NATAL, Brazil – While the United States begins its World Cup campaign against Ghana on Monday, there will be another American at soccer's biggest stage.
Steven Beitashour, born and raised in San Jose, Calif., is a right back for the Vancouver Whitecaps in Major League Soccer, but he will suit up for the Iran national team against Nigeria on Monday after choosing to represent the land of his forefathers.
It is undoubtedly a good career move. Beitashour had been called up to U.S. national team camps but was only on the periphery of contention before making the switch to Iran.
However, as he told Yahoo Sports during a Skype conversation, things are a little different in his new situation.
"The big difference is that soccer runs deeper over there and it is not just something people just do or just watch," said Beitashour, 27. "The game is part of life and the scenes at games reflect how much dedication people show to their team."
"It feels a little strange for me as someone who grew up in the U.S. to be playing a World Cup game on the same day as the U.S. – but not for the U.S. But that is how things have worked out and I couldn't be happier with where I'm at and what I'm doing."
Switching national teams has become fairly commonplace in international soccer. Jermaine Jones will suit up for the U.S in this World Cup despite having lived virtually his whole life in Germany. American teammates Timmy Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Julian Green and John Brooks also grew up in Germany.
The only criteria for representing another nation is that the players must qualify by lineage – Beitashour's parents were both from Tehran – and that they cannot have played a full competitive international for their "previous country."
Had Beitashour seen game action in, say, a World Cup qualifier for the Americans, he would no longer have been eligible to change allegiance.
Iran is one of the underdogs of the tournament but was drawn into Group F – known as the "Group of Life" for being one of the easiest of the event. After facing Nigeria, the Iranians take on the imposing Lionel Messi and Argentina before finishing up against Bosnia-Herzegovina in Salvador.
"A lot of people don't think we can do much in the World Cup but we have a good group of players and we have worked hard to prepare," Beitashour said. "For me, that is the coolest thing about the World Cup. You never know what is going to happen and you always see a ton of upsets."
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