There have been two notable responses to Abby Wambach’s declaration of distaste for “foreign guys” playing for the U.S. men’s national team. One was an impassioned and thoughtful defense of such players by someone who falls into that category and the other was a seconding of Wambach’s opinion by a fellow retiree who seems to still be feeling personally aggrieved by the foreign guys she was talking about.
First, there’s Mix Diskerud. Born in Oslo, Norway, Diskerud played for his birth country up to the U-19 level, then switched to the U.S., where he has carved out a spot for himself since making his debut in 2010. On Instagram, he wrote the following:
I guess there are pros and cons in limiting the base for selection.
You have just singled out a few of us. But why? Why are we your single oddballs?
Think about who you try to disenfranchise. Because if you see us as the group to disenfranchise, then at least let it be known who we are.
Stats and history will show — “our group” has more than others produced volunteer and defending soldiers for what, by us, is willingly chosen and gathered to be worth protecting: Your nation.
Wish you would accept it as ours too.
I know we’re not quite equal. From “your group of people” the country’s Commander in Chief need to be selected. However, other than that — you and I share something not unique, but constitutionally earned, a birthright to defend this nation as an American. Wherever we go. Led by whoever has earned, by democratic process, his/her right to lead, on or off the field, in peace, in war, in practice, or in any other kind of pursuit of your happiness.
Enjoy your retirement. But stay active. We all need you. Oddballs or not.
That should have been enough to show the error in Wambach’s way of thinking and put the matter to bed, but former men’s team captain and famed exclusion from the 2014 World Cup squad Landon Donovan decided this was his chance to remind everyone that he’s still upset about missing out on one last World Cup.
“I wouldn’t feel as good about it if we had a team full of players that didn’t really grow up or didn’t really identify as being American,” Donovan said. “It’s nothing against them. Fabian Johnson is as good a player as there is maybe in the Bundesliga right now and I love him and he’s a nice kid. I love Jermaine (Jones), really nice kids and they’re good teammates and I like having them on the team. But if we had a team full of players like that it just wouldn’t feel the same as if we developed a team then that went on and won a World Cup. There’s just something more special about all of us being a part of it and growing it and building it. If it’s win at all costs, that’s fine, but in my opinion it’s not win at all costs, it’s win in a way that makes us feel proud of it.”
Donovan also said that he told Klinsmann, when he was cut from the 2014 World Cup team, that, “There’s at least a few players that are on your World Cup roster that are going that don’t care in the same way that I do. I grew up as a part of this whole system. I feel like it is a part of me and I think there’s players in that locker room who if you go three and out in the World Cup they’ll go back to their club teams and won’t even blink twice, whereas if we go three and out I’ll be devastated and I think that’s a piece that’s important.”
He then carried the discussion over to Twitter, where he got a bit more specific.
It’s difficult to see Donovan’s words as anything but the position of an embittered man who refuses to come to terms with the realities of the world. Players born and/or developed abroad have been playing for other nations since the early days of international football. The United States’ last goal in the first World Cup was scored by Jim Brown, who was born in Scotland and didn’t move to the U.S until he was 19, three years before the tournament took place. Argentina born Real Madrid legend Alfredo Di Stefano played for three different national teams and most of his caps were with Spain.
Nations big and small do this on the regular. The rules allow for it and now regulate it, forcing players to eventually commit to just one nation. It’s not something Jurgen Klinsmann invented to corrupt the sanctity of the modern U.S. national team and its youth development program.
But as Donovan said on Twitter, he’s not against ALL foreign born players wearing the shirt. Just those who don’t identify as American. It’s unclear how he wants to sort out those two categories, though. If he thinks players should take an exam to determine their Americanness or if he wants them each to care for a bald eagle for a month before they can make their debut. It’s also unclear if he wants to be the one who tells American service members stationed abroad that their children shouldn’t play for the country they risk their lives to defend. Or if he thinks only people who identify as American should be allowed to live in the United States, a country built by immigrants.
As for his point that teammates have told him they’re only in it for the World Cup opportunity, again, this is just sour grapes. The claim that he wants it more than other players is the irrational argument of someone who can’t accept that things didn’t go their way. That’s just not how it works. The coach decides which players will give him the best chance to win out of those available to them and that’s who they take. Don’t like it? Tough luck.
If a goalkeeper wanted to prevent a goal Donovan scored more he wanted to score it, would he agree that it shouldn’t count? If he studied all night for an exam but got a worse grade than someone who didn’t study at all, should the grades be changed? Who gets to quantify each person’s level of caring? Someone competing with them for the same position?
Despite what Donovan says, it is win at all costs. The game doesn’t award points for which team is the most patriotic or developed the most players within its own borders. If you’re not sufficiently proud of a team that uses the best players at its disposable as effectively as possible, then that’s on you.
And if this thought process is eroding the chemistry of the U.S. national team, then it’s xenophobia and other personal biases, not identity politics, that are the problem.