Switching nationalities isn't as common in soccer as it is in, say, the Olympics, but a rule change by FIFA, soccer's governing body, has made it easier. And that may have a big impact on the U.S. national team. Last week Schalke 04's Jermaine Jones, who was born and raised in Frankfurt and is one of the top defensive midfielders in the German Bundesliga, announced that he wanted to play for the United States. A 27-year-old son of a German woman and a U.S. serviceman, Jones was capped three times by Germany in 2008. But since all of his appearances were in exhibition games, he is permitted under FIFA's newly relaxed rules to apply to represent the U.S.
Jones barely missed making the German team for last year's European Championship, which means he could be an important addition to the U.S. as it looks toward the World Cup next June. If Jones completes the switch, he wouldn't be the first foreign-born soccer player to use his citizenship ties to join Team USA. German-born defender Thomas Dooley made two World Cup teams (in 1994 and '98), as did Martinique-born left back David Régis (in '98 and 2002). Moreover, in recent years naturalized Brazilians have become important players for such countries as Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Poland, Mexico, Croatia and Japan.
Prior to the rule change such players could only switch national teams before their 21st birthday. Now they can apply one time at any age. "There was interest from [Jones's] end a couple years back through the agent and the lawyers," says U.S. coach Bob Bradley, whose son, Michael Bradley, has played against Jones in the Bundesliga. "But he was older than 21, so at that point there was nothing that could be done." Now that's changed. And judging by the U.S.'s 3--1 loss to Italy on Monday at the Confederations Cup in South Africa, the Yanks could use all the help they can get on the world's biggest soccer stages.