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Soccer players not born in United States still can play for it

TAMPA — When the U.S. men's soccer team takes the field against Antigua and Barbuda on Friday night at Raymond James Stadium for the first match of an 18-month journey to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, it will do so with a decidedly Bavarian flair.

And not just because German legend Jurgen Klinsmann is its coach.

A quick look at the roster shows three players — Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson and Terrence Boyd — who were born in Germany or spent the majority of their childhood there. Johnson represented Germany at the youth level while Jones made three appearances for its national team from 2008-09 before both switched to the United States.

Then there is Danny Williams, who competed for the German under-15 squad before applying for a U.S. passport in September and debuting for it in October 2011, and Alfredo Morales, born in Germany to Peruvian parents.

The pair were among 27 invited to the U.S. camp in May before being left off the 23-man roster for the first two World Cup qualifiers. Morales is eligible to play for the United States because his father served in the military.

"I think it's a very exciting situation that more and more happens to us," said Klinsmann, who made 108 appearances, scored 47 goals and helped then-West Germany win the 1990 World Cup. "It happened in the past, obviously, with Mexican-Americans or with Central American-Americans. That's part of the melting pot here in the United States.

"But then, they mainly came through the U.S. environment with dual citizenship. Now for the first time, we have dual citizenship kids coming from a European background or even from a South American background."

When Klinsmann, 47, was named coach July 29, 2011, one of his first priorities was expanding the talent pool from which the United States could draw. So he took advantage of the U.S. military installations throughout Germany and the marriages of service personnel to German citizens. That's how Jones and Boyd became eligible. (Johnson has dual citizenship.)

Boyd scored 20 goals for Borussia Dortmund's reserve squad during the club season, helping it earn a promotion to the third level of the German Bundesliga.

"I heard somebody joke that maybe we should start a military base in Brazil so in 20 years we can get some Brazilian-American players," he said.

The credit for this Euro-centric shift can't be given entirely to Klinsmann, however. He's simply reaping the benefits of a German-American pipeline that was constructed largely by former U.S. youth coach Thomas Rongen (also the coach of Major League Soccer's Tampa Bay Mutiny for its inaugural season in 1996).

Klinsmann, though, has expanded that push, drawing from his experience coaching the famous German team Bayern Munich (2008-09) to recruit players who have the option of playing for two or more national teams.

"It's nothing unusual from our end because when you work in the club world, it's all about free agents," Klinsmann said. "It's trying to attract the best players from all over the world, and hopefully, they sign up for you.

"It's a different dynamic now than maybe 15 years ago, which I think is exciting. For me, it's not a disadvantage that I kind of have the connection to all these European countries in my background. I can always check on (the European players), see how they're doing."

. fast facts

World Cup qualifying

Round 3: Teams play a home-and-away round-robin schedule. The top two advance.

Group A: Antigua and Barbuda, Guatemala, Jamaica, United States

Group B: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guyana, Mexico

Group C: Canada, Cuba, Honduras, Panama

U.S. schedule

Friday: Antigua and Barbuda

June 12: at Guatemala Sept. 7: at Jamaica

Sept. 11: Jamaica

Oct. 12: at Antigua and Barbuda

Oct. 16: Guatemala

Friday's opponent: Antigua and Barbuda is located in the Caribbean, 1,333 miles southeast of Miami, with a population of about 90,000. The "Benna Boys" reached the third round by winning a group that included Curacao, Haiti and the Virgin Islands. They have never qualified for the World Cup.

>>fast facts

U.S. vs. Antigua and Barbuda

What: Qualifying for the 2014 World Cup

When/where: 7 Friday; Raymond James Stadium

TV: ESPN

Tickets: $22 to $199;

ticketmaster.com, toll-free 1-800-745-3000 or RJS box office (10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday).

Soccer players not born in United States still can play for it 06/02/12 [Last modified: Saturday, June 2, 2012 11:30pm]
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