The call came in, it was my mom. She said “your cousin Peter is dead.”
I was living on campus at James Madison University in Virginia and we had been asked by the Head RA if they could use our room to show incoming Freshman what the dorms looked like on our side of campus. We were in newer dorms on the technology side of the campus, a show piece for the University of their emerging technology field.
As I held my phone in hand unsure of what to say, I smiled weakly at the visiting students and said excuse me as I left the room pointing to the phone. I went into the hall, but there was no where to run from the devastation of losing my cousin, my best friend in the world, my brother. He was 21-years-young, dying in the service of the country he loved.
I would uncover as I spoke with my mother the rest of the story. He had been on patrol on non-combat duty in Australia for the UN. He and one of his fellow patrolman were climbing down a wall. Peter went first and as the other jumped down from the wall his firearm discharged hitting Peter in the head, killing him instantly.
I was angry, I was sad, I was in disbelief. I missed my friend. The days dragged as they had his body shipped home and prepared for his funeral. The President called his mother, my aunt, and thanked her for his service and offered his condolences. He personally attended the funeral and spent time with the family. Peter was buried at the grave yard where many of my aunts and uncles lay, as well as my grandparents and other ancestors. It sits just beside the beach that he and I had spent many hours and many years playing together on as children then as adolescence. He had introduced me right at that beach to the girl who would be my first kiss.
I spent a very long time overwhelmed by the loss, struggling with depression and anxiety already, this pushed me to the brink. I looked for meaning, I looked for a way to do something to fix it. I thought that maybe I should join the military and finish the work my cousin had started. That might be a way for me to honor him and put my mind at ease. I had already considered joining the military to follow in my father’s foot steps of service. I took out and looked down at my two passports – one blue, American, one red, Irish. To whom would I pledge and offer my service, perhaps both? Peter, known as Peader in his mother tongue of Gaelic buried at an Irish beach dying in the service of my country. My father, serving in the military and in the service of his country for my entire life and long before it.
Two countries I loved fully and was willing to risk my life for, offer years of service to. Two countries I was willing to give all to, not one more and one less, but two fully.
My senior year of college I launched a software company with some friends and it became successful enough I decided to delay my decision and my military career a bit until I saw how this venture played out. Many years later that window appears to have closed, but my love for my countries has not waned.
As the dual national panic pulse quickens with David Ochoa’s decision to switch to Mexico, I empathize heavily with the young men who have a big decision to make. This is not a college recruiting effort or college decision. In college you can change majors, transfer, and alter the course of your career and lives long after that initial decision is made. This is not a question of loyalty to country, because choosing a country is not a guarantee, nor should it be that you’ll be given even a fair chance to play for a spot.
The decision to choose which country you will play for is permanent. It does not matter once you’re locked in if you are really good, the coach has just a few spots per position and offers no commitment to players. The positions, the depth chart, the pool, the coach, the playing style, the opportunity can fluctuate erratically. In Berhalter’s brief tenure has shown a range even with one that has seen very few competitive matches due to timing and covid. Lock starters have drifted from prominence, new young talent has emerged in spades, the complex inverted right back concept appears to have faded for a simpler concept. Successful play in key tournaments have shown the fast rise and fall of contenders to go from starter to left off of rosters.
The long-term impacts of a commitment decision have heavy stakes. The player’s opportunity to live their dreams of being involved in a World Cup to their career valuation and prospects of catching the eye of Europe’s top clubs hang in the balance. The decision shouldn’t be made lightly and the players should be given the room to breath as they pursue their dreams and make career decisions, not just look at fans or coaches interest in them.
My love for America runs deep, for the diversity of thought and people runs deep. It drives my passion for the US national team and a desire to see us win a World Cup and earn the respect of global soccer powers as a footballing nation. My family loves the US national teams and we cheer for USA at the Olympics with passion. I was considering and willing to take arms to defend the country as a teenager. I have spent a lot of time hearing the stories of those who has served and lost friends. The stars and stripes that they carry in their cockpit or on their dashboard in remembrance of their fallen friend.
My love for Ireland runs deep as well. I would defend Ireland, also my country as well. We cheer for Ireland at the Olympics and in rugby with passion. I have the applications to get my three children an Irish passport and citizenship. I hope it opens more doors for them whatever they end up doing in the future and I hope they find a love for our other nation. As I watched the President process down the road I’d traveled many, many times I had a great sense of appreciate for the service my cousin Peadar had performed. That love for Ireland does not take away from my love for America. Like I love my parents, my three kids, and other passions – loving one thing does not mean I love another less.
I empathize with Efra Alvarez, David Ochoa, Sergiño Dest, Yunus Musah, Jonathan Gómez and the many dual nationals who have made a decision or have a decision ahead of them. They carry a heavy load of a permanent decision unlike many that young people their age will ever make. It can have enormous ramifications short and long-term for them. It’s a great burden and longer term impact than choosing a club contract.
Which nation are they connected to, has invested in them and feels the most like their brotherhood? Which nation will give them the best chance to play, help their career, allow them to market themselves professionally? Which coach will be there in their prime and how do they fit into the system and the depth chart? Which nation feels like home when many play far away from there?
As fans you can feel slighted, wronged, why have they chosen another nation? They were given a chance, an opportunity. US national team is a better opportunity with Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams right? How about playing for Holland or having a shot at the English national team? This is chess, not checkers – a complex string of decisions for a young person and young professional to make.
At such a young age on top of the pressure that professional football at the highest level already bring; breaking in at a club, earning and keeping your spot, your diet and fitness regiment. Then determining which camps, calls to take on in a complex system of rules that many pundits and national programs don’t always get correct. This is an additional burden on a well taxed young person. A decision that is a heavy burden to make and should be left to the player to determine.