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National Squad as Hometown Team? (or The Sound and Fury of Preston Zimmerman)

Jurgen-Klinsmann-001A hastily scribbled thought in response to @PZimmerman88 and his Twitter rant…

The furry from Preston Zimmerman’s Twitter rant was profound.

“I thought it would be cool getting Klinsmann as US National team coach, but I think it’s actually worse than when Bradley was coach….”,

Zimmerman blasted from his account. This was succeeded by a series of tweets revealing his distaste for recently appointed USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s calling in of several German-born players for the upcoming camp. Zimmerman felt frustrated that many of the players called in to represent the United States allegedly couldn’t even speak English as they negotiated their commutes from the airport to the training grounds. These players had not grown up in the States and didn’t embrace the Red, White, and Blue – they merely chose to play for the US because they weren’t good enough for the German National Team (solid piece by Brian Straus here).

It begs the question: what is the responsibility of the National Squad in this day and age?

Growing up in the final days of the now-defunct NASL, I didn’t have a club to cheer on in my childhood. MLS wouldn’t form until I was in college. As a soccer-lover, the only thing I had to root for at that level was the US National Team.

I have always felt that the national team is the closest entity we have left in international futbol to a hometown club. As professional teams grown in stature and revenue, international contracts become more and more prominent. If you root for Red Bull New York, it’s highly likely most of the players on the roster won’t be native New Yorkers or New Jersyites. They’ll be French-born Thierry Henry, Jamaican-born Dane Richards, or Estonian-born Joel Lindpere. Wonderful players, but far from local heroes.

Thus, the national team gives us something to cheer for on the sporting front that feels like a local club. We can celebrate native Texan Clint Dempsey’s brilliant nose for goal or Jersey-born Juan Agudelo’s gazelle-like agility and clearly chant that they are ours. They belong to us. They’re our hometown heroes.

I want the US National Team to win the major competitions just as much as anyone.

Zimmerman’s rant begs an interesting question. Perhaps it’s the same question that our soccer-identity is asking right now.

What does it mean to be American? In a young country built by recent immigrants, do we yet have a clear sense of identity? Who are we? What do we resonate to the rest of the world?

It’s this very lack of concrete identity that makes it difficult for many transplanted immigrants now living in the States to completely embrace the American team. If the American identity is all about accepting the differences of others and allowing easy cultural exchange without denigrating any belief, how do you quickly construct a national sporting identity that – on some level – says “we are right, you are wrong?”

If the American identity is so flexible, then perhaps it makes perfect sense that many of our hometown heroes might never have grown up in the hometown.

I will say this: all debate becomes academic once World Cup qualifying comes around in mid-2012.

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