Apple pie. Joe DiMaggio. The Republican Party. Freedom. All of those things are indisputably American, yet pale in comparison to our eternal pastime: fawning over young & athletic men. The recruitment process is followed avidly by fans, and successful stories enter the realm of folklore. International soccer is no exception, with many supporters keeping a close eye on dual nationals.
The US national team has featured immigrants, dual citizens and recruits from countries since its inception in 1492. So when Jurgen Klinsmann accepted the coaching job in 2011, it came as little surprise when he promised to woo over and integrate young Hispanic soccer players. During his first press conference, Klinsmann spoke about the importance of Latin players to the creation of an American soccer identity: “There’s so much influence coming from the Latin environment over the last 15, 20 years that also has to be reflected in the U.S. national team”. Two years later, he more clearly stated: “The more Latino players that we have, that can add a special quality to our program. No matter what age group, we will go after them.”
To Klinsmann’s credit, he has gone and snagged a few Hispanic players. Jurgen gave Greg Garza and Joe Corona their first US caps in friendlies, and his Gold Cup rosters have also featured Hispanic players. However, when it came time for the big dance, few were invited. His 2014 World Cup roster featured only three Hispanic players: Alejandro Bedoya, Omar Gonzalez, and Joe Corona. Joe Corona did not even make the final roster. It’s no wonder some fans ask, “where has all the Hispanic talent gone?”
South, my friend. South.
A glance at Miguel Herrera’s World Cup roster shows reveals missed opportunities. Two players in El Piojo‘s final squad, Miguel Ponce and Isaac Brizuela, were both eligible for the US team. Could the US have used Brizuela’s pace and trickery on the wings as opposed to the competent-if-not-flashy duo of Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya? Yes. He could have at least been an attacking sub. What about the speed of leftback Miguel Ponce, who whips in a devilish cross? Yes. In fact, Ponce and Brizuela tick all the boxes for players allegedly coveted by Klinsmann: they are fast and technical and offensive-minded. They also would have filled holes in the USMNT roster.
But they never will. And the situation may not improve. A recent list published by ESPN Deportes reveals 20 Mexican-Americans eligible to play for the US, many of whom featured for the US at various youth levels. Five, though, had never been called into a US camp despite being on a Liga MX club’s roster. Yes, Klinsmann has called into camp Leon goalkeeper William Yarborough and Club America centerback Ventura Alvarado. However, Yarborough originally said he felt 100 percent Mexican – until Miguel Herrera implied he was nothing special. So, Jurgen called in a castaway for a position where the US is not exactly lacking in depth. Happy happy joy joy.
Alvarado, though, represents a coup – a centerback who is both strong in the air and good with his feet. At only 22 years of age, he started both legs of the Liga MX final when America defeated Estudiantes in the 2014 Apertura. He’s also worked his way up the Club America ladder, playing and starring for the U-17’s and U-20’s. He’s basically about as blue chip a stud as you can find in Liga MX, and he’ll soon don the red, white and blue.
Despite big words, Klinsmann is capping a goalie and a center back – hardly the stuff of legends. While one could argue that Hispanic players have simply not passed the grade to star for the US, the zero-sum nature of the game disproves this. Both Ponce and Brizuela could have helped improve the U.S. team, but now won’t have that chance. So long as Jurgen keeps his gaze firmly fixed on the lower tiers of German soccer, expect to see more Hispanics call the Atzeca home.