By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (July 4, 2016) US Soccer Players – Former US defender Janusz Michallik moved to the United States at age 16. His father Krystian had played for the NASL’s Hartford Bicentennials in 1975 and Janusz was hoping to someday follow in his dad’s footsteps. Michallik, who had already played for Poland’s National Team on the youth level, became a US citizen on March 8, 1991. Shortly after that monumental day, Michallik got a call from then-US coach Bora Milutinovic, who was working to build up a competitive roster that would be strong enough to compete at the 1994 World Cup on American soil.
“I did not anticipate a call up this early,” recalled Michallik, who became a broadcaster after retiring from playing in 1998. “I knew that Bora was going to evaluate many players over the first few months (of 1991), but being called to the very first camp was a big surprise. I went through a normal process of becoming an American citizen and had to wait 5 years for that. Timing is everything I guess. In any case, I was really excited at the prospect of a chance to play for the National Team.”
Michallik, now 50, took time out of his busy schedule working as a studio analyst for ESPN during the European Championship and looked back at his National Team career. He recalled with pride his debut in a US jersey on May 5, 1991 versus Uruguay. Michallik said he will never forget that moment, lining up with his teammates before kickoff to hear the National Anthem.
“I was proud, very proud. It came quickly. It was hard to digest at first. As I said, I was surprised to get called to that first camp. There were maybe 30 or more players called in to Colorado Springs for two weeks of training, after which we were going to play versus Uruguay in Denver at Mile High Stadium. We were told that some would go home, few would be in the stands and, of course, the 18 who would be eligible to play. I remember thinking that I would be happy to be in the stands as it probably meant another chance in the future. Imagine when I was told I would be starting the game. When the anthem played it was special. I think that at that moment I truly realized that I was a citizen, even more than during the actual swearing in ceremony. I knew this was a new chapter in my life.”
There were several players Milutinovic picked for the National Team who had become naturalized Americans. They included Roy Wegerle (a native of South Africa), Hugo Perez (El Salvador), Thomas Dooley (Germany), Brian Quinn (Northern Ireland), Fernando Clavijo (Uruguay), and Frank Klopas (Greece).
Michallik had many proud moments for the USMNT, but recalled winning the inaugural Gold Cup in 1991 as one that stands out most.
“After such a short time on the team, with a new coach in a brand new competition, we all tasted our first success,” he said, recalling how “happy we all were when we lifted that trophy.”
In recent years, the National Teams has featured fewer naturalized citizens, but more Americans born abroad to at least one US-born parent. While some have criticized the move, these players are as American by law as anyone born within this country’s borders. At the 2014 World Cup, the USA featured five such players – the German-American quintet of John Brooks, Timmy Chandler, Julian Green, Fabian Johnson and Jermaine Jones.
“We’ve got five players who were born outside the United States because they had a serviceman father who was serving the country,” US Soccer President Sunil Gulati told reporters during the 2014 World Cup. “It would be pretty hard to convince me, or anyone else, that they’ve got less of a right to play for the United States than anyone else.”
Another German-American to play for the National Team was Thomas Dooley. Milutinovic recruited him in the early ‘90s and he went on to represent the United States at the 1994 and ‘98 World Cup. He spoke no English when he played his first National Team game on May 30, 1992 against Ireland.
“I was getting goose bumps. Everything went through my mind, thinking about my family, how much I loved the country and now I’m staying here and representing it,” he said in an interview with US Soccer Players in 2010. “I can’t explain it. It was a great feeling. You just don’t want to disappoint anybody. The language is secondary.”
What isn’t secondary is love for country on America’s birthday. That’s something all Americans celebrate this Independence Day.
Based in New York City, Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He covers all topics relating to American soccer, including Major League Soccer. He has covered the last two World Cups for the site. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2014. Clemente began writing for our site in July 2007. Find him on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
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