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Many Nations, One Team: On dual-nationals and being American

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Apparently we're still talking about this, so here it goes: there will always be dual-nationals playing for the U.S.A, and that's not a problem.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

In the week prior to the USMNT's opening Copa America matchup with Colombia, much focus has been paid to Alejandro Bedoya and his Colombian roots. He's described the game as special, and admitted to wearing a Carlos "El Pibe" Valderamma wig and cheering on Los Cafeteros at the 1994 World Cup in the United States with his family as a kid. Now a grown man and representing the United States, no one really questions Alejandro Bedoya's loyalty to the United States' cause. He did grow up here, after all, went to Boston College before jetting off to Europe, and has always worked hard for the U.S. when called upon.

The issue of dual-nationals and their play for the United States, however, is still one that's debated in U.S. soccer circles. Take a couple of these tweets from Matt Doyle's Twitter the other day.

It should be stated right away that 140 characters is not nearly enough to lay the groundwork for a proper discussion on race and nationalism, and neither of these commentators believe that foreign-born national players have no place on this U.S. team (on the contrary, one proclaims his love of Fabian Johnson and John Brooks). These comments were more heavily aimed at the domestic development system (of which using a bevy of foreign-born players may be symptomatic) than a specific condemnation of using dual-national, foreign-born players, and I'm not trying to call these people out. There's nothing wrong with wanting our development system to improve.

But there is an undercurrent of thought that commonly aligns with these types of statements, the same undercurrent that led to Abby Wambach and Landon Donovan's respective comments on dual-nationals and their place within the United States setup, that still suggests using such foreign-born players is something less than desirable. Sometimes it's difficult to differentiate between a wish for improvement and xenophobia masked as a concern for soccer in the U.S. The idea that foreign-born players are a "solution" or, if our development system were to improve, it would be "realistic to have none" essentially relegates foreign-born players to things, objects, and hired guns that couldn't cut it for their other country.

To choose to cheer for a national team is to proclaim an identity. I cheer for the United States not because I'm always proud of the things it does or because I necessarily think it's the country most deserving of my praise. I cheer for the United States because those players represent where I'm from, the land I am a part of. When I cheer for the U.S., to some extent I'm cheering for myself, my friends and my family. It follows that I would like the players playing for the U.S. to represent my country, my friends, my family, and myself.

So why do we give a pass to someone like Bedoya, but a Fabian Johnson or John Brooks will always be the subject of scrutiny and must continually prove they have national pride and a hunger to succeed with the national team?

That's my current Facebook profile picture. You'll probably notice two things about it immediately: 1) I'm wearing camouflage pants, and 2) that I have a Copa America banner on the bottom featuring the Brasilian flag. For the record, I am cheering for the U.S. first and foremost in the Copa, but the flag also isn't just a troll. My mother was born outside of São Paulo to American parents. She grew up there. Her first language was Portuguese and she didn't live in the United States until she got to college. She's lived in the States ever since. To suggest that either country means more or less to her, though, would be stupid and offensive. The first soccer match I remember watching was the 1998 World Cup final. I have plenty of memories of my Mom screaming at the television in Portuguese and English whenever Brasil and the United States would play each other, actively rooting for both teams to do well (in both languages!).

I share that story because I think there are still many people who have some sort of imaginary line of what is "American enough." I think the German Americans don't get a free pass because they haven't lived in the United States for very much of their lives (if at all), there's an accent to their English, and people suspect that they'd be playing for Germany if they were good enough (which is its own can of worms). I talk about my mother because if there is one thing I know from being raised by a foreign-born dual-national, it's that no country has a monopoly on National pride; that just like Alejandro Bedoya can feel pride and kinship with Colombia despite being born in New Jersey, Terrence Boyd can feel pride and kinship with the United States despite being born in Bremen.

Foreign-born dual-national players are not something to be "gotten rid of" or "not relied upon." They just "are." People have more than one nationality sometimes. It happens. And if there's talent in the pool that wants to play for the United States, we better rely on that talent, because Lord knows we need all we can get. Does the domestic development system need to overhauled? Obviously. But an overhaul to the point and purpose that most people seem to want (namely, getting rid of pay-to-play and adopting a reversed system like most other countries) would ironically enable even more dual-national (even foreign-born!) players to possibly play for the United States one day. Dual-nationals are inevitable, probably more so in the United States than in many other countries. But they're American, by legal right and furthermore by their own personal choice to play for the country. They just are. Get over it.

Credit: Kirby Lee, USA Today

We see this kind of far-right, national protectivism type of thinking in many other countries and tend to scoff at it as if we still don't have the same kind of problematic patterns of thought in our own fanbases. Some people were angry in Germany about Jerome Boateng and Ilkay Gundogan being featured on candybars depicting German national team members because of their foreign roots. Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy have repeatedly been victims of racist abuse from fans of their own national team. But just because we don't call Bill Hamid or prospective USMNT member and Gambia-born Kekutah Manneh or "future terrorists" because of their foreign roots and choice in faith doesn't mean we still don't have some work to do when it comes to sizing up dual-nationals and deciding for ourselves, from our tv sets and computer screens, whether these people are "American enough."

I don't claim to have all the answers here. I am a decidedly privileged white male who speaks a smattering of Spanish and no Portuguese (no, my Mother didn't teach me, and yes, I'm bitter) just trying to figure out how to be a decent human being day-to-day. But I am absolutely sick of people judging for themselves which players "care" enough about the U.S. and which do not. If part of a player's decision to play for the U.S. was professional advancement, that does not mean that simply being American was also part of that decision. And if a person has an accent in their English, all that means is that they most likely can speak more languages than you. We don't get to decide if Jermaine Jones, Tab Ramos, Timmy Chandler, Jovan Kirovski, Earnie Stewart, or Edgar Castillo are American enough, and we also don't get to decide how motivated or unmotivated those players are to play for the United States. The only people who actually know that are those players themselves, and if they are unmotivated and it shows in their play and decision-making, I'm all for not calling them up anymore. But I, sitting in my office in Virginia, don't decide or know that. The only thing I do know is that all of the aforementioned players are American, and have chosen to suit up for the United States. And that is enough for me.