Four years ago, Jermaine Jones made a decision that would have a significant impact on the U.S. national team.
In 2009, FIFA adopted a new rule that allowed players to switch national teams if they hadn't participated in any competitive matches. Jones, the son of an American serviceman who was born in Germany, sensed an opportunity.
Utilizing his dual-national status, Jones immediately called the United States Soccer Federation to see if then-coach Bob Bradley had any interest in him joining the American squad. A stellar defensive midfielder for Schalke, one of the Bundesliga's top sides, Jones saw a chance to help the United States improve after failing to break into the German national team. Bradley did his due diligence.
"Bob had asked his son Michael to speak with me. After we talked, Bob called me to meet me," Jones told Goal. "When he came, he was talking about commitment and I told him I would give him my 100 percent for the United States."
That decision would open up opportunities for more German-Americans with situations similar to Jones'.
Timothy Chandler, Danny Williams, Fabian Johnson and Terrence Boyd all followed in Jones' footsteps into the U.S. pool. Johnson and Chandler have become crucial starters for the Red, White and Blue, and Williams and Boyd are important squad players. Bundesliga starlets Joel Anthony Brooks and Shaun Parker could be next in line for the U.S. team, which is now coached by German soccer legend Jurgen Klinsmann.
Jones isn't sure if he played a role in his fellow German-Americans joining the United States, but the sometimes boastful -- and, shall we say... self-assured -- 31-year-old is happy if he made the decision easier for his colleagues.
"Now, you see guys like Danny Williams and the younger guys come. Yeah, I'm proud of this," Jones said. "America is a big country with a growing team and to have guys from the German league joining the team, it's the perfect way to step on and [improve].
"The four [German] players who play on the U.S. are good players in the Bundesliga, so I think it's perfect."
There have been a number of negative opinions voiced about the inclusion of German-Americans under Bradley and Klinsmann.
"Players on the national team should be -- and this is my own feeling -- they should be Americans," Bruce Arena, who is widely considered to be the best head coach in U.S. history, said.
The prevailing feeling is: If foreign-born players don't understand or appreciate American culture, why should they be representing the U.S. national team?
The situation wasn't helped when Chandler wavered back and forth over deciding whether or not to play for the USA before finally cap-tying himself to the CONCACAF nation in a World Cup qualifying match against Honduras earlier this year, though he denies that he was waiting for a call to play for Germany.
Still, Jones disagrees with the critics.
"For me, I'm happy to put the jersey on. I see myself as half German and half American," Jones said. "At that time [when I made my decision], I was glad to play in Germany but excited to get to go play in America for the U.S. national team. I was proud to be a German-American."
Jones' style of play and lifestyle also prove the contrary to many critics who claim foreign-born players are freelance mercenaries just looking for an opportunity. In his 28 games for the U.S. national team, there has never been a game in which he has been criticized for a perceived lack of effort. Heck, there's even a drinking game in his honor for his rugged play and hard tackles that lead to yellow cards.
In his offseasons away from Schalke, Jones and his wife and children reside in Los Angeles, where he has owned a home for three years. Jones says that he's thrilled whenever he returns back stateside as he feels like the American way of life is more comfortable than what he experiences back in Germany.
"I love the people of America. They are chill, easy going, nice people. Compare it to Germany, where if you are on the street and say to a stranger, 'Hey whats up, how are you doing,' they look at you like you are crazy. 'I don't know you.' In the States, it's more comfortable. I love that. That's why I bought my house there three years ago.
"I've always said once I'm done with Schalke, I'm coming to live in the United States. I have a lot of friends now in the United States."
In fact, Jones' plan to move to the United States could be determined by Major League Soccer. Jones is confident that he can have the same impact on the league that stars David Beckham and Thierry Henry had. (I did mention that he's a bit on the boastful side).
"I have one year remaining on my contract with Schalke and I've always looked at what's going on with MLS. Maybe I can help the MLS go on [and improve] like Henry and Beckham," Jones said. "I've played a lot of games in Germany and who knows what can happen. I'll see with teams in MLS, maybe I can [find a good fit] where I can help a team when my contract's done in Germany."
He added: "I've got my house in Los Angeles along with Germany. It's easiest to say then, 'OK, I want to play for Chivas USA or LA Galaxy.' But it's open, I don't put my eyes on one or two teams where I can play. My [U.S.] teammates tell me that there are a lot of good cities in the States."
In a country where its identity can often be complex, forged from a multitude of cultures and ideologies, Jones is no different from the thousands of people who arrive each year looking for new opportunities. Contrary to what has been written in some reports where the German players rate themselves higher than American teammates, Jones is happy to play for a talented team that features several American-born stars.
"We have a lot of players playing in competitions outside of America and in America, too," Jones noted before listing several American talents who could play in any top league, including Bradley, Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, among others.
Jones' willingness to assimilate is genuine, and based on his performances for the national team, he has lived up to the promise that he gave Bradley four years ago.
He has given his all and the United States and its fans should be happy to accommodate players like him.
Jones' feelings on U.S.'s potential to match other world contenders in soccer:
Jones has the unique perspective of playing both for a World Cup contender in Germany in friendlies and playing for the United States. When asked about what the U.S. has to do to match Germany in the future, here was what Jones had to say:
"I think in the U.S. now, soccer is a step lower [in popularity] from other sports," Jones explained. "Soccer in Germany is No. 1. In America, you have basketball, baseball, American football, you have a lot of options that push soccer down. I think it's difficult [to match a team like Germany]. But in the last World Cup, the U.S. proved it's getting better."
Goal readers rank Clint Dempsey as the greatest U.S. soccer player ever:
In the latest Goal poll, Dempsey slightly edged Donovan 1448 to 1373 votes. Just based on results, it's clear to see where Goal's demographics lie. Neither U.S. midfielder Claudio Reyna nor Alex Lalas garnered more than 227 votes and Cobi Jones and Eric Wynalda couldn't muster more than 96 votes. Those stats could point to either a younger audience or it could also suggest fans believe that this current generation of United States stars has eclipsed its predecessors in talent and skill. Personally, I wonder if this poll was taken in 2010, would the results be different?
Dempsey has had three stellar seasons in the English Premiership which could have swayed opinion. Factor that in with Donovan's recent U.S. absence due to injuries and his decision to contemplate retirement at the end of last year, it's clear that the discussion has changed significantly since the last World Cup.
Is Dempsey's season a disappointment if he doesn't play in the Champions League next year?
The biggest question for Americans abroad during this European season has been whether or not Dempsey is a disappointment during his first year at a top European club.
Personally, there's no argument. From the attacking midfield role, Dempsey is third on Tottenham's scoring charts behind Gareth Bale and Jermaine Defoe with 12 goals in all competitions and also added four assists. Yes, Dempsey's Premier League goal total is down from 17 goals at Fulham to seven goals this season, but there are plenty of factors behind that.
Last year at Fulham, Dempsey was the Cottagers' sole focus on offense and as result, he received a lot more touches on the ball. At Tottenham, the combination of highly coveted superstar Gareth Bale and English international Aaron Lennon on both flanks limited Dempey's opportunities to affect outcomes for Spurs. Factor that in with the natural slow adjustment to not playing in preseason due to a prolonged transfer battle between Fulham and Liverpool and there's a explanation of why the U.S. international's numbers didn't match his career year of 2011-12.
Bigger things should be expected of Dempsey's second year with Tottenham.
Reacting to Donovan's snub for the United States national team:
I'm torn on this subject.
In terms of ability and talent, Landon Donovan clearly deserves to be on the U.S. national team. But at the same time, I understand Jurgen Klinsmann's need to establish alternatives on the U.S. roster. It's hard to depend solely on a player who has featured in only eight of Klinsmann's 25 games in charge and has legitimately pondered ending his career at 31 years of age.
Growing up as a Knicks fan and seeing Patrick Ewing sit out certain regular season games (with large piles of ice on both knees, I should add) to save his energy and perform for playoff games makes me very aware of the value of veteran leadership. It might be in Donovan's favor to publicly clarify where he sees his future moving forward.
What to watch:
Copa Del Rey - Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid - Friday, 3:30 p.m. ET , BeIn Sport: It's the Madrid Derby attached to a major cup final game, what's not to love about Friday's matchup? With Jose Mourinho's time at Real Madrid coming to a crashing end, Los Blancos seem vulnerable to a possible upset. It wouldn't surprise me if Falcao proves his ability in this match.
Prediction: Atletico 3-2 Real Madrid.
Newcastle United vs. Arsenal/Tottenham vs. Sunderland - Sunday, 11 p.m. ET, FSC, FSC Plus: Sunday will determine whether or not one of the greatest offensive soccer talents in U.S. history, Dempsey, will make his debut in Champions League next year.
Both teams have had moments of brilliance and disappointments this season, but Wenger has displayed a coaching effort for the ages in rallying Arsenal to turn its disappointing year around in the second half of the Premier League season. Spurs looked assured of a Champions League place heading into March but those hopes were quickly tempered by an amazing domestic run by the Gunners. Arsenal is tied with third-placed Chelsea for the most points tallied in the Premier League over the past six weeks, gaining 14 points from four wins and two draws.
Tottenham is fourth behind Manchester City, splitting with three wins and three draws, with Spurs' recent draw against relegated Wigan proving to be the most damaging result for the side.
Due to goal differential, if both sides win, Arsenal will remain in the Champions League for next season. Tottenham will have pray for a upset from a very disappointing Newcastle side to have any chance at Europe's top competition next season. Fortunately for EPL fans, both teams will play at the same, meaning that neither will relent until the final whistle.
Predictions: Newcastle 0-2 Arsenal/Tottenham 3-1 Sunderland
New York Red Bulls vs Los Angeles Galaxy - Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, NBC: This is the closest match that MLS has to a classico... even without David Beckham. Despite Beckham moving on to greener pastures with PSG during the offseason, the Red Bulls won't need much incentive against the Galaxy, who have been MLS's vanguard for the past two seasons.
Prediction: Red Bulls 2-1 Galaxy