History will be made on Wednesday evening when, for the first time, the legendary Old Firm derby in Scotland will have an American in uniform for both Rangers and Celtic.
There are some big derby clashes in the soccer world. Some of the most famous ones are Inter vs. AC Milan and Lazio vs. Roma in Italy, Liverpool vs. Everton in England and even River Plate vs. Boca Juniors in Argentina.
But one of the biggest, perhaps even one of the fiercest is the one known as the Old Firm Derby, in Scotland, where soccer, religion and politics combine into a simmering cauldron every year.
Both Celtic and Rangers belong to the Scottish city of Glasgow. Celtic Park and Ibrox are roughly five miles apart in distance but the teams are a million miles apart in many other ways.
The teams first met on the playing field on February 28, 1888 and it wasn’t long afterwards that the religious divide in the city spilled over into the soccer. Rangers became the team of the once dominant Protestant population, while the fading Catholic population that was revitalized by the influx of Irish Catholic immigrants, were represented by the Hoops of Celtic.
The stadium violence really didn’t start in earnest until the 1980 Scottish Cup Final at Hampden Park, although violence had erupted a in a few isolated cases in the 50s and 60s. In that 1980 encounter, Celtic narrowly won the Cup, 1-0, and at the final whistle their fans invaded the field to celebrate with their team.
The Rangers fans did the same, although not to join in the celebrations.
With this storied history, several Americans have taken part in Rangers vs. Celtic confrontations, although up to now only on one side or another.
The green side of Glasgow has only had one Yank take the field for them previously and that was current USMNT star, Timothy Weah. They had signed a few more, such as Dominic Cervi, but none had ever played a competitive minute.
Weah joined the Hoops on loan from his PSG team in January 2019 and he stayed there until the summer, winning both the Scottish Premiership and the Scottish Cup before joining his current club Lille.
Rangers, on the other hand, have been a hotbed for Americans over the last few decades. In the past, eight different Americans have played for the Gers, with former USMNT midfielder Maurice Edu being the most prominent; the native of California, has featured 122 times between 2008 and 2012.
Also notably, former national team captain and father of Dortmund’s Wunderkind Gio Reyna, Claudio, was the first American to don the blue shirt during his two-season spell with the team.
Carlos Bocanegra even captained Rangers in 2012, playing for them from 2011 to 2013.
But that was then and this is now.
Last August, Cameron Carter-Vickers, who is on the books of English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur, was sent out on loan to the 51-times Scottish champions while James Sands signed a loan deal with the current reigning champions last month from NYCFC.
Perhaps none of the fans of either team will be thinking about it when they walk through the gates at Celtic Park on Wednesday night, but this will be the first time that there could be a potential Yank vs. Yank in one of the oldest and most storied derbies in world soccer.
Carter Vickers will undoubtedly be in the starting XI unless he picks up a knock before the game, although he really should be in Minnesota helping the USMNT qualify for the World Cup (but that’s the subject of another article).
There is not a good chance for Sands to start the game however. He has started twice since arriving in January, but this has been out of necessity due to injuries and other absences. Having just signed Aaron Ramsey on loan from Juventus, the American’s game time will become even more limited, although the derby comes too soon for the Welshman.
We can at least hope to see Sands come off the bench though, and he could be called upon by head coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst to take the field.
The game kicks off American east coast time at 2:45 pm on Wednesday. Whether or not history is made by having Yanks on the field in both uniforms, this is always a recommende spectacle to see.