What Veterans Day means to three USMNT players and the recent history of the program

·3 min read

For three members of the revamped USMNT currently training in Wales ahead of Thursday’s friendly (2:30 p.m. ET, FS1), this Veterans Day is extra special.

Not only will the trio — defenders John Brooks and Sergiño Dest and midfielder Weston McKennie — be playing their first international match in over a year one day after the holiday, they are the only players on coach Gregg Berhalter’s 24-man squad with parents who served in the American military.

“Today obviously I sent my dad a text and told him Happy Veterans Day,” McKennie told reporters Wednesday on a Zoom call to preview the match. “I think it’s a day that all of us should really appreciate and really should take advantage to tell the people that have served our country in any type of way ‘thank you.’”

Brooks’ and Dest’s fathers are also veterans. Unlike Texas native McKennie — who spent part of his childhood living on an Army base in Germany, returned to the U.S. for his formative years, then headed back to sign with Bundesliga side Schalke on his 18th birthday — Brooks grew up in Germany and Dest grew up in the Netherlands. Both are part of a long tradition of dual-nationals with ties to the military who chose to represent the U.S. on the global stage.

USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie is one of three players on the current national team roster whose father served in the military. (Photo by Roy Miller/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie is one of three players on the current national team roster whose father served in the military. (Photo by Roy Miller/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

No fewer than five such players were on last U.S. side to reach a World Cup. Brooks, Timothy Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones and Julian Green were all on the 2014 roster; Brooks, Jones and Green all scored for the Stars and Stripes in Brazil, accounting for three of the team’s five goals as the Americans reached the knockout stage of the tournament before missing out on qualifying in 2018.

For those on current squad who come from an exclusively civilian background, they got a lesson on the sacrifices military members make during this camp.

Seth Jahn, a member of U.S. Soccer’s security detail who was also with the U.S. women’s national team when they won the World Cup last year, is a former Army Special Forces soldier who did several combat tours and was nearly killed in action in 2010. Jahn’s laundry list of injuries qualified him to play for the country’s Paralympic soccer team, and he regaled the USMNT this week with some of his more harrowing tales.

“It’s been nice for him to share stories with the group, but also to acknowledge some of the family members of our players that are veterans as well,” Berhalter said.

McKennie didn’t get into exactly what Jahn said to him and his teammates — “I don’t know if it’s supposed to be told or not,” he joked — but he made it clear that the interaction left an impression on the players ahead of Thursday’s contest and next week’s game in Austria against Panama.

“Just to think he could’ve been killed and he wouldn’t be here with us right now — it’s something you really look at and say, ‘Wow, he puts his life on the line not just for us but for other people, for the country, for his loved ones,’” said McKennie, a 22-year-old who joined Italian powerhouse Juventus over the summer.

“It’s pretty powerful. It’s something that we get energy from as well, and just from the stories that he tells us, it motivates us.”

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