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Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Andy Najar's choice: Bruce Arena's take

By Scott French

The big news in MLS this week was 18-year-old D.C. United midfielder Andy Najar's decision to commit to play for Honduras' national team rather than for the U.S., choosing the country of his birth over the land he's called home since he was 13.


Last year's MLS rookie of the year said he followed his heart, and the decision makes sense: He's a green-card holder but would need at least two years to receive U.S. citizenship and become eligible for the Yanks; with Honduras, he can play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in June and, if the Catrachos qualify, in next year's London Olympics.

Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena, whose team Saturday takes on Najar and D.C., says he hasn't followed the winger's situation, that he has "no background on this whole process with him and his thinking and the two federations that are competing for the player's services," but he's been in the middle of such a tête-à-tête, back when he was the U.S. national team's coach.

Arena and U.S. Soccer pursued New Jersey-born Giuseppe Rossi when he was an 18-year-old forward at Manchester United, back in 2005. Rossi's father moved him to Italy, to join Parma's youth program, when he was 12, and the player has gone from success to success and now stars for Villarreal in Spain.

Rossi resisted U.S. entreaties and committed to Italy.

"We did our best to convince him to play with the U.S.," Arena said Wednesday, "but his preference was Italy, and that's the way it goes."

Players are eligible to play internationally for their country of birth, the birth country of their parents or grandparents, or for the country for which they are a citizen. The U.S. has benefited from this rule, bringing in several European sons of U.S. servicemen -- Hall of Famers Thomas Dooley and Earnie Stewart were the most successful, and current U.S. coach Bob Bradley's pool includes three German-born players whose fathers were in the U.S. military -- and scores of players who were born elsewhere and moved to America as children, teens and, in some circumstances (Chivas USA assistant coach Carlos Llamosa, for instance) as adults.

Some U.S. fans have applied the "traitor" epithet to Rossi, who was a late cut from Italy's 2010 World Cup roster but is likely to represent the Azzurri in Brazil in 2014. Arena says that's "foolish."

"If you're holding two passports, you have a choice. You have a privilege," he said. "That's like saying Andy Najar's a traitor. ... Or Thomas Dooley or David Regis [a French-born defender married to an American who played for the U.S. in the 1998 and 2002 World Cups]. Half the U.S. team now, a bunch of guys who don't even speak English.

"For me personally, I'm opposed to that stuff, but that's me. Rossi's a different situation. He's an American. He's an American, not an Italian. For me, hopping around the world and trying to find a player that has a parent [from the] U.S. military, which happens to be the case nine times out of 10, I think that's against the spirit of everything. But whatever."