Fortunes tend to change very quickly in soccer. But Timothy Chandler's rise from semiprofessional to U.S. international has happened at a barely credible pace, even by the sport's manic standards. After an impressive debut for the U.S. against Argentina in March, Chandler was expected to be active for the U.S. in the CONCACAF Gold Cup this summer. However, after club team Nürnberg objected (on the grounds of player fatigue), U.S. coach Bob Bradley opted not to call up Chandler to its roster.
Supporters of Bob Bradley's U.S. team don't have to worry about a possible Chandler defection -- a spokesman of the German Football Association told SI.com that Chandler, who has dual-citizenship, is no longer under consideration for a call-up. (FIFA regulations allow players to switch sides before their first competitive match). "He was being looked at," the spokesman said, "but after his debut for the U.S .and his statements about identifying with America we don't see him playing for Germany in the future." It's Joachim Löw's loss, really. After Philipp Lahm's switch to the left-back position, Germany is crying out for a decent right back.
All of which makes Chandler's rise even more remarkable. A little over a year ago, Chandler was playing as right back for Eintracht Frankfurt's U-23 in Regionalliga Süd (Regional League South), Germany's fourth division. The last game of the season took the son of a U.S. service man and a German mother to the provincial Sportplatz Aspach-Fautenhau stadium of SG Sonnenhof Großaspach. 500 of the city's 8100 inhabitants turned out to see the hosts win 3-1 despite having a man sent-off with 23 minutes to go.
Chandler scored Frankfurt's consolation goal that day but just like his team, who would finish in eighth place in the 2009/10 season, he was going nowhere. Michael Skibbe, head coach of the Eintracht seniors, made no moves to promote him in view of his inconsistent performances. Aged 20, Chandler was running out of time. "He didn't have the full confidence (of the manager at the time) and didn't play that well either," said Dieter Hecking, the Nürnberg coach.
Nürnberg's scouts did see something in the player though, at least the U-23 scouts did. Chandler was brought in that summer to strengthen Nürnberg's youth team who also play in Regionalliga Süd. It had finished as runners-up that year but the transfer was hardly a move up for Chandler. In October, he found himself playing Sportplatz Aspach-Fautenhau again, this time in front of only 150 people.
Chandler scored again, too, to help his side to a 2-0 win. He was playing more regularly now but his steady progress was overshadowed by that of his defensive colleague, Philipp Wollscheid. The 21-year-old Wollscheid was outstanding at the heart of Nürnberg II's back four and did so well in his first-team debut in December that Hecking kept him in the starting lineup; Wollscheid didn't miss a single minute until the end of the season.
Wollscheid's excellent showings encouraged Hecking to give Chandler a try, too. After three substitute appearances, Hecking put him in the first XI in the home game against Stuttgart in February. He instructed Chandler to use his pace on counterattacks, and the youngster followed the order to the letter. He scored one goal and provided two assists in a 4-1 win that confirmed Nürnberg's status as one of the season's most surprising success stories. The club was meant to fight relegation but finished sixth, only narrowly missing out on a ticket for the Europa League.
"I can't believe it, this feels like a dream," Chandler told the TV reporter from SKY Germany breathlessly after the Stuttgart match. But this was only the beginning. Three weeks later, on the eve of his 21st birthday, he was lining up for the U.S. in front of 80 000 people against Argentina (1-1). "I was so proud to see the No. 12 jersey with my name on it," he told the club's website fcn.de. "I immediately called my mum to tell her all about it." Chandler was so excited about the Stars & Stripes shirt that swapping it for Lionel Messi's kit was unthinkable. "I'm not one for doing that anyway," he said. "I'd much rather keep my own shirts or give them family members." No one had told Franck Ribéry though. The France and Bayern Munich midfielder was surprised when he came away with nothing else but a polite "Thank you" and a handshake after seeking out his opponent at the final whistle in the EasyCredit-Stadium. with Chandler excelling as right back again. Ribéry was particularly frustrated that afternoon -- Nürnberg had kept Bayern to a 1-1 draw -- but acknowledged Chandler's strong performance. "He told me 'very good game,'" said the pleased Nürnberg defender.
To understand just how far he has come in recent months, it's instructive to look at the season review of the veritable Kicker magazine, an earnest publication that often doesn't believe the hype. Kicker voted Chandler the fourth-best wide defensive player of the Bundesliga, behind Philipp Lahm (Bayern), Lukasz Piszczek and Marcel Schmelzer (both Borussia Dortmund). And in terms of overall performances, only goalkeeper Raphael Schäfer and Wollscheid received better grades among his club mates. "It's a kind of a football fairy tale," Chandler told Nürnberger Zeitung.
"We wish and hope that he will progress further (next season)," said Hecking, who added that Chandler needed to play "even better and more efficiently." The 56-year-old coach is convinced that the player has the right mentality to cope with his rapid ascent, too. "He's a cool guy, he keeps his feet on the ground," he said. Nürnberg's only worry must be that he keeps improving to the level where the EasyCredit Stadion will become to small for him. Thomas DiBenedetto, the owner of AS Roma, has already marked his card, as it were. "Chandler has outstanding physical and technical ability, he'll never get tired running up and down his flank", said DiBenedetto last month. Nürnberg extended Chandler's contract to 2013 back in March but will find it hard to resist a serious offer.