Eight out of the 23 players representing the U.S. in the 2014 World Cup team hold dual-citizenship with the U.S. and another country. The manner in which these eight dual-citizens obtained U.S. citizenship confirms a strong stature for the United States men’s national soccer team (“USMNT”) within the global soccer landscape; it also confirms a weak stature of the domestic professional league, Major League Soccer (“MLS”), within the global soccer landscape.
The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (“FIFA”) rules require all players who wish to play for a country in an official international competition maintain “Permanent Nationality that is not dependent on residence” for that country. Citizenship is the only “Permanent Nationality’ that qualifies under FIFA’s rules for the U.S. The most common methods for a person to obtain U.S. citizenship are: (1) being born in the U.S.; (2) being born to a U.S. citizen abroad; or (3) naturalizing after spending a considerable period of time in the U.S., either through marriage (at least three years) or employment (at least five years), and by satisfying other character and civil requirements. A player holding multiple “Permanent Nationalities,” or who later obtains a new nationality, must choose one country, and he must either have been born in the desired country, have a parent or grandparent born there, or satisfied a personal residence requirement (residence requirements vary depending on the country).
Three of these eight dual national players obtained U.S. citizenship through birth in the U.S., (Aron Johannsson – Icelandic parents, Omar Gonzalez – Mexican parents, and Julian Green – German mother); five were born abroad to U.S. citizens, (John Brooks – Germany, Timothy Chandler – Germany, Mix Diskerud – Norway, Fabian Johnson – Germany, and Jermaine Jones – Germany); and none gained U.S. citizenship through naturalization.
Birth and Parentage
All eight dual-citizens had the choice to pursue an international career either with the U.S. or with another country due to either the location of his birth or that of his parents. Five of the players (Green, Brooks, Chandler, Johnson, and Jones) could have pledged allegiance to Germany, an historic powerhouse widely regarded as one of the favorites in this year’s tournament. Further, all five German players currently play professionally in Germany’s top league, the Bundesliga. The two other players with European ties were both highly sought-after by their native European nations, and both feature for prominent clubs in the top-flight leagues in other European countries (Johannsson with the Dutch club, AZ, and Diskerud with the Norwegian club, Rosenborg BK). The eighth dual-citizen, (Gonzalez), developed his career in the U.S., winning a collegiate national title at Maryland and two MLS championships, but now appears destined for a more lucrative professional career in Europe following this World Cup.
The odds are very much against the U.S. winning the World Cup this year as the team has been drawn into what pundits have labeled the “group of death” with Germany, Portugal, and Ghana. Simply winning one out of three games, or just not losing all three, would be deemed by many a successful tournament. The group of death label is due in no small part to the strength of the current U.S. roster, and the strength of this roster is due in no small part to the decision each of these eight prominent dual-citizens made to join the U.S. rather than the country of his other nationality.
No USMNT members gained U.S. citizenship through naturalization. Put another way, not one of the 23 best U.S. players in 2014 immigrated into the U.S. to pursue their professional career. Many foreign nationals have played at least a portion of their professional soccer with MLS, but these players are either at the end of their careers and have already pledged their allegiance to another country, or they simply were not good enough to crack the USMNT roster by the time they naturalized. The MLS simply cannot offer the same level of competition, compensation, or profile as the other professional leagues around the world.
The one person most responsible for cultivating all of the current dual-citizen talent on the USMNT may yet serve as an example for others to obtain U.S. citizenship through naturalization – Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Klinsmann is a German soccer legend, playing on the 1990 World Cup winning West German team, the 1996 European Championship winning unified German team, and coaching the 2006 German team to third place in the World Cup. He is married to a U.S. citizen, has two America-born children, and has been living primarily in the U.S. for the past 15 years. He wishes to apply for citizenship soon, stating last year that “Once I have time for all the paperwork, I will attack it.” Klinsmann’s German playing history bars him from ever playing for the U.S.; but perhaps as the stature of the USMNT rises with a naturalized U.S. citizen coach, so too might the ranks of the team’s players as more talented players across the globe see a pathway onto the team through the MLS.
Posted by: Andy Finkle, Associate Attorney