Getting Stuck In: Should they stay or should they go?

The Getting Stuck In column delves into some of the more intriguing aspects in US Soccer and MLS, shining a light on the stories regarding the league’s teams and its most-loved characters. This week Dave Lewis looks into whether American players should strive to play in Europe or keep their feet grounded on home soil…

When Jurgen Klinsmann claimed that he wanted American players to push themselves to play at the highest level, he intentionally took a jab at MLS. Actually, it was more like a slap. The American soccer landscape shook. Just this week, Klinsmann’s second in command Andi Herzog was quoted as saying: “Our goal is to get as many players to Europe as possible.”

How could Klinsy dismiss MLS this way? I mean, this is his adopted country where he gets his tan and laid back SoCal vibe. And with so many MLS players on his January roster (20), why alienate them? How does that help his cause?

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It’s no secret Europe is the highest level when it comes to soccer, with Champions League football being the toughest competition out there. And Helen Keller could see that MLS is nowhere near the level of Europe in general. That being said, the American player has always faced a dilemma: ‘Do I stay in the States and play college, get drafted by an MLS team and maybe get a shot in Europe later, or do I try and ply my trade in Europe right away (given the chance)?’

So many players have made the wrong choice. They either went too early or too late to Europe. Or they never go at all, leaving US fans wondering, what if.

Landon Donovan, arguably America’s finest footballer, did go to Europe but was all over the map – literally. His journey is the best example of what American footballers face; chaos and confusion.  He was brave and bold by going over to Germany as a teenager, playing with Bayer Leverkusen. Most players would recognize this as a dream – the Bundesliga, a big club, living in Germany – But he just never adjusted to the German culture. Donovan was just homesick (or maybe a victim of an unwritten anti-US bias). He was subsequently loaned to San Jose in MLS. When given another chance with Leverkusen years later, he lasted just seven games before getting homesick again.

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Many US fans dubbed Donovan a bust in Europe despite having won two MLS Cups before the age of 23. It’s obvious LD went too young. But when Bayern Munich and his former Cal pal and Bayern manager Jurgen Klinsmann called in his late twenties, well, we all thought this was it. LD will do work for the Bavarian giants. But he worked for only six miserable games on loan. He would go on to have two incredible loan spells with Everton near the end of his career, that included winning a player of the month honour. His performances would leave me and my buddy Eric glued to the television going bananas with pride over how he looked like a legit Premier League player. But the verdict on LD’s career has to be MLS rich, European poor.

Players are plucked at different points from MLS rosters with varying degrees of success. Clint Dempsey (Revs) was young. Brian McBride (Crew) was old. And Carlos Bocanegra (Fire) was somewhere in between. They all are legends with Fulham so their timing was right. But the timing for players like Jozy Altidore was probably all wrong.

Jozy did well with the Red Bulls (37 games and 15 goals) and caught Villarreal’s attention while still a teenager. He was raw, but again Helen Keller could have seen he had talent. After a few loan spells he went to Hull and laid an egg: 1 goal in 28 appearances. Then, after crushing the Dutch League (my grandmother could score in that league and she has no left foot), he went to Sunderland and laid an even bigger egg: 1 goal in 42. As a result, most would label him a European catastrophe.

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So Jozy went back to MLS where maybe he belonged all along. Some think Jozy got a fair chance in Europe. But some would say the deck was stacked against him from the start. Hull and Sunderland were bottom-dwelling teams clawing their way to stay up. Most managers don’t trust unknown commodities like US players to save their clubs and their jobs.

Fair? Not really. US players may lack technical skills and flair but they work hard, are extremely fit and are total professionals. That’s why when ex-Sounder DeAndre Yedlin got subbed after 18 minutes for Sunderland in December I thought: “Man, he sure wasn’t ready for England, and he sure didn’t deserve that.”

So now, with the January transfer window open, I thought I would look at three US players linked with European moves and evaluate whether they should stay in MLS or listen to Klinsy.

Matt Miazga – Age 20 – Central Defender – New York Red Bulls

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Rumors: The Polish-American (hasn’t decided which national team to play for) was linked in the fall to Chelsea, Leicester, Stoke and Swansea.

What he does well: Strong in the air, exceptional pace for his size and defends set pieces like a warrior.

What he needs to work on: Ball at his feet, less fouling and temper.

Stay or go?: Will he sit on a bench in Europe if he goes? If he goes to the Prem, most likely. Germany? Less likely. His game needs to develop and getting matches under his belt in MLS (only 34 appearances so far) defending against the likes of Drogba, Villa, Kamara, Giovinco and Keane can’t hurt. STAY (for now)!

 

Jordan Morris – Age 21 – Forward – Unattached

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Rumors: Is training with Bundesliga side Werder Bremen this month but could sign with his hometown club, Seattle Sounders, who own his MLS rights.

What he does well: Bullish approach to the game like a young Wayne Rooney; physically gifted with good speed.

What he needs to work on: Defense, pro experience

Stay or go?: This is a strange case. Usually a player like Morris, who just finished his junior year at Stanford, would go to MLS. But he already has a goal and seven caps for the national team, which is unheard of for a college player. He wants to play in Europe. His tenacity and high IQ would work well in Germany. GO!

 

Gyasi Zardes – Age 24 – Forward/winger – LA Galaxy

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Rumors: The US international has been linked to Reading in the Championship and Belgian side Gent, while more recently there was an offer from an unnamed Championship side for $3 million.

What he does well: Big, strong and powerful, runs well down the flanks, links well with midfielders.

What he needs to work on: Passing.

Stay or go?: In 2014 he was a goal-scoring machine for the Galaxy. Struggled a bit in 2015. But he had a breakout year with the national team as Klinsmann used him as a winger. This is a tough call. Is the Championship that much better than MLS (a debate for another day)? Will he develop playing in a smaller league like in Belgium? He is 24, making decent money and playing for an MLS glamour club. STAY!

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Breaking down the USMNT 25-man squad for upcoming friendlies

Jurgen Klinsmann named his 25-man squad for the upcoming USMNT friendlies against Colombia and Republic of Ireland today and there were a mixture of familiar faces as well as new ones in the roster.

The two friendlies may not be competitive games, but Klinsmann will want to end an excellent 2014 on a high and the first game against a no.3 ranked Colombia side on Friday will be a real test that many players will relish playing in.

“We want to finish 2014 on a high note and continue to try to meet the top teams eye to eye,” said Klinsmann.

“In these last two games we want our veterans to really become mentors both on and off the field, and we want to see our youngsters take advantage of the opportunity to make their case and grow from the experience. These performances will set the tone for 2015.”

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Bill Hamid (DC United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

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No real surprises here. Tim Howard is taking a year off international duty so Brad Guzan will expect to continue as first-choice. Though the fact that these are friendly games should see rotation between the sticks. Sean Johnson will be delighted with his call-up but he is unlikely to feature. Bill Hamid is certainly looking like the future no.1 ‘keeper and he deserves more and more responsibility from now on.

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Greg Garza (Club Tijuana), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Jermaine Jones (New England Revolution), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC)

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Mostly usual names in here but some surprise inclusions nonetheless. Firstly, Matt Besler looked extremely tired at the end of Sporting Kansas City’s season and needs a long rest during the offseason. A long trip to Europe is not what he needs.

John Brooks is also a surprise inclusion as he has fallen down the pecking order at Hertha Berlin while Geoff Cameron and Jermaine Jones have been called up in defence to presumably play centre-back but neither are naturals in the position. Jones is a far better midfielder and the experiment at centre-back against Honduras didn’t exactly flourish. Facing a pacey Colombian attack will be a major test.

DeAndre Yedlin is one of three players called up who are still likely to be involved in the MLS Playoffs and so his game time may be limited. And any action he does see could be in midfield once again.

It’s a shame not to see Bolton Wanderer’s Tim Ream called up as he has been in good form this season.

Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Julian Green (Hamburg), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution)

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Michael Bradley misses out as he recovers from a foot injury so some new faces are involved. Lee Nguyen has been rewarded for an incredible year though New England’s participation in the playoffs could limit his game time. Alfredo Morales in involved once again but it would have been nice to see a couple of MLS players called up considering the games are non-competitive.

The likes of Luis Gil, Will Trapp and Perry Kitchen could have all been given the nod by Klinsmann but he has overlooked all three on this occasion.

Kyle Beckerman will hope to forget about Real Salt Lake’s humiliating MLS playoff loss to LA Galaxy by ending what has been a great year for him on a high, while Julian Green could impress again.

Graham Zusi has been overlooked but he looked just as tired as teammate Besler and will likely be pleased that he can recover.

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Miguel Ibarra (Minnesota United FC), Jordan Morris (Stanford), Rubio Rubin (Utrecht), Bobby Wood (1860 Munich), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

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The major surprises in the roster are in the attack. Clint Dempsey misses out playing at his former ground Craven Cottage as some new faces are set to see some action. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, Miguel Ibarra and Rubio Rubin have all made the squad and will be desperate to impress.

Miguel Ibarra plays in NASL and Bobby Wood is struggling to make any kind of impact for an 1860 Munich side that is near the bottom of the 2.Bundesliga.

While Jordan Morris has yet to leave College and is still a student at Stanford. All three will hope to see some minutes but Rubio Rubin is the most exciting to watch.

The 18-year-old has been called up for the second successive time and will expect to win his first cap this time around. He has four assists in nine games for Utrecht in the Eredivisie and is a versatile attacker with a bright future ahead of him.

Jozy Altidore continues to earn call-ups despite failing to get in the Sunderland team while Aaron Johansson and Terrance Boyd are not deemed fit enough having recently recovered from injuries.

Eddie Johnson has been overlooked once again and his USMNT career looks to be over as long as Klinsmann is in charge.

What do you make of the latest USMNT squad?