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It Seems To Me . . .
Rachubka, Ricketts and Cunningham demonstrate complexity of determining soccer nationality.
By Robert Wagman
(Thursday, April 26, 2001) -- Over the past weeks, I have received numerous e-mails concerning the eligibility, or non-eligibility, of three players for the United States menís national team. So I thought it a good idea to look at each of the three cases, and then, in my next column, address more broadly the subject of eligibility and some changes that might be forthcoming from world governing body FIFA.
Michael Ricketts is an emerging star in British soccer. The 20-year-old, 6-foot-1 striker with the first divisionís Bolton Wanderers, started the season on the substitutes bench, but when he entered matches, he made a habit of scoring winning or tying goals.
He became Boltonís "super-sub," and then a starter, standing fifth among first-division marksmen with 21 goals (18 in league play, three in Cup games) in 44 matches. He elicited interest from a number of Premier League teams, but third-place Bolton has spurned all offers on the assumption the Wanderers will be promoted to the Premiership next season, and that he will be a star of the future.
Rickettís father Barry, a long-time resident of the U.S. lives in Patterson, N.J., leading to conjecture that he is American and thus, as least technically, so is his son. That would make Michael eligible for the U.S. national team. As with Earnie Stewart and Thomas Dooley before him, an American father would present a gift to the U.S. Soccer Federation, in this case a fleet striker who has an uncanny nose for the goal. U.S. coach Bruce Arena could not, or should not, resist such a present.
The situation escalated when Bolton communications manager Bernie McLoughlin said that the club was waiting to hear from Arena about Ricketts joining the U.S. teamís World Cup preparations. Then the player himself told the British media, "My father still lives in New Jersey and I have quite a lot of family over there. And yes, I could play for America one day."
Well, no, he wonít. The simple answer is Ricketts is not a U.S. citizen, does not have dual citizenship, nor is he eligible for citizenship under any special classification. To become a U.S. citizen, he would have to emigrate and go through the same lengthy process as any applicant.
Despite his residence in the States, Barry Ricketts is not a U.S. citizen, nor are other family members. Both of Michael Rickettsí parents are British. Barry Ricketts has a green card and landed immigrant status, and he night eventually become a citizen, but that would not affect his sonís citizenship status.
From his home in Patterson, Barry Ricketts sounded amused by the whole thing. "I'm familiar with the rumors about Michael playing for the U.S., but I just don't see how that's possible," the father said. "He was born in England and he's lived there all his life. His mother is also English and still lives there. I was also born in England. I've lived here in the States for 20, almost 21 years. But Iím a permanent resident, but not a U.S. citizen. Iím very proud of what Michael has done this season. It would be fun to see him play for the U.S., but he is only eligible to play for England and I certainly hope he does some day."
Arena, and U.S. Soccer, have no designs on Ricketts. "We donít see any way he is eligible, nor any easy way he can become eligible," Arena said. " Itís really a non-issue."
Then there is the case of goalkeeper Paul Rachubka, who is clearly an American citizen, having been born 19 years ago in San Luis Obispo, Calif. After spending four years coming up through the Manchester United youth system, Rachubka seems poised to become the keeper of the future for the English Premier League power. After United suffered a rash of injuries in recent weeks, the Rachubka came off the reserve squad to start in two Premiership and one League Cup matches, including a 2-0 shutout of Leicester City.
Rachubkaís parents are English, on an extended stay in the U.S. when he was born. According to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, Paul is an American. Ask Britainís Immigration Service if he is English and he will be also claimed as a citizen. This represents a true case of dual citizenship.
Even though the U.S. has a number of fine young goalkeepers such as Adin Brown and collegian D.J. Countess to back up veterans Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel and Tony Meola, Rachubka could play a factor in who will become the American keeper of the future. At least for now, no one is pressing the issue of if he is eligible to play for the U.S.
In the last under-20 world championships in 1999, Rachubka was Englandís backup keeper, playing in a final, meaningless after England had been eliminated from advancing. Because he played in the match, under current FIFA regulations, he is now only eligible to play internationally for England.
This probably is a moot point. Rachubka is, after all, only 19 and has his whole career ahead of him. He is American only through an accident of birth, and it seems clear he hopes some day to wear Englandís jersey. If he continues to develop, that desire might not be all that far-fetched.
Contrast this to Ricketts who clearly does not have a future with Englandís full national side. Things might change, if he emerges as a prolific scorer in the Premiership, but, ask him today, and would jump at an offer from Arena.
Asked Rickets today to choose a national side and he likely would jump at the chance to play for U.S. coach Bruce Arena. In fact, when his citizenship situation had not been clarified, he said, "I would very much like to talk with Mr. Bruce Arena about playing for him."
Then there is the situation with the Columbus Crew striker Jeff Cunningham whose call-in to a U.S. training camp near San Diego in January raised a few eyebrows of those unaware of the fact that the Jamaican-born Cunnigham is in the midst of the lengthy process of becoming a U.S. citizen, he hopes as early as this summer.
Considering Colombian-born defender Carlos Llamosa became eligible to play for the U.S. as soon as he became a citizen, Arena wanted to fully evauluate Cunningham should he become available during this yearís World Cup qualifying.
Cunninghamís situation, however, is clouded by the fact he twice played for Jamaicaís national team during a tour of Ghana in 1999. He attended went to both high school and college in Florida, but also reportedly appeared in several youth matches for Jamaica.
At the present, U.S. Soccer appears to believe that Cunningham never represented Jamaica in an "official" match, as defined by FIFA, which allow Cunningham to don the Red, White and Blue once he is granted American citizenship. Still, U.S. officials will continue to investigate his status.
A column in the near future will examine FIFAís regulations regarding what determines a playerís nationality for competituin.
Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be
e-mailed at email@example.com..
Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org..