The second thing I want to say here is that I’m not a prodigy — or a “wonderboy,” as some have put it. I was always, you know, a decent player growing up. And yes, I was born with a certain amount of so-called “natural ability.” But I also worked and sacrificed a lot to try to maximize what I was born with — which I think is important to point out. I think it’s important to make clear, you know, that the problem with American soccer … it isn’t talent. In fact, I’m sure there are kids who are going to be reading this article who are more talented at their age than I ever was.
And then the third thing I want to say here is that I love American soccer. Which maybe sounds obvious — but I think a lot of people have this weird idea of USMNT players who have come up in Europe. They’ll talk about how we’re somehow less passionate about U.S. Soccer, or less American about it. That we’re these ringers or something — these outsiders brought in as, like, a cheat code to beat European sides. And it couldn’t be further from the truth.
It really frustrates me when people say, “Oh, he’s barely American,” or, “He grew up in the Dortmund academy,” or anything like that. First of all, it’s not true: Until I was 16, I came up through the U.S. youth system. I did all of the camps, the academies, the residency programs, the travel teams, and everything else it had to offer. I’ll always be a part of that system, and I’ll always be indebted to it. Second of all, I think that’s just a dangerous attitude in general: Having a closed-minded view of what does or doesn’t constitute being an American. And I hope it’s an attitude that we can keep out of this conversation in the years to come.
Growing up, my dad and I, we used to play H-O-R-S-E in our driveway pretty much every night. I’d come home from training, and we’d take out that basketball, and we’d just play game … after game … after game. And it’s funny, because — the idea was, it was supposed to be very low-key, you know? After a day of taking soccer so seriously, we’d get to come home, and just shoot a ball around for the fun of it. But man, for the life of me … I could never do it. I could never do it just for fun.
I had to win.