U.S. goalkeeper Yarbrough looks to make most of big chance

Goalie William Yarbrough, back, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Mexico, practices in Miami for Friday’s friendly against Cuba.
Goalie William Yarbrough, back, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Mexico, practices in Miami for Friday’s friendly against Cuba. TNS

One of the biggest surprises to come out of the U.S. national soccer team training camp in Miami this week is the perfection with which goalkeeper William Yarbrough speaks Spanish.

A blond, blue-eyed son of a Texan father named Lee Yarbrough and an Alaskan mother named Stacey Story typically can’t conduct lengthy interviews in Spanish. But once you learn Yarbrough’s unique history, his bilingualism makes perfect sense — and will come in handy as the U.S. team headed to Cuba on Wednesday night for Friday’s friendly in Havana.

Yarbrough’s parents are Christian missionaries and decided to move to Mexico in the 1980s to spread their faith. They settled in Aguascalientes, a colonial city in north-central Mexico, and that is where William and his three brothers were born. They spoke English at home but only Spanish at school and on the soccer fields.

The little blond boy fell in love with the goalkeeper position and at 16 signed his first contract with the youth team of Pachuca. He stayed with Pachuca the next few years and in 2012 was loaned to Leon, where he continues to play today. Last season, he led Leon to a third-place finish and was among the top goalkeepers in Liga MX.

As he became more well-known, he continually faced the same question: Would he play for the U.S. or Mexican national team? As a dual citizen, he is eligible to play for either country.

Yarbrough, 27, feels allegiance to both and is deeply connected to both cultures. He played briefly for the Mexican under-20 team in 2007, but when U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann called him in early 2015, he accepted the invitation and knew he had found his true calling.

“I’ve always wanted to play for the U.S. team,” Yarbrough said. “There was a point where I couldn’t really answer that question because I didn’t want to sound like my feet weren’t set on the ground. I just kept to myself. But it is something I decided years ago with my family and close ones, about when that day came who would I choose. Defending these colors — the U.S. colors — was always something I felt was the right thing. You know it’s the right thing when it comes from the heart.”

Klinsmann chose not to invite veterans Tim Howard and Brad Guzan to this camp, and instead brought in Yarbrough, David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes) and Ethan Horvath (Molde FK) for upcoming matches against Cuba and New Zealand.

“We look at this as a big opportunity for the three guys representing us in these two friendlies,” Klinsmann said. “Obviously, there’s Tim Howard and Brad Guzan, and we know exactly what we get from them because they have so much experience. But it’s our job to bring along the next wave of goalkeepers and try to give them opportunities and the only way they can grow is if you let them play.”

Yarbrough hopes to make the most of his call-up.

“I am very happy and grateful to have this chance, and very motivated,” Yarbrough said in Spanish. “This is a huge opportunity for me to make my mark with Howard and Guzan not here. It’s a privilege and honor to come up and represent the U.S. I feel flattered and honored every time I get called into camp. I am blessed to have dual citizenship.”