The North American Soccer League Players Association sent a letter of protest to Team America owner Robert Lifton on April 22, objecting to his team's use of players who are not United States citizens.
Lifton said yesterday that the letter was little more than a formality and that John Kerr, the union director who sent the letter before Team America's inaugural game April 23 in Seattle, had not pressed the issue. Kerr was not available to comment yesterday.
"What can we do? We don't have any other Americans we can play," said Lifton. "We'd love to have more Americans. But we have no other alternatives."
Team America used Alan Green, a Briton, and Andrew Parkinson, a South African, against the Seattle Sounders. At the time, the team had only 14 players and could not afford to lose any. Antonio D'Antonio, a free agent from Italy, is also trying out for the team but did not travel to Seattle.
All three players have declared their intentions to become U.S. citizens, and will file for citizenship later this year. Green is scheduled to apply in June, and Parkinson and D'Antonio plan to file in September.
Green and Parkinson, both non-citizens, also are caught in the no-man's land of being "loan" players. Deemed expendable by their NASL clubs, Green and Parkinson are with Team America on a game-by-game basis, and are subject to recall by their teams at any time. Team America Coach Alkis Panagoulias is pleased with the play of both players, but the team refuses to officially sign them until they reach agreements with their original teams.
"It is my understanding that I could look at every American possible, to build a stronger national team," said Panagoulias. "These men have declared their intentions to become citizens. The union should leave them alone."
For Green, who led the British under-16 team to the little World Cup title in 1970, the chance to play for Team America is akin to coming home. A member of the Washington Diplomats from 1977-80, Green scored 50 goals in that span, including a team-high 25 in 1980. But after journeyman seasons with Jacksonville and Golden Bay (indoors) the past two years, Green is anxious to settle down.
"I want to be an American; I want to play for Team America," said Green, who started against Seattle before incurring a thigh injury midway through the second half. "It's not like I'm taking anybody's job away. I feel like the union is stabbing me in the back."
Green is confident his citizenship will eventually be granted, but said his greatest fear is possible recall by Golden Bay. "My future is in the hands of (Golden Bay Coach Don) Popovic," said Green. "I just hope he lets me stay."
Parkinson left a key reserve role with Fort Lauderdale to join Team America, but was nearly lured back to the Strikers when starting forward Brian Kidd suffered a knee injury in the team's opening game. But after Fort Lauderdale expressed little interest in his return, Parkinson declared his intention of staying with Team America.
"I feel like the two teams are pulling me in opposite directions," said Parkinson, who scored 11 goals with Montreal in 1980. "But I will become a citizen regardless. To me, soccer is most important. But since South Africa is banned from international play, there is no future in soccer as a South African."
D'Antonio was born in Italy, but lived most of his life in New York. He joined Team America as a free agent in March, and has spent the past two weeks on Long Island attempting unsuccessfully to gain citizenship. He will reapply this fall.
Meanwhile, representatives of Team America, the NASL and the Major Indoor Soccer League met for almost five hours yesterday in New York to try to reach agreement on ways for MISL players to play for Team America.
But representatives of both sides said there is still disagreement over how MISL players should be selected for the team. Earl Foreman, the MISL commissioner, said he will discuss the matter further in a conference call with MISL owners later this week.