If Timmy Chandler takes the field on Wednesday, he will officially be bound to the United States for the duration of his international career. Fans of the U.S. team will be thrilled, and Jurgen Klinsmann’s policy of “always leaving the door open” will have proved hugely successful.
The phrase you will read over and over again is that he is “cap-tied,” but what does that mean exactly, and why does it matter?
It starts with the fact that Chandler – like many others before him – is a dual citizen of the United States and another country (in this case, Germany). Any player who has dual citizenship can choose to play for either country, but at a certain point he will be committed to only one. Here’s how:
If a player represents one country at the senior team level in an official competition (such as a World Cup qualifier), then they no longer have the ability to play for the other country. If they play in a friendly competition for one country, they can apply to FIFA for a one-time change of association. The first example for the United States was Jermaine Jones, who had represented Germany at the senior team level in friendly matches.
There is one catch to the change of association: Once you change, you can never go back.
There are different rules that apply if a player has represented one country at the youth international level, meaning Under-23 and below. If that player appeared in an official competition (such as the Olympics, a U-20 World Cup, etc.), they can apply to FIFA for a change of association as long as they were a citizen of both countries at the time they represented the first one. A good example in this case is Fabian Johnson, who won the U-21 European Championship with Germany. Because he was a citizen of Germany and the United States at the time of the tournament, he was still eligible to switch.
If a player only appeared in a friendly competition at the youth international level, then no change of association is required and they remain eligible to play for either country.
This gets us back to Timmy Chandler. Born to an American serviceman and a German mother, Chandler claimed citizenship for both countries and played for youth national teams in Germany in friendly competition, so he stayed eligible for either country. Check.
Chandler has played for the U.S. nine times in friendly games at the senior team level, beginning against Argentina in 2011. Since he has not played in any official games since then, he could still apply for a change of association to play for the Germany senior team. If he steps on the field against Honduras, that all ends and we have him forever – or as long as the coach keeps picking him!
Now what made Chandler eligible to be a U.S. citizen in the first place is a whole other story. We’re just happy to have him …