Michael Seaton, D.C. United’s 16-year-old homegrown forward, departed MLS training camp in Florida late last week to report to the U.S. under-17 national team. As a promising young player known in U.S. circles, the invitation seemed to make sense on the surface.
The Americans will play in CONCACAF’s U-17 World Cup qualifying tournament in April in Panama, and as part of their preparations, they are slated to participate in a tune-up event there starting this weekend.
The problem is Seaton played in official FIFA competition for Jamaica’s under-17 squad last summer. Consequently, he is ineligible to suit up for the United States without FIFA approval.
So instead of accompanying the U.S. team to Panama City on Thursday for three friendlies, Seaton rejoined United on Wednesday for the final few days of training camp in the Orlando area. (The impending U.S. tour to Panama is not an official competition, but since Seaton isn’t eligible for the qualifying tournament anyway, U.S. Coach Richie Williams decided to leave him behind.)
The USSF didn’t recognize the problem until Wednesday, despite the fact Seaton’s Jamaican exploits — goals against both Bermuda and Antigua & Barbuda — are documented on CONCACAF’s website and his story was told in the media upon signing with United.
It’s unclear why the USSF didn’t do its due diligence in this matter; why Seaton didn’t discuss his Jamaican ties with U.S. officials; and why United didn’t broach the subject with the USSF when Williams requested Seaton last week.
It does shine a light on the eligibility challenges the USSF faces in a diverse country. Over the years, through family lineage, numerous U.S. players have had multiple playing options. Eligibility violations often result in severe sanctions by FIFA, including bans from World Cups.
Seaton has dual nationality. He was born in Jamaica and moved to the United States at age 7. He played for the Freestate Soccer Alliance, a Maryland-based youth system now aligned with United, and starred for United’s academy before signing a homegrown contract last month.
In 2011, he attended the U.S. under-17 residency program in Bradenton, Fla.
It’s not unusual for players with multiple passports to weigh options before committing to a country. Switching allegiances, however, requires a formal request to FIFA. If Seaton applies for a change and is granted approval, he could not reverse course again.
Even with FIFA’s blessing, Seaton would not be eligible to play for the United States in the U-17 World Cup this fall in the United Arab Emirates because he had already suited up for Jamaica in an official capacity at this age level, the USSF said.
Another angle to the odd world of international soccer:
Seaton could abandon hope of playing for the United States this year, continue to play for Jamaica in qualifying and possibly appear in the U-17 World Cup — and yet remain eligible to change his association. As long as he doesn’t play for Jamaica’s senior national team in an FIFA official competition, he could apply to switch to the United States someday.