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In Game Against Germany, Team USA Bears A German Strain Of Its Own


From NPR News, this ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. When the U.S. takes on Germany tomorrow in the World Cup, it will do so not only with a German coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, but also with five dual-national German-American players who introduce themselves in videos put out by U.S. soccer.

JOHN BROOKS: I'm John Brooks.

JERMAINE JONES: I'm Jermaine Jones.

FABIAN JOHNSON: I'm Fabian Johnson.

JULIAN GREEN: I'm Julian Green.

TIMMY CHANDLER: I'm Timmy Chandler, and this is my story.

BLOCK: Their stories are nearly identical. All five players are the sons of African-American serviceman and German mothers, and they've lived nearly all their lives in Germany. Grant Wahl has written about the German influence on the U.S. team for Sports Illustrated, and he joins me now from Recife, where the U.S. will play Germany tomorrow. Grant, welcome back to the program.

GRANT WAHL: Thanks, Melissa.

BLOCK: And why don't we talk just about eligibility? First of all, all five of these players have dual citizenship so they could play for either Germany or the U.S. Is that right?

WAHL: Yeah, they could play for either country, and in fact, some of these guys have played for the German national team before, but at the youth level or only in friendlys. If you don't point in an official competition - a non-friendly situation, you are still not tied to one country, and you can make a one-time switch to another one. That's what Jermaine Jones did. That's what Fabian Johnson also did.

BLOCK: Well they've certainly made their mark - these German-American players. Of the four U.S. goals so far, two of them came from the German-American players.

WAHL: Yeah, they've had a tremendous influence on this team. Jermaine Jones may be the best player for the U.S. in this tournament. And if it's not him, it might be Fabian Johnson. They're only starting, but they're playing very well in difficult conditions here, in the most difficult group in the tournament. And John Brooks scored his first goal for the United States at the most opportune of times - late in the game against Ghana in game one for the game-winner.

BLOCK: It is striking, Grant, that all of their fathers were American servicemen, but according to what Jermaine Jones told you, that is not an uncommon thing at all for a certain generation in Germany - to have a German mother and an African-American father.

WAHL: Yeah, Jermaine actually kind of laughs about it when he tells the story of when he sees a guy that he thinks is German but has an American-sounding name. He'll ask him the same questions, and he gets the same responses every time. You know, are you half-American? Yes. Was your father a serviceman? Yes. Are mom and dad still together? And then the answer is usually no, although of the five German-Americans on this U.S. World Cup team, Fabian Johnson is the only one whose parents are still together. They've remained together living in Munich.

BLOCK: Let's talk a bit about the role of the coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, here. He's a soccer legend in Germany. Has he done more than most coaches to bring in dual nationals to this U.S. team?

WAHL: Well, Klinsmann is not the first American coach to bring in dual nationals, even German-Americans, to the U.S. team, but he has taken it to a new level. And one way he's done that is by convincing players who actually could have the chance to play for the German national team to choose the United States. And part of the way he's done that is by using his star-power in Germany. Klinsmann is a national hero in Germany after winning a World Cup in 1990 as a player with them. And some of these players like Julian Green have told me that one reason they chose to play for the United States was the magnetic pull of Klinsmann, who's really acted as a sort of recruiter, like you'd see in college sports, to get these guys to decide to play for the U.S.

BLOCK: What is the dynamic on the U.S. team? Do the German-American players hang out together? Do they speak German together?

WAHL: You know, the German-American place do hang out together to an extent. They do speak some German, but they've also gone out of their way to not speak German all the time or just hang out with each other. I've had some of these German-American players tell me that they feel part of this team that has dual nationals from other countries, as well. You know, you have an Icelandic-American on this team. You have Mexican-Americans on this team - you know, Norwegian-American - Mix Diskerud. It's a very American-type situation, I think, and pretty reflective of the traditions of our country.

BLOCK: Well, Grant Wahl thanks so much for talking to us. Have a great time tomorrow.

WAHL: Thank you.

BLOCK: Grant Wahl is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated. He's in Recifi, Brazil, covering the World Cup. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.