There’s been a lot of debate across the globe about soccer stars defecting from the nation of birth to play for other teams, a plague that’s been particularly prominent among Brazilian players, many of whom now suit up for European powers (Marcos Sena with Spain or Deco and Nani with Portugal). But while the trend had spread far and wide across Europe, it had yet to really have an impact in North America. Well, consider those days officially over, after Chicago teenage stud and Borrusia Dortmund (Germany) defender Neven Subotic officially pledged his international allegiance to Serbia, not the U.S.
The fact that Subotic chose to play for another nation instead of the U.S. is his own prerogative, and it isn’t even unprecedented. Giuseppe Rossi was born in New Jersey but opted to play for the country of his parents’ birth — defending World Cup champion Italy — rather the the nation he was raised in.
Still, there’s a big difference between Rossi and Subotic. Rossi chose to spurn the U.S. to play with the defending world champions. It’s hard to turn down that opportunity, particularly when you’ve been playing in the Italian professional league and you’re going to be given a real shot at eventually playing on the senior national team. Subotic dumped the U.S. for Serbia.
That’s right, Serbia. The last time we checked (while writing this post, for that matter), the U.S. is ranked No. 22 in current FIFA standings, while Serbia is down at 30. The U.S. is almost sure to rise, with comparatively easy World Cup qualifiers on the upcoming schedule. Serbia? They’ve got to get through qualifying matches with Romania, Austria and France to even make the World Cup. That, friends, is anything but a gimme. In fact, it’s a bit of a long shot.
(Insert your own slip sliding away joke here.)
Add to that the insult of Subotic’s past experience with the American U-17 and U-20 national teams, and the fact that he made the move just as he gains international plaudits for scoring five goals early in the Bundesliga seson (while possibly spying a January move to an Italian Serie A side), and the defection is much more poignant. That’s before you consider the fact that losing any American athletic competition to Serbia (perhaps short of an individual gymnastics competition) is a bit of a blow. After all, Serbia just got out of a serious civil war. That’s why Subotic’s family left the country in the first place! He was born in Bosnia, then moved to Germany (hence the Bundesliga return) before hitting American soil in 1999.
Of course, then there’s the requisite crop of Borat Eastern European jokes that are bound to flow. It’s not Kazakhstan, but Serbia isn’t exactly an economic superpower, either.
Subotic was one of the great hopes for a new generation of American defenders, a crop which the national team coaching staff hoped could shore up the U.S. back line and augment guys like Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Spector, Heath Pearce and Greg Vanney. Now head coach Bob Bradley will have to find another player, with the 6-foot-4, 20-year-old officially off to train with the Serbian national side.
Here’s U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati’s official comment on losing Subotic:
“We wish Neven all the best and continued success in the future.”
Translation: “$h!+ *%&# remaining quote redacted.”