By Jason Davis
On Friday, a typically reputable source of American soccer coverage and commentary dropped a bombshell of a rumor on unsuspecting readers. Per Prost Amerika, Nigel Reo-Coker could be on his way to Major League Soccer—perhaps to the New York Red Bulls or maybe the Portland Timbers—and not just because he’s currently out of contract and could use a place to ply his chosen trade. Reo-Coker, according to the report, could come to MLS because it would give him a chance to play in a World Cup. For the United States of America.
Don’t worry if your brain shut down for a few moments there. It’s understandable. When you get it started again, don’t fret if you’re left gobsmacked as to how a thing like “Nigel Reo-Coker, U.S. international” might be possible. You’re not alone.
The notion that former West Ham, Villa, and Bolton midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker could be MLS bound is, on it’s own, something of an odd possibility. Not because Reo-Coker is particularly above the level of MLS, but because his background goes so against type. Reo-Coker is English, 28, and was good enough as recently as last year to start for a Premier League team. Players like that, without a direct tie to the U.S., don’t come here while still on the south side of thirty. Regardless of Reo-Coker’s contract situation (nonexistent), MLS doesn’t immediately jump out as the obvious next destination for a player who could surely make more money playing somewhere in the Football League.
The additional notion that Nigel Reo-Coker could somehow become a U.S. international verges on the absurd. But it turns out that Reo-Coker does have a direct tie to the U.S.; he married an American last year. That tenuous connection—and a misunderstanding of the state of naturalization laws in 2013—seem to be the basis for the whole strange rumor. Whether it’s Klinsmann himself or another person connected to the program telling Reo-Coker that a place in the national team is waiting for him should he arrive, someone needs a refresher course on the process. Come to MLS, Nigel, but don’t do it because it might mean playing in the World Cup in Brazil next year.
Maybe this is David Regis’ fault. Back in 1998, French defender Regis joined the USMNT just before the World Cup thanks to his own marriage to an American citizen. Coach Steve Sampson reportedly promised Regis a starting position if he gained American citizenship. The Frenchman was naturalized in May of 1998 and subsequently played all three matches for the last-place Americans at the World Cup in France. In a team swirling with drama and discord the addition of Regis at the eleventh hour was distasteful, and although Regis played well and made Bruce Arena’s 2002 World Cup team the episode rubbed fans the wrong way. It’s one thing to bring in foreign players who qualify for citizenship through a parent (the current squad features several, and there’s even a bit of controversy surrounding their inclusion) but it’s something else to add a player who can only claim a hint of Americanness because they married into it.
Maybe Reo-Coker is considering a move to MLS. That part of the rumor passes the sniff test—depending on his salary demands—because he is out of contract and does have an American wife. A scan of his new bride’s Twitter feed reveals Mrs. Reo-Coker is having difficulty obtaining a visa to join him in England; signing with MLS would obviously make that problem irrelevant. The USMNT connection, however, is a non-starter. Unlike David Regis in 1998, Reo-Coker would need to establish U.S. residency and go through a 3-year waiting period before he could hope to be naturalized. That takes Brazil 2014 out of the picture, and unless Reo-Coker is desperate to play in a CONCACAF Gold Cup, gives him no incentive to become American for soccer reasons. By the time Russia 2018 rolls around, Reo-Coker will be 34.
Fast-tracked citizenship for athletes is extremely rare in the United States. It’s almost comical to think that it might be done for Nigel Reo-Coker. He’s not exactly the type of transcendent player that could push the USMNT to new heights, nor does he play a position of particular need. Reo-Coker is a central midfielder whose greatest strength is his defensive prowess. The current USMNT player pool is stocked with players of exactly that type who are either definitely better that Nigel Reo-Coker (Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Danny Williams) or are arguably as good, and certainly more recently in form (Kyle Beckerman, Dax McCarty).
FIFA’s one-time switch rules don’t seem to apply to former England U21 player Reo-Coker, either, since they typically require players to have been eligible for the national team to which they later switch when they made their youth appearances. Needless to say, Reo-Coker was not U.S.-eligible when he played for England’s U21s. He’d need a FIFA waiver, after his unlikely quicky citizenship, just to be eligible to play for the United States.
But, if the report is to be believed, Reo-Coker has a lawyer who thinks none of that is an issue and that Reo-Coker could become an American citizen in time to make the team for Brazil (provided the Americans qualify, of course). Jurgen Klinsmann will select Reo-Coker if he does become eligible, we’re told, despite the logjam at his position. Reo-Coker will take less money than he could make in England to come to MLS and establish his U.S. citizenship credentials. Magnanimously, Reo-Coker won’t demand DP money for the first year of his stay. All because he wants to play for the USMNT.
Never mind that Nigel Reo-Coker isn’t worth DP money, not in the first, second, or third year of any MLS stay.
Every now and then, amongst the heap of ridiculous rumors that populate the internet during any given transfer period, one or two drop from nowhere that turn reasonable, intelligent, and logical people into babbling morons for minutes after they land and yet still demand serious consideration, if only to establish exactly why they’re so ridiculous.
“Nigel Reo-Coker could play for the U.S.” is certainly one of those.