The United States Men’s National Team has been assembled this week to play two games in the CONCACAF Nations League against Canada and Cuba. Our own Sergiño Dest is among those players who received a call-up from coach Gregg Berhalter, and he is expected to play in at least one of these fixtures, as that would finally solidify his choice for the US over the Netherlands. For the first time since 2005, an Ajacied will be representing the stars and stripes in an official international tournament. It seems like a fitting moment to look back at those American Amsterdammers who preceded Dest, and to also look forward to the youngsters who might follow in his footsteps, to see how American Ajax really is.
Eddy Hamel (1902 – 1943)
Eddy Hamel was the first American player to cap for Ajax, and he played 125 games in Amsterdam between 1922 and 1930. He is remembered as a talented, fan-favorite right-winger. He reportedly had a large fan club at the time, which would sit at the right side of the pitch to follow his every move, and would then switch seats to the other side of the stadium to do the same in the second half. Hamel was born in New York City to Jewish-Dutch parents and moved to Amsterdam in his teenage years. By the time he was a regular for Ajax, he identified as both a Dutchman and an American. He was never called upon by either national team, however, and because he also never signed with an American team, his name has almost been forgotten in the United States. In the Netherlands, he is one of the best-remembered players of the 1920s for tragic reasons that have nothing to do with football. Eddy Hamel is the only Ajax player who would later become a war victim. Twelve years into his retirement, he was arrested by the occupying Nazi’s for being a Jew, and in 1943 he passed away in a gas chamber at Auschwitz.
John O’Brien (1977)
While Eddy Hamel had a double passport and Dutch parents, John O’Brien was a born and raised American from Playa del Rey, California. His parents had never even heard of the Netherlands when former head of scouting Co Adriaanse convinced 16-year old John O’Brien to move to Amsterdam. The talented left-back would play in the youth squad for two years and at FC Utrecht on a one-year loan spell, before finally making his debut for Ajax. He scored on his debut: an Ajax tradition. His career would leave a lot to be desired, however. Despite his obvious talents, he only played 83 matches in six seasons for Ajax, mostly due to injuries and managerial changes. At other clubs, FC Utrecht, ADO Den Haag and Chivas USA, O’Brien only played 24 games in total, before giving up on his body and his professional career. He did collect 32 for the United States, however. He played in three World Cups and one Summer Olympics. He scored the opening goal for the US in their 3-2 win over Portugal at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea. Landon Donovan called John O’Brien “the best player in the United States“ when he was at the peak of his career.
Sergiño Dest (2000)
Sergiño Dest is the latest American to play for Ajax. Much was said and written about his decision regarding his football nationality over the course of the last few months. He took his time to consider both options before finally deciding to join the USMNT, despite having lived in the Netherlands his entire life. His choice for the American team makes a lot more sense when you consider that he has already represented multiple American youth teams, as well as the USMNT in a friendly, while the Dutch National Team never really made an effort for him until it was too late. Dest just turned nineteen and is in the midst of his breakthrough season at both club level and international level. Now that he has made his decision, he can start looking forward to building on an impressive career.
With Hamel, O’Brien and Dest, only three Americans ever played an official match for Ajax. Three is a small number, but it is a number that could double within the next few years. Walking around Ajax’ Sportpark De Toekomst are three youngsters with American passports: Joshua Pynadath, Alex Méndez, and Kik Pierie. All three are regarded as talents in their own right, and all three are eligible to play for the USMNT.
Joshua Pynadath (2002)
The name Pynadath originates from India, and while his family has roots there, Joshua Pynadath thinks of himself as an American kid like any other. He was born and raised in the San Francisco Area and played for De Anza Force as a kid. When his mother was offered a job in Madrid, his whole family moved to Spain, where he managed to become the first American to ever enrol in the youth academy of Real Madrid at the age of twelve. Pynadath would stay there for only one year though. His family was moving again, this time to Amsterdam, and Joshua was still too young to stay behind. He signed with Ajax in 2015 and is now just starting to break through at Jong Ajax, the second team, in his fifth season at the club. He can play on both wings and is renown for his speed, agility and skill. He has already been a part of the US U15 and U17 teams.
Alex Méndez (2000)
A high-profile transfer in the world of young football talents took place last summer when Alex Méndez left the German side Freiburg for Ajax Amsterdam. The East LA native is in possession of both a Mexican and American passport, but is looking to opt for a career as an American international. He has played for the US U15, U17, U19 and U21 teams, and will probably join the USMNT if (or rather, when) his club career takes off. He has needed little time to adjust to Ajax and Amsterdam, as he has already played ten games on the midfield of Jong Ajax. He is a very attacking-minded midfielder who can take on defenders and has a dangerous left-footed shot from distance. Fans in both Amsterdam and the US are eagerly waiting to see just how good Alex Méndez will become.
Kik Pierie (2000)
Not many people know that Kik Pierie was born in Boston, Massachusets. At first glance, he is a Dutch teenager like any other. At second glance, he still is. The fact that he lived in the US for the first three months of his life makes him a lot more interesting to our American readers, however. Son of a former Harvard professor, Kik Pierie is a promising young defender who joined Ajax just this summer for around 5 million euro’s, on a transfer from SC Heerenveen. So far he has played eight matches for Jong Ajax and has sat on the bench for the first team on multiple occasions. He is a central defender of the Ajax kind, not necessarily strong physically, but very technical and intelligent. There is currently not much short-time perspective for him at Ajax or the Dutch National Team, as he still plays for the youth teams of both club and country, but the US has already carefully reached out to Pierie. Although he admits to being as Dutch as can be, Kik Pierie has promised to keep all his options open for the time being, as he is not forced to make the decision yet. A career in orange, rather than red, white and blue, is looking more likely so far.
Meanwhile, at Ajax, General Director Edwin van der Sar and his top colleagues have set their eyes on the American market. From a financial and marketing perspective, the United States is very interesting to Ajax, as the sport is rapidly growing there, and because Ajax is in possession of a handful of American poster boys. Ajax opened an office in New York and participated in a summer tournament last year. More recently, Edwin van der Sar personally visited the US to sign a great number of business deals with i.a. ESPN, Sports Illustrated and B/R Football.
Ajax’ football is becoming increasingly accessible, and increasingly exciting to the American fanatic.