The Players That Got Away: Internationals Who Could Have Played for the USA But Didn’t

american players who never played for usmnt

The United States Men’s National Team has a long history of dual-national or naturalized American citizens playing their international soccer for the Stars and Stripes.

The practice started in the early 1920s with the team loaded full of Scotsmen. A few decades later, Haitian-born Joe Gaetjens shocked the world at the 1950 World Cup when he scored the lone goal in the United States’ 1-0 upset of world heavyweights, England. 

The practice helped the United States get back into the World Cup in the 1990s with players like Fernando Clavijo, Roy Wegerle, Thomas Dooley, and Preki.

There was even a minor revolution in the American soccer community during the Jurgen Klinsmann era when the German recruited several European-born players who qualified to play for the United States. 

But we aren’t here to talk about those guys. We’re here to talk about the guys who got away; the guys who turned down, or flat out ignored their ability to play for the Americans.

Here you’ll see a starting eleven and a bench full of guys who were eligible in a variety of ways to play for the United States. Some of these men fled war-torn countries to grow up in America. Some of these men have relatives who were Americans. In one way or another, they were eligible. 

Some of the names will surely surprise you. Take a look at the list below:

Starting XI:

GK: Darren Randolph

Darren Randolph was eligible to play for the United States via his father, Ed Randolph. The senior Randolph was a professional basketball player and one of the first American imports to the Irish basketball league. 

Despite his dual-national status, it was always going to be Ireland for Randolph. He represented Ireland at every youth level before finally making his senior debut in September 2012. He battled Shay Given for the number 1 shirt for Ireland before taking over the job entirely upon Given’s retirement. He has over 40 senior caps at last count. 

While the United States has yet to produce a caravan of European level talent, the one area where the nation is particularly strong is at goalkeeper. Randolph would likely have had to split time with Tim Howard and Brad Guzan if he had gone American. 

LB: Jeremy Toljian

American fans are still crossing their fingers this one could happen. Jeremy Toljian was born in Germany to an American father and a Croatian mother. Tragically Toljian’s father passed away before he was born. Despite this, the right to citizenship remains. 

He has spent most of his career in Germany, playing for Hoffenheim and Borussia Dortmund, with loan spells in Scotland and Italy thrown in. 

Toljian is eligible to play for the United States, Croatia, and Germany, but has so far only played for Germany. He made appearances for various youth levels in the Germany set up, even the Olympic team in 2016, but has yet to feature for the senior team. Because of this, he is still eligible to play for the United States though he has rejected their approaches multiple times. At just 25, it could still happen. 

CB: Neven Subotic

Few of these hurt more than Neven Subotic. The Subotic family fled war-torn Serbia for Germany in the late 1990s before making there way to the United States when Neven was 11. Already a youth talent in Europe, Subotic continued playing in the States, even playing for the United States U17 and U20 teams. 

Subotic was living in south Florida and planning to play collegiate soccer at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Then, everything changed for Subotic and the National Team. Despite signing a professional contract with FSV Mainz 05 in Germany, he was controversially left off the US roster for the U-20 World Cup in 2007. 

The insult was deep for Subotic, and Serbia pounced. Within a year he had announced his official nationality switch and had played in his first match for Serbia at the senior level. He would go on to become one of the finest defenders in Europe, winning the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund. So far he has earned 36 caps for Serbia and played in the 2010 World Cup. 

CB: Brede Hangeland

Unlike most of the men on this list, Brede Hangeland was actually born in the United States. His father was an oil worker and the family had temporarily relocated to Texas while his father worked in Houston. The move last just two years and then the family moved back to Norway where Hangeland grew up. 

The towering Norwegian, now retired, had a terrific professional career, playing for Viking in Norway, FC Copenhagen in Denmark, before spending the bulk of his career in the Premier League with Fulham and Crystal Palace. 

Hangeland proved to be one of the best players of his generation for Norway, making 91 appearances from 2002-2014. His 1.99 m frame made him an imposing presence to go up against and a force to be reckoned with in opposing penalty boxes. He scored 19 goals for his clubs and 4 goals for his country in his professional career. 

RB: Trent Alexander-Arnold

Trent Alexander-Arnold could have played for the United States and more controversially could have played for Manchester United. Alexander-Arnold’s maternal grandmother once dated former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson before she moved to the United States and got married. 

Because of the dual citizenship on his mothers’ side, the best right back in the world could have been wearing the stars and stripes instead of the three lions. As it ended up, Alexander-Arnold was raised in Liverpool, helped lead the Reds to their first Premier League title ever, and will start for England for the foreseeable future. 

Currently, the United States has talent at right-back, with the recent commitment of Barcelona youngster Sergino Dest. Still, the Americans surely wouldn’t have turned Alexander-Arnold down if he wanted to switch allegiances years ago. Many Manchester United fans would admit, albeit through gritted teeth, that they would take him too. 

LM: Justin Meram

Meram’s parents immigrated to the United States from Iraq before Meram was born. A native of the Detroit area, Meram played collegiate soccer at the University of Michigan before turning pro and playing his entire career in Major League Soccer. 

Meram has had a terrific professional career, leading Columbus to an MLS Cup Final appearance and lifting both the MLS Cup and US Open Cup trophies with Atlanta United. He currently plays for Real Salt Lake. 

Despite his success in MLS, Meram didn’t get much attention from the United States camp, so in 2013 he began the process to become eligible to represent Iraq. Since 2014, Meram has made 33 appearances for Iraq and played a role in both their 2015 Asian Cup campaign and their 2018 World Cup Qualification campaign. 

CM: Thomas Delaney

Thomas Delaney doesn’t sound like a very Danish name, and it isn’t. Delany has both Irish and American roots on his father’s side. His grandfather is American, but his father was born in Denmark. It’s a complicated family history that makes Delaney qualified to play for Ireland, the United States, and Denmark. 

Delaney began his career in Denmark with Copenhagen before moving south to Germany. He spent two years at Werder Bremen before making the move to Borussia Dortmund, where he plays now. Delaney holds his own in a crowded and talented engine room for Dortmund. 

He has played over 40 times for Denmark, scoring 5 times. He was even included in the Denmark team that played at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. 

CM: Jonathan Gonzalez

Jonathan Gonzalez is a loss that will come back to bite the Americans over and over in the years to come. Gonzalez was born and raised in Santa Rosa, California to Mexican-American parents. He lived and played soccer in California until he was 15 when he made the move to the academy at Monterrey in Mexico.

The move to a Mexican club was not a problem, plenty of Americans do that. Gonzalez was playing for the various youth age group teams for the United States. Everything was fine. That was until 2017 when he was insulted by not being selected by USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann for a set of November friendlies with the senior team. 

Just a few months later, Gonzalez filed paperwork for a one-time switch to Mexico. One of America’s finest midfield prospects in decades had switched to their chief rivals. Still just 21 years old, Gonzalez has already made a Liga MX Best XI and made 3 appearances for the Mexican National Team. 

RM: Andy Najar

Andy Najar came to the United States at the age of thirteen, immigrating from his native Honduras to the metro-Washington DC area. It was after the move that Najar joined DC United’s youth academy and was even involved in the US Development Academy. 

Najar made his debut for DC United at 17 and starred in MLS until he moved to Belgian giants Anderlecht in 2013. With Anderlecht, he won the Belgian Pro League 3 times and the Belgian Super Cup twice. In 2020, Najar signed with the MLS club Los Angeles FC. 

In 2011, Najar announced he would be playing for his native Honduras internationally. He had yet to receive his American citizenship and chose to represent his country of birth rather than wait for his American citizenship. He’s appeared 36 times and played in the 2012 Olympics with Honduras.  

FW: Giuseppe Rossi

Giuseppe Rossi is the original “One that got away” for American soccer fans. Rossi was born and raised in New Jersey by Italian immigrants. Rossi was a prodigy from a young age, moving first to Italy in Parma’s youth academy at the age of 12, and then to Manchester United’s at 17. 

The USSF tried to get Rossi to play for the States, with then-head coach Bruce Arena offering Rossi a spot in the senior team ahead of the 2006 World Cup, but Rossi declined, stating his desire to play for Italy. He would earn 30 caps for Italy, scoring 7 times. 

Giuseppe Rossi’s career was devastated by injuries, and though he is still playing today at the age of 33, he never quite reached the heights many thought he would all those years ago. Despite this, Rossi would have made quite an impact for the United States. 

FW: Vedad Ibisevic

Similar to Neven Subotic, the Ibisevic family left their homeland of the former Yugoslavia during the wars in the late 1990s as the country was breaking up. The family eventually made their way to St. Louis in the United States. While in St. Louis, Ibisevic was named one of the country’s best high school soccer players. 

He went on to play a season of collegiate soccer at Saint Louis University before being scouted and picked up by Paris Saint-Germain. Ibisevic has carved out a quality career for himself in Europe, playing mostly in Germany and currently with Hertha Berlin. 

His native Bosnia and Herzegovina remained in his heart, pulling on the blue shirt at U21 and eventually senior level. While he was courted by the United States, it was never going to happen. He has scored 28 times in 83 matches for his country. 

Bench: 

Boaz Myhill (GK)

Boaz Myhill was born in Modesto, California to an American father and a Welsh mother. The family moved to England when Boaz was just one year old. Therefore, he was eligible to play for the United States, England, and Wales. 

The keeper had a long career in England, playing for Aston Villa, Hull City, West Bromwich Albion, as well as a few other stops on loan throughout the years. He played 391 professional games over a nearly 20-year career. Myhill represented England at the U20 level twice but was never called up to the senior team. This left him free to accept a call-up from Wales in 2008. Myhill appeared for Wales 19 times over 5 years. 

Isaac Brizuela (Winger)

Isaac Brizuela was born in San Jose, California to Mexican parents who were working in California at the time. The family returned to Mexico when Brizuela was two years old. He failed to disclose this information to the Mexican Football Federation until he was called up to the senior team. Despite this, he was still eligible to play for El Tri. 

He has played his entire career in Mexico, first for Toluca and then Chivas Guadalajara. Brizuela has appeared 14 times for Mexico. 

Gotoku Sakai (RB)

Gotoku Sakai is eligible to play for Japan through his mother, Germany through his father, and the United States through his place of birth. Sakai was born in New York City, but the family moved to Japan when he was just two years old. 

Sakai has made a career in both countries of his ethnicity. His career started in Japan with Albirex Niigata, but he was quickly bought by VfB Stuttgart. He played for Hamburger SV until 2019 when he returned to his native Japan with Vissel Kobe. Sakai has represented Japan 42 times, including at the 2018 World Cup.

Derrick Williams (CB)

Derrick Williams is the son of an American serviceman and an Irish mother but was born in Germany, so he had quite the decision to make when it came to international football. He made it to 25 before finally receiving a call up from a senior national team, and it was Ireland who came calling. He’s played 3 times for Ireland since then. 

The defender was developed in the Aston Villa academy before playing for Bristol City and his current club, Blackburn Rovers

Roger Espinoza (CM)

Roger Espinoza moved to the United States with his family when he was 12 years old. He played his college soccer at Ohio State and helped the Buckeyes to their first-ever birth in the NCAA College Cup Final. 

After turning professional, Espinoza has spent most of his career in Major League Soccer with Sporting Kansas City, with the exception being a short stint with Wigan Athletic in England. 

Despite acquiring American citizenship in 2008, Espinoza decided to represent Honduras internationally. He represented Los Catrachos 53 times, including at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, as well as the 2012 Olympics. 

Miguel Ponce (LB)

Miguel Ponce was born in Sacramento, California while his father was working building bridges. His family returned to Mexico without his father when Miguel was 1 but moved to Tijuana later to be able to visit across the border with him. His father arranged for Miguel to attend school across the border in San Diego, allowing Miguel to learn English. 

Despite this close association with the United States, Ponce decided to represent Mexico internationally. Being recruited by Chivas Guadalajara at 15 probably helped Ponce make his decision. He has played for Chivas for 10 years now and nearly as long for Mexico. He has just 12 caps for Mexico but a gold medal from the 2012 Olympic Games to show for it. 

Rodney Wallacec (LM)

Rodney Wallace was born in Costa Rico, but his family moved to the Washington DC area when he was 9. After starring at the University of Maryland, Wallace began a career in MLS with his hometown team DC United. He has spent nearly all of his professional career in Major League Soccer, with a short spell away in Portugal and Brazil in 2016. 

Despite being eligible to play for the United States, Wallace accepted the call up from his native Costa Rica in 2011. He has played for Los Ticos over 30 times, scoring 4 times. 

Yura Movsisyan (FW)

Yura Movsisyan was born in Azerbaijan to an Armenian family in the latter days of the Soviet Union. After the fall of the Soviet Union and during the pogrom of Armenians in Azerbaijan in 1990, his family fled the country and settled in the large Armenian community in Los Angeles. 

Movsisyan grew up in Pasadena and eventually was drafted into MLS, where he played for 4 seasons before he made the move to Europe. Movsisyan played in Denmark, Russia, and Sweden before returning home to MLS. During this time, he accepted a call up to the Armenian National Team. Thus far he has made 38 appearances and scored 14 times for Armenia.