Abby Wambach wants to ask foreign-born players on the USMNT “how much they love their country.” Yes, really.
Here’s a quote from her much-publicized interview with the New York Times:
“It feels a little bit odd to me that you have some guys that have never lived in the United States that play for the United States because they were able to secure a passport. To me, that just feels like they weren’t able to make it for their country and earn a living, so they’re coming here.
“But do they have that killer instinct? I don’t know. I’d love to sit down with Mix Diskerud and some of these other guys and talk to them about it.
Maybe we should get Alejandro Bedoya, and Jermaine Jones, and John Brooks in that room too.
But there’s more from Wambach:
“I’d love to understand how much they love their country. I believe they can have love for both countries, but I’d love to hear it, and I think so many other people would, too.
We should ask Tim Howard if he thinks Jermaine Jones, born in Frankfurt, Germany and the son of a U.S. serviceman, loves the United States and playing for the USMNT.
And while we are at it why don’t we also question Jozy Altidore’s decision not to place his hand on his heart while the American anthems plays.
We don’t because it would be ignorant and misinformed. For the record, Jozy doesn’t place his hand on his heart during the anthem for religious reasons.
Dual-nationals playing for the USMNT is nothing new. But what about immigrants who want to embrace the USMNT as their own?
Through the Looking Glass
The 1994 World Cup was a pivotal moment for soccer in the United States. Despite gaining some popularity, the world’s sport is overshadowed in the US by football, baseball, basketball, and hockey – North American creations all of them.
Wambach’s comments got us thinking, though.
What happens when an immigrant’s former national soccer team kicks off against his or her newly, or not so newly, adopted country’s squad? Is there internal conflict, pangs of guilt or strife if their former country beats their latter on the pitch? Or vice versa? And what of their children? Do the children of immigrants automatically root for their parents’ homeland side on the pitch? Or do they assert independence by rooting for their own native land? Does past soccer glory of an immigrant’s country heavily influence which country to support, old or new? For example, if an immigrant makes the trek to the United States from Uzbekistan, where they have won zero World Cups and have no major soccer accomplishments (no offense), does that make her or him more likely to pledge allegiance to the USMNT than someone who hails from Uruguay or Italy, each of which boasts multiple World Cup trophies?
So we followed Wambach’s advice and asked how much they love their newly adopted country.
A One Man Focus Group
Luiz Pereira emigrated from Brazil in 1988. He followed in his older brother’s footsteps, settling in the Washington, D.C. area. Like most journeys, Luiz did not meet with immediate success upon his arrival to the Unites States. To compound his intense homesickness during his first year was his lack of access to watching soccer. An avid fan of São Paulo club Palmeiras growing up, it was a challenge back then to watch many clubs or national teams on television.
Of course, those were the pre-Internet days and the days of basic cable, when you were at the mercy of the cable providers and couldn’t stream soccer matches on your phone. And for cable providers, soccer wasn’t a profitable endeavor here in the US at the time, although the World Cup would air every four years.
Whenever he saw someone wearing that familiar canary yellow shirt of his country, Luiz says, “It was always a chance to start a conversation, not necessarily about politics or anything, but just talking about the game – the sport, some old teams and players – that was a joy.” He even joined local amateur soccer leagues comprised of immigrants from various countries, but ultimately gave it up in order to be healthy enough to work the next day.
Fortunately, in 1994, the United States hosted their first World Cup tournament. Working full-time in the construction industry during the summer, Luiz wasn’t able to attend any of Brazil’s matches live, ao vivo. Still, he got together with large groups of fellow Brazilian ex-pats to watch their country’s matches. Luiz recalls, “It was an opportunity to feel like I was back home again. The nostalgia. The uniforms. The national anthem – I always sang it every day in school. And especially because I used to play soccer as a kid, watching Brazil was really emotional and took me back to my childhood.”
A seleção did not disappoint Luiz or his fellow ex-pats as they notched their fourth World Cup victory in 1994. “It was awesome,” remembers Luiz. “Crazy, a carnival again. I remember driving down the road, and seeing all the Brazilian flags flying outside car windows and people honking their horns and hanging out in the streets. It made me so proud.”
A pleasant byproduct of the 1994 World Cup, the United States’ Major League Soccer began play in 1996. The establishment of Major League Soccer finally gave Luiz access to a major local club team, D.C. United, in which he could follow and watch on a regular basis just as had rooted so religiously for Palmeiras back home in São Paulo. Two decades later, Luiz remains an ardent D.C. United supporter.
Now an American citizen, how does he feel whenever Brazil plays the United States? “I’m able to separate the passion. I will always cheer for Brazil first, but I won’t be heartbroken if the US beats Brazil like I would be if we lost to any other country, especially Argentina and Colombia. I cheer for the US against everybody except Brazil.”
From Zeppelin to the ’94 World Cup and Beyond
“We come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs flow.”
Led Zeppelin captures one region of the globe from where immigrants hail in their 1970 classic tune, The Immigrant Song.
Those who have never dared to reside, or even venture, outside the safe womb of their own country’s borders can scant imagine the courage of immigrants not only to make the initial journey, but to stay and make it a successful one.
To many making the move stateside, a lifelong love affair with soccer serves as a vital connection to their past and cultural roots. And if a strong connection to soccer and the USMNT helps an immigrant to acclimate, and in general to lessen the immense burdens of homesickness and culture shock, then doesn’t that truly make the beautiful game all the more beautiful?
Perhaps we could ask Tab Ramos or Fernando Clavijo. Or Jozy’s parents.