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Jordan Siebatcheu was born in D.C., grew up in France and could have a bright USMNT future

Jordan Siebatcheu, right, holds back Honduras's Jhow Benavidez during a Concacaf Nations League semifinal Thursday in Denver. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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DENVER — The man who scored the winning goal for the U.S. national soccer team Thursday — and who might start in the Concacaf Nations League final Sunday against Mexico — was born in Washington, grew up in France and scored regularly this past season for the Swiss league champions.

Before committing to the United States in March, he also was eligible to represent Cameroon and France. Four years ago, he played for a French youth national team. His name on the roster does not match that on the back of his jersey. His first language is French.

And over the next nine months, Theoson-Jordan Siebatcheu might figure into whether the United States rebounds from its 2018 World Cup qualifying fiasco and earns a ticket to next year’s tournament in Qatar.

On the U.S. squad, he is Jordan Siebatcheu. His pro club, Young Boys, refers to him as Jordy. On his uniform, he honors his mother with her family name, Pefok.

Siebatcheu, 25, debuted with the United States in March, appearing in friendlies against Jamaica and Northern Ireland. He entered as a sub last weekend against Switzerland, then came off the bench Thursday to score his first senior international goal in the waning moments of a 1-0 victory over Honduras.

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Presumably, Coach Gregg Berhalter is weighing whether to start the 6-foot-3 striker against Mexico (9:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network) in the final of this tournament, a forerunner to the start of World Cup regional qualifying in September.

Siebatcheu provides a greater physical presence than 5-10 starter Josh Sargent, but “it’s also the movement in the box, which is really good,” Berhalter said. “That is something that is important for forwards when crosses are coming in.”

On Thursday, Siebatcheu made a central run and headed in Weston McKennie’s cross from seven yards.

Siebatcheu’s entrance to international soccer began with the French under-21 squad in 2017. A year later, he turned down an invitation to the U.S. senior team because he had just switched clubs in France and prioritized the transition.

Soon after his U.S. coaching appointment in late 2018, Berhalter traveled to Europe on a scouting mission. Among the players he saw perform in person was Siebatcheu.

“I immediately contacted his representative, and then I contacted him just to say hello and to tell him we were watching him and we were keeping him on our radar,” Berhalter said.

Early this year, amid Siebatcheu’s standout season in Switzerland, Berhalter invited him to U.S. camp in Europe for the two friendlies. He accepted.

Siebatcheu declined an interview request Saturday, citing his discomfort level speaking English at great length. After Thursday’s match, his only interview was with CBS Sports’s Nico Cantor, who speaks French.

Communication on the field has not been a problem, Berhalter said, “because soccer is soccer, and he understands. Conversations off the field are more difficult, but he has improved” since U.S. camp in March. “We keep it simple with our coaching points.”

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The only fluent French speaker on the U.S. team is forward Tim Weah, who has played in France for seven years. Nonetheless, Siebatcheu has been well received by his teammates.

“He looks like he has a hard outer shell, but once you crack through that, you’re able to get to know him,” defender Mark McKenzie said. “At team meals and on the team bus, we’re laughing and cracking jokes. Little things like that help open him up because he is coming into a group with guys who already know each other. The best way to integrate him is to learn more about him.”

Siebatcheu has bonded in particular with McKenzie, Weah and Daryl Dike, who is not on the active roster for the Nations League. When Siebatcheu scored against Honduras, he ran toward Dike on the sideline because it was Dike’s 21st birthday.

With the language gap, Siebatcheu’s early life remains something of a mystery. His parents are Cameroonian and, because he was born in the United States, citizenship was a birthright. According to the U.S. Soccer Federation, the family moved to France when Siebatcheu was 2.

From youth to professional, he was affiliated with Reims, a club in northeast France. His breakout season came in 2017-18, when he scored 17 goals — tied for second in the second division — as the team earned promotion to Ligue 1.

That performance led to an $11 million transfer to another French club, Rennes. Siebatcheu struggled to replicate his success, posting three goals in two seasons. Loaned to Young Boys this past season, he rebounded with 12 goals in league play as the club from Bern won its fourth consecutive championship by a whopping 31 points and earned a place in the 2021-22 UEFA Champions League qualifiers.

Siebatcheu also had three goals in the two legs of a round-of-32 upset of Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League, the continental tournament one tier below the Champions League.

Last month, Young Boys exercised the option to purchase his contract from Rennes for an undisclosed fee. “He has developed very well at YB,” sports director Christoph Spycher said, “and has become an important part of the team.”

Siebatcheu is on track to become an important part of the U.S. team as well. The first step was persuading him to consider the program, the same process multinationals Sergiño Dest and Yunus Musah went through before choosing the United States.

“This is another example of where we just want to get him into our environment so he could see what it was like and he could make a decision,” Berhalter said. “All we want the players to do is get the most possible information to make a decision they are comfortable with. If they feel it’s the right environment for them, they can choose to play for the United States.”

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