In a cruel twist of fate during the Christmas season, the United States Men's National Team was denied the biggest item on their list.
Neven Subotic, the 20-year old rising star for Borussia Dortmund, has opted to showcase his talents for the Serbian National Team instead of the US Team, which he was also eligible for.
Subotic had been on the radar of the US Soccer Federation for quite some time. He first suited up for the University of South Florida in 2004, and made his debut in a US shirt in 2005 with the U-17 team. Scouts drooled over his size (6'4") and natural abilities. They figured that he would make an excellent partner for defensive stalwart Oguchi Onyewu for years to come.
The young defender also seemed quite excited about plying his trade for the US Team. He made a couple of appearances at the U-20 level for the US in 2006 and seemed well on his way to becoming a fixture in the US side for years to come.
Getting Subotic seemed like a slam-dunk for the US Team. It should have been easy.
In an interview with USSoccer.com back in 2006, Subotic made several statements hinting that he would don the red, white and blue when he began his senior international career.
"I've played [for the U.S.], I've been in [U.S. U-17 national team)] residency, so I'm an American," Subotic said. "And I've worn the crest, and that's also a thing that you have to respect. If you wear it once you're not going to wear another crest.
"That would kind of be like back-stabbing, I would say. I'm an American 'til the end.
"America was like a second chance to make something of ourselves. I'd like to think I did accomplish something. I made the national team, I went to college and this country made it possible. It's my way of kind of repaying."
So what went wrong?
In 2007, United States U-20 coach Thomas Rongen left Subotic off the roster for the U-20 World Cup, claiming that Subotic was injured. Subotic has consistently claimed that he was healthy.
A few months later, Subotic claims that Rongen said he was not good enough for the U-20s. No player ever enjoys hearing something like that, especially not one with the physical gifts of Subotic.
This seems like a fairly plausible theory. Subotic was led to believe that, for some reason, the US program didn't want him, so his ties to the country began to fade. Serbia, sensing a big opportunity, swooped in.
If indeed this is the case, it has to be seen as a massive failure of the US youth system. The purpose of a youth system is to develop players for the senior national team, and the US system drove away the most promising defensive prospect that America has ever seen.
Don't get me wrong, I love what Oguchi Onyewu brings to the pitch every game, but Subotic will turn out to be the superior talent.
The US has seen other citizens opt to play for foreign national teams. Giuseppe Rossi, a New Jersey native, is playing for the Italian Nation Team. Edgar Castillo, born in New Mexico, is a defender in the Mexican squad.
"Big deal," you might say. "The US has lost players before and dealt with it."
Rossi and Castillo didn't suit up for the US at any level before choosing to play for another squad. Rossi never made any secret of his desire to play for the Azzurri, repeatedly turning down invitations from the US to train with the national team. They were never expected to turn out for the US at any level.
But now Subotic is turning his back on the country where he began his international career. By his own definition, he is back-stabbing the American program.
This is not at all like Real Madrid failing to land Cristiano Ronaldo, or Arsenal failing to hang on to Mathieu Flamini. Club rosters are fluid, and Madrid fans may one day be cheering for Ronaldo. Arsenal fans could theoretically welcome Flamini back to North London.
Not the case for Subotic. Once he sets foot on the pitch for Serbia, it's all over.
When a program can't even hang on to the players that are developed in its own youth system, serious changes must take place.
First and foremost, the top of the US Soccer Federation needs to have greater oversight over the youth development programs. If Bob Bradley or other members of the federation say that they want a player to represent the US, then the coaches at the youth level should do whatever possible to get that player into the system.
This might be seen as a shameless attempt at pandering and appeasement, but if the goal is to win World Cups, you're not going to do it unless you hang on to the best talent to go through the development system.
The USSF also needs to find out exactly why Subotic left them at the altar. They need to find that leak, and plug it quickly.
Imagine if the US had lost Freddy Adu or Oguchi Onyewu to something like this. Those two were eligible to represent Ghana and Nigeria, respectively.
With the large immigrant population in the United States, it's unavoidable that some of the talent going through the development system will be eligible to play for other countries. That's why the USSF must find out why Subotic left, and prevent this from happening with other players.
Lastly, USSF president Sunil Gulati should give serious consideration to dismissing Rongen from his post as coach of the U-20 team. Had he even named Subotic as a bench player for the U-20 World Cup, we might not have to deal with this mess. US fans could be looking at a back line featuring two of the most physically imposing defenders in the world for the next couple of World Cups.
Instead, we're left with Onyewu and loads of questions.
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