Alfredo Morales has a Spanish name but does not speak Spanish. His paternal roots stretch to Peru, a country he has not visited since he was 6. He has lived all 25 years in Germany but counts ethnic Turks and Bosnians among his best friends.
Morales is a U.S. national soccer team player who, until 2008, remembered a family vacation to Washington and Miami as his only trip to America. And on Friday at RFK Stadium, he will take instruction from a California-living German for a friendly against Peru witnessed by his father, as well as countless relatives with Peruvian blood who reside in the D.C. area.
“It’s a very cool story,” he said Tuesday. “I like telling people about it because I am proud of it.”
First, the basics:
Morales is a midfielder for Ingolstadt, a small club from Bavaria that last season gained promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time. He has played every minute of two victories and a defeat, good for seventh place among 18 teams.
Morales is in his third season with Ingolstadt after a 12-year affiliation with Hertha Berlin, one that began in the youth academy and took him through the lower tiers of German soccer and briefly to the Bundesliga.
He is among five U.S. players on regular assignment in Germany’s revered circuit, joining 2014 World Cup members Fabian Johnson, John Brooks, Aron Johannsson and Timmy Chandler.
Morales’s U.S. career began in 2008 with the under-20 squad. He received his first senior call-up in 2011 and made his first appearance for Jurgen Klinsmann in January 2013. Over the past two years, Morales has played in 11 matches and started four. This summer, he was on the Gold Cup roster for the group stage only.
On the surface, Morales’s path to the national team rings familiar: A U.S. serviceman stationed in Germany marries a local woman. They have a son who hones his soccer skills under German guidance and, through the father’s citizenship, is eligible for a U.S. passport and national team duty.
However, unlike the fathers of Johnson, Brooks, Chandler and several others, Galo Morales was not stationed in Germany. He is from Peru and, during the Vietnam War, enlisted in the U.S. Army, Alfredo said.
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, such service during conflict affords the individual the right to apply for citizenship, provided he or she serves honorably.
After non-combat tours in Vietnam, Galo Morales, now 65, became a citizen. He lived in California and Hawaii. As Alfredo tells it, he was working at a hotel in Honolulu when he met Ruth, a German exploring the United States. She returned to Germany; he followed. They married in 1989. Alfredo was born a year later. A sister, Rosa, arrived in 1992.
As a child, Alfredo spoke Spanish. But as his father, a taxi driver, learned German, Spanish faded from the home. Because of his name, teammates and strangers alike expect him to converse in Spanish. Bilingual U.S. players with Mexican backgrounds “always make fun because I don’t speak Spanish,” said Morales, who is fluent in German and English and grew up in Berlin’s diverse Wedding district.
Morales’s U.S. ties were discovered about eight years ago by Thomas Rongen, the U.S. under-20 coach at the time.
“I was on the subway on my way home from Hertha training,” Morales said. “The phone rang, someone tried to talk to me in English, but the connection died. I thought, ‘Who was that?’ He called again.”
Morales reported to U.S. camp in 2008 and ’09 but wasn’t chosen for the U-20 World Cup. He was, however, on the U.S. Soccer Federation’s radar.
His contributions at Ingolstadt — 57 league starts in the second tier over two seasons — heightened Klinsmann’s interest.
Despite German and Peruvian opportunities, Morales remained committed to the U.S. program.
“USA was the first to call me,” he said. “I said to myself, ‘I started this, I go this way. I continue. I should not switch. I want to go to the full national team someday.’ Now, to be here, it’s a big, big honor.”
By playing in the Gold Cup, a FIFA-sanctioned tournament, Morales became officially tied to U.S. soccer.
His other affiliations are coming full circle. In June, he made a second-half entrance in a U.S. friendly against Germany in Cologne. And now comes the Peru matchup.
Over the years, he has followed Peruvians playing in the Bundesliga and kept tabs on the national team at the Copa America tournament.
His father’s heritage has drawn him closer.
“I want to visit. I want to see everything. I want to go to the mountains. I want to learn about the Incas. I want to learn Spanish again,” he said. “I know this is my background and I want to know more about it.”