Other Sports

Familiar foes: Many connected to U.S. national soccer team have German ties

The playing of the national anthems is an emotional pregame ritual at any World Cup match, but it will be especially moving Thursday afternoon in Recife before the game between the United States and Germany because the German connections on the U.S. team run deep. Very deep.

It is safe to say there has never been a team in tournament history with so many members who could belt out every word of the opposing anthem.

Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. coach, is a German soccer legend, star of the West German 1990 World Cup champion team, and coach of the 2006 German World Cup team. Joachim Loew, the German coach, is Klinsmann’s protégé.

Jermaine Jones, John Brooks, Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler and Julian Green have All-American names, and any casual fan just tuning into the U.S. team would assume those players were born and raised in the United States. In fact, all five — sons of American servicemen and German mothers — spent almost their entire lives in Germany. Green was born in Tampa but grew up in Germany.

Even the team’s special advisor, Berti Vogts, is a household name in Germany. He played on Germany’s 1974 World Cup champion team and later coached the national team.

“It’s very special, it’s something that doesn’t happen every year and probably not anymore in the lifetime, so you try to enjoy this moment,” Klinsmann said Tuesday. “I’m looking forward to seeing all of them. The staff is pretty much the same as I left it, when I stepped out in 2006. It’s going to be emotional, there’s no doubt about it. But I also will enjoy it.”

Jones, the energetic midfielder who scored in the 2-2 tie with Portugal, said he will close his eyes Thursday and soak in both anthems, but once the whistle blows, he will bury his German heritage for 90 minutes and pour his heart, soul and body into his American side.

“I always say I am proud of both countries,” said Jones, 32, who played for the German Under-21 team, played three exhibitions for the German national team and was one of the final cuts for the German team that played in the 2008 European Championship. He made a living with Bundesliga clubs Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke 04. In 2009, he was recruited by former U.S. coach Bob Bradley to play for the American squad, and he might have played for the United States in the 2010 World Cup were it not for injuries.

“My mom is German, I grew up in Germany and they gave me a lot,” Jones said.

“There were my first steps; and I played there my first games, first leagues, played for Germany. I can’t say bad stuff about Germany. [German coach] Jogi Loew gave me a chance to play for Germany, one of the biggest football countries in the world. It’s tough to play for that country. I have my games [with Germany], but I’m still proud, too, when I hear the anthem from the United States. I will take every anthem, and I will close my eyes and let everything go through, and then after I’m going to make my game.”

The other players’ German roots also run deep.

Johnson, 26, started for the German under-21 European Championship team in 2009, and played alongside stars Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Jerome Boateng and Mats Humels. His father, Charles, a Michigan native, played basketball for Bayern Munich, but Johnson’s first love was always soccer.

Two years ago, while having dinner in Munich, he got a call on his cellphone from Klinsmann.

“It was a big surprise, and I got very happy,” Johnson told the Miami Herald last year.

“I grew up in Munich, watching Jurgen play for Bayern Munich and the German national team, so having him call me was a big honor. He told me he had seen me play in Germany and wanted me to come to camp with the U.S. team, see how they do things here, and see if I want to be part of the U.S. team.”

Johnson held dual citizenship because his mother, Sylvia, was born in Germany to an American father and German mother, and his father was stationed in Germany with the U.S. military. He had vacationed twice in the United States, in New York and Miami. He knew he wasn’t in the German national team plans, so he opted to wear the red, white and blue.

Before joining the U.S. team, Chandler had visited the country just twice, both trips to Chicago. In all five cases, the players’ fathers served in the U.S. military and the sons always felt a kinship to this country, even if their English was limited.

The addition of the German-Americans, Iceland dual citizen Aron Johannsson, and Norwegian native Mix Diskerud is the result of a concerted effort by the U.S. Soccer Federation to cast its net far and wide in search of talented players with American blood — and passports.

It hasn’t come without controversy. Critics said these dual nationals are not “true” Americans, and that national team spots should be given to players who came up through the U.S. system and have resided on U.S. soil. Klinsmann feels differently.

“Other teams around the world are also melting pots,” Klinsmann told the Miami Herald when he started putting together this team. “Look at the German team, with players from Tunisia and Turkey and Poland. The French team in ’98 had a lot of African influence.

“It’s all part of globalization. American families are spread out through business and the military, but they are still Americans. It’s a wonderful thing, and we are tapping into it. These guys grew up in football-driven countries and went through a technically different kind of educational path than typical U.S. players. They fit in well, and the blend of backgrounds can make us a stronger team.”

The Germans sometimes speak German among themselves. When Brooks scored the game-winning goal against Ghana, Jones congratulated him in German. But when other players are around, it’s all English.

“The guys have integrated very well,” midfielder Graham Zusi said. “This team has really connected and bonded. There are no cliques, there’s no segregation by any means. It’s just a great group.”

The United States needs a win, a tie or help from Ghana and Portugal to reach the next round. That alone makes it a huge game. But the German angle makes it even more intriguing.

“It’s a special moment because it’s the team that you started building, the group of people that you got around and they are all in place still, so I will give them big hugs before the game and then leave to the side,” Klinsmann said. “We’re going to, hopefully, get the job done and then we’re gonna give a farewell hug again after the game.”

Related stories from Charlotte Observer