What USMNT gets with Leon goalkeeper William Yarbrough
When a dual Mexico and United States citizen is deemed good enough to play international-level soccer and gets the call to one or the other of the national teams, the reaction is fierce.
That was the case Thursday in Mexico after Club Leon goalkeeper William Yarbrough announced he had received a call-up to the United States for friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland later this month, and that he had accepted. It is important to note that U.S. Soccer itself has not yet officially published its squad list.
El Tri coach Miguel Herrera was quick on the trigger, indicating that Mexico has eight goalkeepers of at least the quality of Yarbrough and wouldn't be calling up players just to stop them joining Jurgen Klinsmann's side of the fence.
"Piojo" might actually believe that, but it would seem to contradict previous statements about him watching Yarbrough closely. And considering Mexico will require six goalkeepers this summer, you have to believe Yarbrough might have been very much in the mix for either the Gold Cup or Copa America.
Why? The key here is Yarbrough's age. At just 26 (his birthday is March 20), Yarbrough is still young for a keeper, although he has a wealth of experience under his belt, including back-to-back Liga MX titles with Leon, for which he was a key figure. Most of Mexico's top keepers are on the wrong side of 30, while young hopefuls Raul Gudino and Antonio Rodriguez have talent but are still a long way off the national team.
As Club Leon president Jesus Martinez tweeted in response to Herrera's comment: "I didn't know that there are eight goalkeepers in Mexico that were back-to-back champions before 25 [years old]."
Yarbrough is a lot of fun to watch, even if he is an acquired taste. Wearing "WILLiaM" on the back on his Leon shirt and using a specially designed glove on his right hand that has just four holes for his five digits, the devout Christian -- he is the son of Texan missionaries to Mexico -- is capable of both match-winning saves and high-profile blunders.
Yarbrough charges out, screams at his defense and celebrates his team's goals with passion. As well a being a good shot-stopper, he is perhaps the best goalkeeper in the Liga MX in terms of how he distributes the ball.
When attack-minded coach Gustavos Matosas was guiding Leon to consecutive titles in the Apertura 2013 and Clausura 2014, it was Yarbrough who was one of the team's most representative players in terms of how La Fiera played. That might sound strange for a goalkeeper, but Yarbrough was the first line of the offense, playing the ball out within a second or two of getting it and a lot of the time putting the team on the front foot with decisive throws or passes.
The obvious conclusion is that if he can eradicate the big mistakes -- and he will have at least two World Cup cycles to do so -- Yarbrough's potential with the United States national team is significant, even if the competition (Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando and the young generation of Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid and Cody Cropper) is steep.
Spanish and English speaker Yarbrough is also saying the right things in terms of being committed to the United States. Again, that might not strike a chord immediately, even for U.S. fans. The player had refused to say he'd prefer El Tri to the U.S. and had been adamant he'd pick whichever called him first.
In the end, Yarbrough said on Thursday it was an easy decision to represent the United States because Mexico didn't come calling.
But if he should confront Mexico, perhaps next month in San Antonio when the CONCACAF rivals meet in a friendly?
"What I can be sure of, if that that day comes [to face Mexico], is that I'll defend the United States' colors until death and I will want to win the game," said Yarbrough on Thursday in an interview with ESPN in Leon. "Beyond what one may feel, my commitment is 100 percent with the United States."
Remember, that is Yarbrough, speaking in Spanish, in Mexico.
Mexico fans -- and the press, perhaps -- pushed to the fore Yarbrough's previous comments that his "heart is Mexican." The fact is that he was born in Aguascalientes and was raised in Mexico. But in terms of national teams, Yarbrough refused to commit to El Tri even when Herrera started dropping his name in interviews a few months ago. And that was before Klinsmann first got in contact, which Yarbrough stated was three weeks ago.
"The call took me by surprise. He called me directly," Yarbrough said in the ESPN interview. "I was at home resting, and when he said it was him, obviously, there was emotion and a lot of happiness. He just told me that he was getting in contact to tell me they were watching."
Now, the eyes of all U.S. soccer fans will be on a player with an unlikely road to the national team and one who has the ability to shake things up in the goalkeeping depth pool, if he can take his chance.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.