The choice facing dual nationals has increasingly become a significant topic in the soccer world. Questions of family, friends, tradition and loyalty all weigh on a young player who must make a choice that will have a huge impact on their future.
While a newer phenomenon to many other countries around the globe, the U.S. Men’s National Team has long had its share of players who were eligible to suit up for two countries – Hugo Perez, Thomas Dooley and Earnie Stewart to name a few.
With dual nationals becoming more prevalent on the international scene, a significant number of players fit into that category in the U.S. pool. An increasing amount of those are eligible to play for the USA’s soccer archrival, Mexico.
In fact, since 2006 a total of 10 players that were eligible to suit up for El Tri instead chose the United States. The most recent pair, goalkeeper William Yarbrough and defender Ventura Alvarado, took their first U.S. MNT bows during a pair of European friendlies this past March. Their encore will see the Liga MX duo prepare to face the nation in which they play their club soccer while entering one of the top rivalries in world soccer.
Born in Aguascalientes, Mexico, to American missionaries, Yarbrough spent most of his life south of the border. After earning his first cap for the U.S. on March 31 during a 1-1 draw against Switzerland, Yarbrough will now have the opportunity to face the country of his birth and residence – a thought he is still digesting.
“I don’t know what it’s going to feel like,” Yarbrough told ussoccer.com. “When you grow up in an American home, my parents would always watch the U.S. National Team. But of course, whenever Mexico played, it was shown everywhere. I grew up watching both teams and when the U.S. or Mexico played, I’d want them both to win. When they played each other, I never really had an incline towards a national team. It’s a question a lot of people would ask me. I was born and raised in Mexico but I knew where my family comes from. I was sort of stuck in between.
“In the end, I know the great rivalry that goes on between Mexico and the USA and I play for the USA. All I can say is that I’ll defend the colors of the United States with everything I have. I’ll do everything possible to beat Mexico.
Goalkeepr William Yarbrough makes a save in training ahead of the USA's game against Switzerland in March.
While the Mexican-born Yarbrough said family and friends were completely supportive of his choice to represent the U.S., Phoenix-born Alvarado, who appeared against both Denmark on March 25, and Switzerland on March 31, said he had people pushing him to go the other way.
“It’s difficult having family and friends that wanted me to play for Mexico,” the Club America defender said. “It’s hard but it was always going to be my decision to make and I was very happy to get capped. It was motivating. I met a lot of great guys, great players and the entire team was very welcoming.”
Ultimately, Alvarado said that some of the family and friends that wanted him to go the other way will be in San Antonio for the match, supporting him and the team he’s playing for.
“My parents and friends are going. Even the ones that wanted me to play for Mexico are going and will be wearing the U.S. jersey. They’re happy to wear the U.S. jersey and support me against Mexico.”
The Mexico match comes in the midst of a purple patch for Alvarado, who has become a regular on the back line for Club America over the last year. Last week, the 22-year-old center back appeared in a 6-0 shellacking of Costa Rican side Herediano, helping the Mexican giants earn a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League Final against Major League Soccer’s Montreal Impact.
The lone U.S. player on a Club America roster that features Mexican internationals Paul Aguilar and Moisés Muñoz, Alvarado said his teammates were pleased for his international debut despite the heated rivalry between the two sides.
“They were excited. Some of them wanted me to go for Mexico too, but they’re happy for me right now. They’re looking forward to playing against me. It’s just fun, I’m really motivated to go and play against some of my friends.”
Newly minted USA center back Ventura Alvarado in his debut training camp with the USMNT this past March.
The same sentiment was true for Yarbrough and his Club León teammates after he received his U.S. call.
“The group I’m in, a lot of us have been together for three or four years,” he added. “When anyone gets a call up, it’s of great pride to us knowing that someone on your team is going to the national team. For Mexico’s last friendlies, José Juan Vázquez was on the national team and now there’s a possibility we could play against each other. Jokes are never out of the picture, but always in a healthy way. It’s the way we get along.”
While there’s plenty of history that comes with the U.S.-Mexico rivalry, the two MNT youngsters draw on the more recent past when asked about their favorite memories.
“I remember watching the 2011 Gold Cup Final when Mexico beat the U.S. (4-2) and the last qualifying match in Azteca where the U.S. earned a 0-0 draw,” said Yarbrough. “You can just see the reaction of the fans in both games. It says right away what it means to both countries when they play against each other.”
“Seeing the U.S. beat Mexico for the first time in Azteca in 2012 when Michael Orozco scored,” Alvarado recalled. “It was a friendly, but one that had a lot of meaning. Really all of them do. They’re always really intense games, really spectacular, hard matches. I’m looking forward to being a part of this one.”