Americans.
You can thank James Madison and the gang from 1787. If not for their foresight, the United States wouldn’t have made it to the Round of 16 some 227 years later. That’s because the framers in Philadelphia left one item sufficiently vague when it came to determining eligibility for Brazil: whether "natural born Citizen" applied not only to those born within the confines of the 50 contiguous states, but also to those born to Americans overseas.
Their punt is how John McCain, for example, could run for president despite being born in the Panama Canal Zone. It’s also why Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, and John Brooks are all eligible to make Belgians spit out their moules frites: all three were born to American servicemen stationed on an overseas military base.
As you’ve heard by now, it’s Deutschland über alles except not über Amerikaner. All told, five of the 23 members of America’s World Cup team are German-Americans. They speak German to each other during practices. They marry Miss Germany. They’re the core of the American squad. You can thank Citizenship and Immigration Services officer Jürgen Klinsmann, who sings the national anthem of the United States before each match.
And yeah, star midfielder Jones has a pretty thick accent. But no matter, right? We’ve always been a nation of immigrants. Go USA!
But exactly where will the USA go… from here? Can we still rely on a steady supply of players birthed in soccer’s great Fatherland? Nein. When Jones was born in 1981, almost a quarter million (!) American troops were stationed in Germany. As of a few months ago, merely 40,000 called Deutschland home.
So where might our overseas talent pipeline be coming from, come 2034? We know where: Go east, young man.
For years now, the Obama administration has been trumpeting a pivot to Asia — and we’re definitely positively totally for sure gonna do that, just as soon as we can pivot away from Ukraine and Syria and Iraq and Nigeria and Sudan. (But it’s gonna happen, pinky swear.)
So what will the "pivot to Asia" mean for our soccer team a generation from now, after so many of our resources have been devoted to Indonesia, the Phillippines, and Japan? Can we possibly remain such a mighty footballing force with which to be reckoned? Or will it be goodbye to the American Outlaws… and Hello Kitty?
Let’s check the tale of the tape on four crucial metrics:
Fire power. With a rocket against Ghana last week, the joint top scorer in the history of the World Cup is a German, Miroslav Klose (tied with Brazil’s Ronaldo). His tally is 15 goals. That’s one more goal than the entire Japanese team has scored in the history of the World Cup. Uh-oh.
Air power. Let’s be honest — with the second-smallest squad in Brazil, Japan is not exactly winning a ton of headers in the box. Korea, on the other hand, is ranked seventh for height. (What did we put in the water over there?) I guess we know where our centerbacks and strikers are going to come from, at least until our allies in the East start producing as much human growth hormone as China.
Soft power. There’s something deeply wrong here. The German influence on American soccer has recently extended to… Filipino soccer. That’s right — Thomas Dooley, the German-American former captain of the United States, is now coaching the national team of the Philippines. Guys, it’s supposed to go the other way around!
Staying power. As Germany charges on to the quarterfinals — with the tallest team in the tournament, sniff — it’s an inauspicious fact that no Asian team remains. That’s counting Australia. And the four teams that made it to the tournament were culled from a pool of 47. Compare that to the six out of 10 that came from South America.
Is it too late to call for a "pivot to Argentina"?