E Pluribus Unum, the Latin phrase meaning 'from many, one', was included in the seal of the USA in 1776, the birth year of a heralded new republic. Since then, weary immigrants have been greeted by the Statue of Liberty standing tall in New York Harbour and poet Emma Lazarus's iconic words etched on her rocky foundation: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..."
Now, in 2009, with Americans electing as their president the son of a Kenyan intellectual and a Kansan mother, that spirit has never been better defined. It is also, coincidentally, traceable through the more-than-90-year history of the USA national team.
Soccer, as it is known in America, was long the domain of the country's ethnic patchwork of immigrant populations. With competition from more steadfastly 'American' sports like gridiron and baseball, soccer was, and remains, a way for immigrants to maintain ties to their ancestral homes.
Cue the 'shot-putters'
The first USA national team to travel to a FIFA World Cup™ was built primarily of recent arrivals from the British Isles, mainly Scotland and the Republic of Ireland. With names like McGhee, Auld, Vaughn, Moorhouse and Gallagher, the side known jokingly as the 'shot-putters' for their squat, brawny builds beat Belgium and Paraguay in Montevideo, finishing third at the inaugural finals in 1930 - to this day a best-ever result for an American side.
The team that travelled to Brazil 1950 was an entirely different story, comprised largely of the sons of immigrants, second-generation players who grew up playing American sports like basketball and baseball, but soccer as well. There was a heavy Portuguese and Italian influence, mirroring the immigrating patterns of the first half of the 20th century.
Charlie Colombo, Frank Borghi, Ed and John Souza and Harry Keough were stars in the team, as well as Walter Bahr and Gino Pariani. In that well-known win over England, 1-0 in Belo Horizante, the lone goal was scored by one Joe Gaetjens, a late inclusion to the squad and its only black player. Born in Haiti, Gaetjens was a part-time dishwasher and student in Brooklyn, New York.
His sprawling header (he is estimated to have dove over 4 metres) in the 38th minute is still one of the proudest moments in US history. Gaetjens' breakthrough into a largely European-American side presaged the multi-ethnic Team USA of today.
Four decades in the wilderness
In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, USA kept a decidedly low profile on the world stage, going 40 years without qualifying for the World Cup. That changed in 1990, with Uruguay-born playmaker Tab Ramos in the team, when they qualified for the finals in Italy, and it was torn asunder completely four years later when the USA hosted the FIFA World Cup, reaching the second round with Ramos, German-born captain Tom Dooley - born to an American serviceman father - Salvadoran Hugo Perez, Dutchman Earnie Stewart, South African Roy Wegerle and Fernando Clavijo in a squad coached by Serbian Bora Milutinovic.
Currently, Bob Bradley's team is an even more expansive mishmash, representing a wider base of origins and backgrounds than ever before. The first team reads like an immigrant ship roster, and speaks to the ever-evolving spirit of the country.
Most recently making big waves is Jozy Altidore. Like Gaetjens, his roots are in the French-speaking Caribbean island of Haiti, where both of his parents were born. The 19-year-old Villarreal striker, currently on loan at Xerez, scored four goals in the Americans' last two 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa qualifiers. Another young addition to the side, and a team-mate of Altidore's at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008, is Jose Francisco Torres, who, born in Texas, holds dual citizenship, playing his club football south of the border with Pachuca. Michael Orosco, who also plays in Mexico for San Luis, is of a similar background, born in California but holding two passports.
Coming to America
Captain Carlos Bocanegra, based in France's Ligue 1 with Rennes, also has Mexican roots, growing up in Alta Loma, California. Alongside him in the centre of the US defence is the unmistakable Oguchi Onyewu, at 1.93 metres and with a thick frame, he is hard to miss. Both his parents immigrated to the USA from the west African footballing hotbed of Nigeria, also the ancestral home of defensive midfielder Maurice Edu, who lines up alongside DaMarcus Beasley at Rangers in Scotland. Ugochukwu 'Ugo' Ihemelu, a seldom-used defender, was actually born in Nigeria, in the city of Enugu.
One of the new stars in the USA is Sacha Kljestan. Recently linked with moves from Major League Soccer to Celtic, the creative and energetic midfielder's father is an ethnic Serb and a former player. Tall striker Brian Ching is USA-born, but the only ever US national team player from the Hawaiian islands, a state 2,500 miles off the coast of the California.
There is also Pablo Mastroeni, born in Mendoza, Argentina of Italian-Argentinian ancestry. Midfielder Danny Szetela's parents were both born in Poland. And most famous, perhaps, is the story of young phenom Freddy Adu, who moved to the USA with his mother from his birthplace in Tema, Ghana as part of an immigration lottery, seeking a new life in the so-called Land of Opportunity.