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Passion for the USMNT badge: Assessing Tim Howard's comments

Some said that Tim Howard went "full Wambach," but did Howard have a point? He did—and a good one!

Belgium v USA: Round of 16 - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

Colorado Rapids’ goalkeeper Tim Howard made the news on some comments regarding the makeup of the USMNT squad that evoked similar sentiments echoed by former USWNT captain Abby Wambach. First, Howard's comments:

"What I think (Bruce Arena) will add is this ability to truly believe in the shirt and I think we lost that a little bit over the last couple years. . . . I think it slips away because you bring in ... [pause] Jurgen Klinsmann had a project to unearth talent around the world that had American roots. But having American roots doesn't mean you are passionate about playing for that country" (Source).

We live in an age where any mention of nationalism is met with raised eyebrows. Given the pushback he received, Howard clarified to ESPN FC:

"Some of them are [dual nationals], but I think others are players who have their roots here in America too. It's not exclusive to them because some of our dual-nationals have been brilliant. Jermaine Jones has been a rock for our national team. He's been one of the heartbeats. Fabian Johnson has been brilliant for us. So, no, that wasn't aimed at any one person in particular."

Comparing his comments to Wambach's comments about "bringing in foreign players... isn't something I believe in." Immediately, Mix Diskerud warned her to "be careful who you disenfranchise." In regards to Howard's comments, USMNT teammate Jermaine Jones (maybe you've heard of him, Rapids fans? My memory is a bit foggy) chimed in:

It's dangerous stuff where you have to be careful what you're saying. With all the respect for Timmy, I feel it's not if you're half American or full-American. It's more what you have in here [your heart].

As many know, Jones was born in Germany, and has admirably for our USMNT. (It should be said, however, that we Rapids fans understand the importance of loyalty to the shield, which many questioned with Jones' quickly deleted tweet after the Rapids lost to the Seattle Sounders in the MLS Western Conference Final.)

The question at hand is, did Howard have a point? Did he say anything incorrect? No. Let's flesh this out a bit:

  1. Howard was absolutely correct that it is about commitment to the badge. In regards to the USMNT, given how long he's stood in goal for our national team, and his track record in being fair, he can speak to matters that we could only speculate.
  2. Having said that, the question remains: how do you measure loyalty and commitment? Does being born in the USA mean you're all red-white-and-blue patriotic for the badge? Just because you're not, does that automatically mean you're not all in? Let's not be hasty.
  3. Read again what Howard said, "But having American roots doesn't mean you are passionate about playing for that country." This statement applies, no matter where your "American roots" originate. Just because you were born in American doesn't necessarily make you any more patriotic than an American born on an army base in Europe. If you read all of Howard's comments, it becomes more obvious that this is what he meant.
  4. Klinsmann has a history that could fill a book on how American soccer is behind the rest of the world, even (real or imagined) docking players for playing in MLS. How much did this play into the perception of Klinsmann's reverse Wambachesque comments? As one person commented recently, it was as if Klinsmann looked at the player's passport first. The perception is that those who chose to play in MLS took a step back in their development. Fortunately, that didn't seem to affect Clint Dempsey or Jermaine Jones' status with the USMNT, but Klinsmann's comments didn't help. The context of the comments are in reaction to how Klinsmann selected players and (again) how he poo-pooed American soccer.

In reading splices of some comments along this line, we must be careful not to assume all things xenophobe. He makes a great point: whoever puts on the USMNT jersey and represents the badge should be all in! His comments compared to those of Wambach's are worlds apart.

What do you think? Should Howard have just let well enough alone, or did he have the credibility to address an issue such as this?