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Dom Dwyer: a West Sussex Brit in Uncle Sam's Connecticut court

Sunday 2nd July 2017
Hank Morgan travelled back in time to make himself right at home in Mark Twain's version of Arthurian England, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Sporting KC forward and Cuckfield native son Dom Dwyer has done the same in reverse, committing his footballing future to the United States by attaining citizenship, then scoring the opening goal in a Gold Cup tune-up versus US nemesis Ghana.

Playing in CONCACAF, the United States hasn't much from which to choose for heated rivalries. Mexico and Costa Rica are near neighbours with comparable talent. Every other nation in the confederation is an expected three-points every time out, at home or away. Happily, Ghana has been in the United States Mens National Team's path in three World Cups, creating some bad blood where there otherwise would be none.

The Black Stars ended Bruce Arena's first national team stint in Nuremburg, during Germany 2006, then knocked Bob Bradley's side out in the 2010 quarterfinals in Rustenburg, South Africa. Asamoah Gyan provided the winner that extended all Africa's hopes, dashed in part by Luis Suarez's infamous goal line handball in the next round. Under Jurgen Klinsmann in 2014, the US gained revenge when Clint Dempsey scored in the opening minute and John Brooks's header from a Graham Zusi corner cancelled Andre Ayew's equaliser at the death in Natal, Brazil.

Given all three matches ended 2-1, the scoreline in Saturday's friendly in Hartford, Connecticut was almost inevitable. Houston Dynamo midfielder Kellyn Acosta put the US two goals in front seven minutes into the second half, only for old danger man Gyan to rattle American nerves by bending a perfect free kick beyond Brad Guzan's reach inside the right post on the hour. It was the opening goal which will remain in US fans' memories, however.
Sporting KC's Dom Dwyer, who eschewed the English club system for the NCAA, leading the line for the University of South Florida Bulls in 2011 before entering the Major League Soccer draft, struck in the nineteenth minute. Jorge Villafana worked the ball into the box from the left flank, then laid off for Graham Zusi. The SKC midfielder's shot was deflected, lazily lobbing into Dwyer's path. At the top of the six, his patiently timed half-volley beat goalkeeper Ofori Antwi. American supporters had been given what they most desired: a goal from their newest naturalised star.
Dwyer isn't the first foreign-born player to suit up in red, white, and blue. Jurgen Klinsmann recruited a bevy of German-American stars during his time in charge. Prior to that, Netherlands native Earnie Stewart was an integral part of the 1994 squad that thrilled crowds in the first World Cup played on American soil.

Nor was Dwyer the only emigre (sort of) to debut for the Americans in the match. Kenny Saief, who was born in Florida but moved to Europe when he was four and hadn't been back until days before the match, saw 20+ minutes at the end, relieving Joe "Don't Call Me Camel" Corona. Saief plays for KAA Gent in the Jupiler League and had appeared in two friendlies for Israel before changing his commitment to the US after an unexpected phone call from Arena.

Dwyer isn't even the first Brit in American colours. Houston Dynamo and Bolton Wanderer Stuart Holden, born in Aberdeen, raised in Sugarland, Texas, played for the USMNT before recurring knee problems originating from a horror tackle by former Manchester United centre half Jonny Evans eventually drove him into the broadcast booth.
Decades before Holden, two other Scots also featured for the US in the World Cup. James Brown scored the only goal in the Americans' defeat to Argentina in the Uruguay 1930 semi-final. Yes, I said the semi-final. The United States was actually the third-best team in a World Cup before England ever competed in one. Before you say that was because the Three Lions weren't there to put them in their place, Ed McIlvenny, another Scot in a US strip took the throw-in that led to the winning goal in the US' 1950 victory over England in Brazil.

To be fair, McIlvenny never actually attained American citizenship. He only promised, which, at the time, was good enough for FIFA, In the end, he was made to pay in a small way. His non-speaking role in the 2005 film about the match, The Game of Their Lives, was played by former USMNT captain John Harkes, a cruel stroke given McIlvenny had been named captain for that match due to his British birthright. Instead, the script left the captain's armband on regular wearer, Walter Bahr, played by American Horror's Wes Bentley, while casting one more Scot in the hero role of genuinely American, born and raised Missourian Frank Borghi.

For his part, Dom Dwyer's debut goal may earn him an opportunity to claim a permanent role in Bruce Arena's USMNT starting XI during the upcoming Gold Cup, CONCACAF's championship. He may be an American solely in the legal sense, a football refugee unaffected by Donald Trump's travel ban, but that's the way the United States has always rolled. Like it says on the Statue of Liberty: give us your second-teamers, your cast offs, your huddled bench players yearning to play regular minutes... Or something like that.
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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