Saturday 4 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
# American Dream
Go west: what happens when Trap looks to US-born players?
As Giovanni Trapattoni flicks through a New York-area phonebook in search of ‘Irish-sounding names’, American soccer blogger Elliott Turner asks ‘where will all this recruitment business end?’

WHEN AN ITALIAN coach of the Irish national soccer team scouts American players, the question must be asked: has globalisation jumped the shark?

The resounding answer: not even close. And here’s why.

The forces of capital have long spun ’round the globe, inspiring blurry shifts in population and values. Centuries ago, Americans plundered the Native Americans, yet today complain about the pacific, incoming neighbors from down south.

Nativism knows no limits nor page in history – the Irish who embarked in New York several decades ago found themselves greeted by signs implying they need not apply for work. Little did those brave souls realize that their last names and ensuing familial trees would be scoured by an Italian’s assistant, desperately searching for Dax McCarty‘s ties to the isle.

A glance at this little branch provides a chuckle, but when we step back and see the forest, should we be terrified?

The land of international soccer is riddled with paradoxes: the World Cup is the premier sporting event, a massive party, and generates major revenue – yet the stars of the show, the players, generally don’t get paid. If your team qualifies, you may get a bonus. If your team advances past the group stages, you may also get a bonus. But why would anybody forgo their summer break for a significant cut in pay?

A sense of national pride. What is globalisation quickly eroding by producing more individuals with ties to multiple countries? A sense of national pride.

Where will the world turn next? How will players elect their national side? I have an idea. A disturbing peek into the future. One must only glance across the pond to see up-close a similarly bizarre land where athletes labour “for free” and shadowy sources rake in the profits. What is this wretched land of management-first capitalism run amok? Collegiate athletics.

In the US, athletes turn 18 and, due to restrictions on entry to the professional leagues for American football and basketball, turn to college. The result is ugly. At least for the players.

The colleges and NCAA make millions, but as for the athletes – instead of earning a decent paycheck for their services, they must find a way to cheat and “attend” suspicious classes, all in the struggle to remain “academically eligible.”

But how do these promising talents decide which university to nominally attend? Academic prestige? Campus aesthetics? Wrong. Bribes. And the NCAA posthoc punishments amount to slaps on the wrist, impotent in the face of a culture of silence.

Will soccer be different? Sadly, FIFA has shown incompetency in the face of similar pressures. FIFA revised their rules as recently as 2009 to allow players of dual nationality to switch sides if they have not played in a competitive senior match.

Crafty coaches will cap young players with the senior squad, just to cover their bases. But hoodwinked players beset by soccer-less international breaks will lobby FIFA for even more lenient standards.

If Dax McCarty’s goalscoring form for FC Dallas continues deep into the playoffs, he may soon get calls from Bob Bradley, the US manager, and Trapattoni. But I’m more worried about the late-night meeting in the hotel lounge, cigar smoke littering the air and vague promises being made.

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Your grandmother lived with an Irishmen in New York for a few months back in 1935? And how would you feel about a loft in Manhattan?

If FIFA plays blind watchman to this temptation, the alternative also shocks current sensibilities – the destruction of the single-nation national team. Imagine Roy Keane starting alongside Alexi Lalas, the US-Irish team preparing for obliteration by the Baggio-Romario led Brazilian-Italian 20-time champions.

Granted, players with claims to three nationalities will still cry at press conferences as they opt for Greece-Denmark over Turkey-Germany (it’s about playing team and being in the coach’s plans, after all). The Israel-Palestine team’s friendlies will be anything but.

But, even getting over the uneasy sense of the ground revolving beneath our feet, practical problems arise – will the Keane/Lalas team play their home games in Croke Park or Columbus, Ohio? And before we reach that day, will Dax’s fiery red hair don the red, white, and blue or shamrock green?

And will the green only line the jersey, not his back pocket?

Elliott blogs about soccer at