Terrence Boyd's painful decision
When it comes time for a player with dual citizenship to decide which country to represent at international level, the choice is almost always fraught with emotion. Does the player represent the country where he was raised, or does the family's culture hold sway? Is it simply a case of who calls first, or does the player hedge his bets, hoping that his preferred choice eventually comes calling?
For U.S. international forward Terrence Boyd, the emotional challenges weren't so much about culture or country, but rather reliving the pain of a broken family, one that never completely heals.
Boyd's path to the national team is similar in many ways to other American expatriate soccer players. He was born in the German city of Bremen, to an American serviceman and a German mother. When Boyd was an infant, the family moved to the U.S., settling in the New York City borough of Queens. But the relationship between his parents deteriorated and ended in divorce. Boyd's mother, Karen, returned to Germany with young Terrence in tow, and his father, Anthony, was soon out of his life.
Years passed and Boyd's soccer career blossomed, thanks in part to the guidance of his stepfather, Mario Graschulis.
"I don't think I would have become a pro without him because I am a lazy guy," Boyd said as he sat at the U.S. team hotel before last month's friendly win over Mexico. "I think everything worked out for me. It's funny, because we did so much extra work back in the days. We were running, training. The first time I was in a nightclub was when I was 18. I wasn't allowed to go partying. He was really strict, but he helped me to stay out of the trouble and all the s--- that could do some problems for you. I'm a guy who is trying to get better every day, and that focus, I got it from him."
Boyd eventually signed on with the youth team of Hertha Berlin and spent last season with the reserve team of Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund. Under the direction of another American expatriate, former U.S. international David Wagner, he developed into an intriguing forward prospect, eventually signing on for this season with Austrian side Rapid Vienna.
My parents broke up and he didn't care for me, so I don't care for him.” -- Boyd on recalling what he went through to get his passport, which required his father, Anthony, to sign some documents.
"Terrence is strong in the work with his body," Wagner said via email. "He knows were the goal is, and he is able to fight for the team. He has to work on his combination game, on his technique to have a better first contact. If he works hard in the future, he can step up to the highest European level, like the German Bundesliga, Premier League, or Serie A."
But it was in Berlin that Boyd's American adventure began. U.S. U-20 international Bryan Arguez was also part of Hertha's youth system, and in late 2010 he alerted Thomas Rongen, then the head coach of the U-20s, that there were some Americans on Hertha's books whom he should look into recruiting for the squad. Rongen soon invited Boyd to a training camp with the U-20s. There was only one problem: Boyd didn't have a U.S. passport, and acquiring one required getting his father to sign the necessary documentation. As Boyd recalled what he went through to get his passport, there was little ambiguity as to his feelings toward his father.
"My parents broke up and he didn't care for me, so I don't care for him," he said.
Yet Boyd had to seek him out, without even knowing precisely where to look. At Rongen's urging, Boyd turned to social media and located a cousin on Facebook, who got him in touch with his paternal aunt, who agreed to act as a go-between to get the necessary paperwork signed. And while there would be no reunion with his father, the process did allow Boyd the chance to reconnect with some of his American relatives.
"When I first got the number for my grandmother, she was totally going nuts," Boyd said. "The last time I was in the States was when I was a baby. They were crying, all the old ladies. My grandpa was like, 'It's OK, it's cool.' He doesn't even know what soccer is. But it was very emotional."
The papers were signed soon thereafter, and since then Boyd has represented the U.S. at U-20, U-23 and senior level.
"Boyd was one of the few [recruited] guys who, from day one, it was like a great honor for him -- and I think he's shown that, and always talked about that -- to represent the United States," Rongen said. "I'm sure he went through an emotional hardship to get his passport, but he was so determined."
It's a choice that still seems fraught with contradictions. On one hand, Germany never provided Boyd with any international opportunities, which practically made the decision for him. On the other, it seems incongruous that he would choose to suit up for the country of the parent who abandoned him.
Yet Boyd has clearly made an emotional bond with the U.S. team. His reaction at failing to qualify for the London Olympics with the U.S. U-23 national team was pure devastation, and he still feels regret at how the qualifying tournament ended, despite his two goals in the group finale against El Salvador.
"I think we already thought that we were qualified when we started it," he said of the qualifying tournament. "It's so bad, because we have so many talented players in our group. It's just a big disappointment, not only for us, but for U.S. soccer."
That upset turned to joy against Mexico, and he celebrated as exuberantly as anyone when the U.S. prevailed last month against El Tri, thanks in part to his backheel that was eventually converted by Michael Orozco-Fiscal.
"Even if Germany would call now -- and I know they can't -- for me it's like a heart thing," he said. "The U.S. is playing me; I think I have a future here. Why should I not play for the U.S.? It's such a big honor to play for such a big country. For me, it's the best country in the world."
And one where his connection, as brief as it has been, runs deep.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN.com. He is the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.