Photo by ISIphotos.com
If the thought of having Rodney Wallace suit up as the U.S. national team's starting left back one day gets you excited as a USA fan, you shouldn't give up on that possibility actually taking place.
While Wallace is still several years away from attaining the citizenship necessary to play for the United States, he is open to the possibility of playing for the USA, especially if his native Costa Rica doesn't come calling.
Wallace is one of three MLS players I wrote about in a recent piece on foreign-born MLS players with the chance (though in some cases slim) of playing for the U.S. national team. Toronto FC goalkeeper Stefan Frei and New York Red Bulls striker Macoumba Kandji are the other two players who have either lived in the United States long enough to potentially attain citizenship or, in Kandji's case, publicly express a desire to play for the U.S. national team.
Here is a closer look at each of their situations, with respect to the U.S. national team:
Wallace is not only the most appealing of these three prospects in terms of U.S. national team needs, he's also the most likely of the three to actually suit up for the United States. The issue with Wallace is time, as in the wait he still has to endure to become a citizen. Despite living in the United States since he was nine, Wallace only recently received his green card. I've been told that he could be forced to wait as long as five years for citizenship, while some believe that intervention by the U.S. Soccer Federation could speed things up (an assertion USSF president Sunil Gulati denied when asked over the weekend).
In talking to Wallace last week, he sounded like someone open to either national team option, but someone who wasn't in a hurry or losing sleep over the decision. Wallace is just 20 years old after all (he turns 21 next month), and has yet to hear from either side. The U.S. national team has one thing working in its favor, the fact that Costa Rica happens to boast Gonzalo Segares, the best left back in MLS, as its left back. It's a safe bet that if Costa Rica had the USA's left back issues Wallace would have gotten called up months ago.
Worst-case scenario regarding Wallace for the USA? Costa Rica qualifies for 2010 and starts courting Wallace with a potential World Cup roster spot. Best-case scenario? Wallace hears some good news on the length of his wait for American citizenship and joins the USA in time to be a fixture on the 2014 World Cup team at the age of 24.
Stefan Frei's case sounds the least likely of the three even though he's actually closer than the other two to being able to secure American citizenship. Frei (who attended high school and college in the USA after being born and raised in Switzerland) wants to play for Switzerland and sources tell me that the Swiss have already been in touch with Frei's representatives, which is basically the signal for the door to shut on the United States. The only way the USA can get into the Frei race at this point is if the Swiss snub him, something I can't see happening even though Switzerland has three national team goalkeepers in their mid-20s.
Those of you USA fans who think, "So what, we have goalkeepers", think again. There is a considerable dropoff after Tim Howard and Brad Guzan, and I would argue that Frei is ahead of where Guzan was at the same point in his career. Frei is starting for a good Toronto FC team at the age of 22 and seems destined for a big European transfer in a few years.
Kandji's case is the toughest of the three to gauge because of his unique immigration status. Kandji was recently granted political asylum after years of legal wrangling, and it is unclear what sort of timetable Kandji is on now after spending six years in the United States. In a best-case scenario, the INS could count Kandji's time awaiting asylum toward his time toward residency and he could be a year or two away from citizenship. That seems like a long shot though. If Kandji is forced to wait five or more years for citizenship, he won't be playing for the USA. He will choose instead from either Senegal or Gambia.
People who haven't seen the Red Bulls might not think it's a big loss for the USA, but Kandji is an exciting forward prospect with a combination of size, speed and skill unlike any player in the current U.S. national team pool. He's still a bit raw, but the ability and potential are there for Kandji to develop into a real impact player. It just doesn't seem likely that impact will be made with the United States.
What do you think about these three players? Think the USA could use them? Hoping Wallace waits and joins the U.S. pool? Could you see a Jozy Altidore-Macoumba Kandji forward line playing for the U.S. team a few years from now?
Share your thoughts below.