This was always going to be a terrible World Cup for Americans, seeing as our boys choked like a bunch of chump-ass pissbabies and didn’t qualify for the tournament. However, the tournament hasn’t been completely devoid of American soccer excellence. It’s just that none of that American excellence actually plays for America.
For instance, take a gander at that picture up there. The grinning face in the center of the frame is Japan’s Gōtoku Sakai, and he’s so happy because Japan had just upset Colombia in their first match of the World Cup. In doing so, he became the first American to win a game at this World Cup. Come on you yank(s)!
Sakai, you see, was born in New York City in 1991. Sakai’s parents—his father is Japanese and his mother German—moved the family to Japan a couple years after their son was born. He’s spent most of his playing career in his mother’s homeland of Germany. Currently he captains Hamburger, who were just relegated from the Bundesliga this past season.
Because of Japan’s restrictive nationality laws, Sakai isn’t technically an American citizen—at least not in the eyes of Japan. Japan essentially outlaws dual citizenship, though the specifics of how they go about enforcing that are apparently complex. Regardless, though, the U.S. probably still considers him one, and if he wanted to he could probably get himself an American passport without too much trouble. And so because of his place of birth, and because of the real USMNT’s humiliating failure, we feel comfortable throwing our support behind Sakai as the shining example of what American soccer can be at its best.
Sakai isn’t the only player at the World Cup with American ties. Costa Rica has a few players who either currently hold or would’ve at one point qualified for green cards owing to their years spent in MLS. (Lots of players in the Costa Rican squad have spent time stateside.) What’s more, Costa Rican wide man Rodney Wallace is a full-blown American citizen. He was born in Costa Rica but moved to Washington, D.C. when he was nine, and has spent the bulk of his life and playing career in the U.S.
Wallace went to local elementary, middle, and high schools in the D.C. area, went to college at the University of Maryland, and was drafted by D.C. United. Besides a year playing abroad, Wallace has spent his entire career in MLS. He currently plays for NYC FC. Wallace has 24 caps for Costa Rica, though he didn’t make an appearance in their 1-0 loss to Serbia last week. Here’s a pretty cool interview with him where he talks a little about his history and ribs his fellow Americans about how they didn’t make the World Cup while he did:
While neither Wallace or Sakai have yet played in the World Cup itself, there is another man out there in Russia with American roots who is a key member of his national team. Denmark’s Thomas Delaney himself isn’t an American, but he could get American citizenship if he wanted because both his father and his grandfather are U.S. citizens. Delaney spoke about his American past and the time he was approached about maybe playing for the U.S. instead of Denmark with the website Yanks Abroad a few years ago. Here’s what he said back then about whether he would consider ever switching national allegiances and suiting up for the U.S. in the future:
“I guess yes,” Delaney said when asked if the US would be an option in the future. “I’m convinced I want to give it a shot to make the national team for Denmark. I feel like I’m a Dane and that should be my priority. But I’m very impressed by the evolution [of the game] in the United States. Both from what I’ve heard from people I know and from Caleb Porter. It’s a great development for them. When I read about them and see the players, it’s a good team.”
That interview was in 2012, two years before the World Cup in Brazil that the U.S. played admirably in and that Denmark didn’t qualify for. It would take him another year to break through with Denmark’s national team, but break through he has. Now the 26-year-old midfielder is a starter for Denmark, helping lead them to a big 1-0 win over Peru in the first match of this World Cup, while his would-be American teammates are sitting on their asses at home watching. It seems like he, Wallace, and Sakai all bet on the right horses by committing to their respective national teams rather than ours. Pretty sure Aron Jóhannson wishes he could say the same. I pray to God I’m not writing this same post about Jonathan González in four years’ time.