Dual-citizen Chandler could give US a huge lift

The New York TimesFebruary 6, 2013 

The U.S. men’s national soccer team will open the final round of World Cup qualifying today in Honduras, and Timothy Chandler will be a significant addition to the team’s back line. Once he enters the game, he will finally be an official U.S. player.

Chandler’s history with the national team has been rocky since he made his international debut in 2011. He was born in Frankfurt, Germany, to a German mother and an American father, who was stationed in Europe while serving in the U.S. military.

Growing up, Chandler lived briefly in the U.S. before returning to Germany. At a young age he showed significant potential as a soccer player and joined the youth teams of Eintracht Frankfurt. In 2010, he joined FC Nuremberg, and his career quickly took off.

Almost immediately after the Bundesliga winter break in January 2011, Chandler became Nuremberg’s starting right back and earned rave reviews. The U.S. coach at the time, Bob Bradley, quickly called up Chandler for exhibitions against Argentina and Paraguay that March. In his international debut against Argentina at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, Chandler entered as a substitute and helped spark a comeback in a 1-1 tie.

“It was a special experience, like something out of a film,” Chandler said at the time. “Against Paraguay he substituted me out before the end and the fans sung, ‘Happy Birthday’ to me. It was really fantastic, and it was another thing that made me feel really good about the whole experience.”

But since then, Chandler had become a source of frustration for coaches and fans by repeatedly declining to play for the U.S. team in important competitions – such as the 2011 Gold Cup and the initial stage of World Cup qualifying.

Since the Gold Cup and the qualifiers were official competitions, Chandler’s decision to opt out of both after playing in friendlies fueled speculation that he was keeping his option open to play for Germany.

Under FIFA rules, players with dual citizenship, even those who have played for youth national teams, may change their international allegiance as long as they have not played in an official competition at the senior level. An appearance in today’s World Cup qualifier would commit Chandler, 22, to the U.S. permanently.

Chandler, who has represented Germany only at the under-15 level, said that he was never holding out for a German call-up but rather choosing to focus on his club career with Nuremberg.

“I’m now deeply involved and established as a professional player where I wasn’t before,” Chandler said through an interpreter in a telephone interview. “This is the primary reason for my decision to now play for the United States.”

To date, Chandler has played nine times for the U.S. without playing in a game that would tie him to the team permanently. That is expected to change today and could be a huge addition, because Chandler will give coach Jurgen Klinsmann an elite level of speed and athleticism on the right side. Since Klinsmann was hired in 2011, the team has struggled offensively, but Chandler has the ability to move forward quickly and stretch defenses.

“He’s growing into his role as a full-time professional,” Klinsmann said. “This opportunity coming up, a big World Cup qualifier, is huge for him.”

Chandler said that his integration into the national team has changed the way he views U.S. culture. His links with America growing up were distant and his ties to his father, who died in 2012, were limited.

“I feel increasingly more American,” Chandler said. “I follow American current events now. Every time I fly over to the United States, it feels like I am coming home.”

Chandler’s visits to the U.S. are expected to become far more frequent. If he plays well, it is likely he can be a regular contributor beyond the next World Cup.

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