The Resurrection

I’ve not written a thing on this blog in over a year.  But I’ve clearly got plenty to blog about.

It’s a game day for the US Men’s National Team. Landon Donovan.  And heck, my two <10 year olds got their first “cap” last week.


We’re on the cusp of a Brazilian World Cup and stars are dropping like flies in pre World Cup tune up matches. My adopted 2nd nation of Colombia has finally realized it has lost Falcao, but has a chance to advance nonetheless.

Falcao Goes Down

My first visit to Old Tafford came not long ago. Cool.

And heck, the 2014 New England Revolution are, well, thoroughly watchable.

Diego Fagundez

I have more than enough reason to rejoin the >140 character world of self-expression with relevant, meaningful and heartfelt ideas about soccer, the meaning it has on life, love and the world around us.

So what topic came to me in the shower the other day that finally tipped the scales for me to sit down and clack away at the keys?

It’s not any of those wonderful topics.

It’s hardly even a relevant topic at this juncture.

In fact, it’s the US Soccer’s third-rail.

I’m almost serving up a troll’s paradise for my own ridicule and clear soccer illiteracy just by going here.

It’s Freddy.

Freddy Adu

I know, I know. But, bear with me, I think I’ve got an interesting twist on this one.

You see, this article is NOT about Freddy being a washed up player who should pack it in.

Nor is it about his incredible skill and the fact that just some bad contracts and unlucky breaks lead him to his current, club-less position.

Clearly, neither of those are completely true. At least not to me.

And I’ll go on the record and say that I’ve written more on Soccer Soap Box about Freddy in the past than is probably warranted or logical given his frustrating flirtations with the US National Team, confusing MLS tenure and unsuccessful stays abroad.

The most obvious of this vintage was “Much Adu About Something?” which gives you plenty to throw stones at, as a perspective from December 2009, but there are others.

So, it’s clear.  I have a curiosity and interest in Freddy’s career.  Probably more than justified.  So be it.

But the other day, with thoughts whipping around about Julian Green being included, and Landon Donovan being discarded, from the US team, I began thinking of other young talents that need to be watched. New England’s own Diego Fagundez central to those thoughts.

It brought me back to Freddy, and the tale of what went wrong and what could have been. If you don’t believe he can play, stop reading. Because, while none of what follows is an argument on why he is “the saviour”, it is built upon the idea that Freddy can play.

My evidence? You don’t get to the Olympics, National Team, MLS, Benfica contracts, etc. on marketing alone.  Argue if you’d like, but check out these quick clips to remind us of Freddy with the USMNT.

Flip to 2 minutes and 52 seconds of this one.

He was (is?) a good bit better than terrible.

Freddy, has a one-liner on his gone-pretty-quiet Twitter account that popped into my mind. “Never put a period where God put a comma.”  And I suppose he’s praying that’s true.


OK, religion is not my specialty, but it got me thinking, how on earth do you turn that period in Freddy’s career into a comma.

Most MLS coaches are probably not interested in the headache created by his return.

He’s probably too proud to play in a lower-level US Club.

He doesn’t have the best international track record.

So now what? Is there a way out?

Then, it hit me.  Why not leverage the machines that made (and ruined?) him to resurrect him.

Forget miracles, think ‘Murica: Marketing and money.

Imagine these ingredients, if you will:

  • A club team that wants to get some “noise” generated about it, but cannot be seen as being desperate.
  • A club that has a sister/mother club where a player can prove himself in some harsher-than-MLS conditions. Or at least interest-generating conditions.
  • A motivated Freddy Adu interested in a) regaining some former glory, b) playing the sport he loves, c) cashing in one last time, just in case.  Or, D) all of the above.
  • A creative agent and an even more creative contract, built largely on future performance.
  • Sponsor logos and product placements, lots of them.
  • And now imagine, cameras. Lots of cameras.


Freddy Adu signs with MLS “Team X” (we’ll get back to that) on short-term “All Star Trial” contract. With lots of options that follow the trial period.

Included in the contract is an agreement for a “The Freddy Experiment” (or whatever it would be named), a reality show based on Freddy’s “trial period.”  Imagine the cameras tracking Freddy’s good days, and bad.  Playing and living. Confessionals. Girl troubles.  Whatever.  The whole sickening reality TV gambit.

At the end of the trial period, decision time on the options.

One is a “big” contract. The other is a hand-shake and a goodbye. (And yes, more quietly, lots of intermediate options are probably included.)

The contract meetings include the league, the team, the player and agent and two few key others: representatives from the companies MLS just signed a big TV deal with, Soccer United Marketing, and interested league sponsors.

Sponsors could be integrated into the show the way Spanish television has done for years.  He drinks Gatorade. He plays EA Sports games on his Panasonic TV to relax. Wears Adidas.  Uses a Visa card to pay for life’s needs. Calls home with AT&T.

Heck, you can even build in (raising the sum you’d need to pay Freddy up front), some “goodwill” or prove yourself events as part of the trial/show.  Go use Makita tools from the Home Depot to build a house and help the poor via an MLS Works project.

It’s almost sells itself.

So, where? What team?

Reality is, as we all know, MLS owns player contacts, so it could run the show and decide later.  The end contract could be provided to a club at a reduced cost and a lottery.  This way MLS gets the maximum sponsorship control and flexibility.

But, unless some odd exceptions are made, that probably breaks plenty of MLS/team player distribution rules.  And you lose the idea of a team gaining its own publicity, which is probably a major selling point.

So where then?

The best option is probably Chivas USA.

Of course, that is if the club has a real future, a concern at this point. But why such a great fit?

  1. It’s hard to think of a team more in need of “buzz” than Chivas USA.
  2. The trial period could be with Chivas Guadalajara, a perfect environment for a story line of “prove yourself” in another world.
  3. You could probably craft both English and Spanish versions of the show.  Call it “Sueño Adu” or something to build off of the very Latino-market focused “Sueño MLS” which is already in place.  MLS could leverage an Americanized name in the USA for the show, and get both Univision and one of the American networks onboard.
  4. If it actually works out, he could fit within a more Latin-style playing scheme the team should be leveraging.

Other options exist, of course…

  • BeckhamFC: Whatever this team will be called, it has time to build this story and campaign. It has David’s connections to get a trial situation set up. And c’mon, David could cameo on the show and be part of the story line to build interest.  Maybe he’s the Donald Trump of the decision meeting?
  • NYFC: One more way to leverage the media and marketing capability of the New York market.  No commitment.  Build Buzz.  Imagine rainy scenes from a Manchester City reserve practice showing if Freddy has the commitment… compelling, no?
  • Red Bull USA: Take the above, and turn Manchester into Salzburg, Austria. It works. Us this as a way to keep headlines while NYFC starts stealing attention.

I sense the Cosmos could weasel their way into this discussion somehow, because, credit where credit is due, they seem to be a creative bunch even if not at the top-level of US professional soccer.

Ironically, I don’t see a terrific play for my local New England Revolution unless Freddy goes to Patriot’s Training Camp. Though… given Mr. Kraft’s interests and portfolio, anything’s possible.

And why shouldn’t we, the global-we, try to make this work?

Because whether you like him, dislike him or wish never to think about this again, this our our journey as US soccer fans.

The spirit of the recent US Soccer match (and maybe the controversial captured soldier recovery in Afghanistan?) reminded me “We are the US, might *mighty* US.”

And we don’t leave a man behind.

Nor do we miss a marketing opportunity.  And maybe that’s more important here.

So maybe it’s true what Freddy says.

It’s God that puts in commas.  Freddy’s career needs a miracle and some prayers. But I’d be glad to see something work.

Is this the route to his resurrection?

What say you?

Panama Loss Provokes Difficult Reality Check

There’s nothing like a USA National Team loss to get the fingers on the keys.

Sure, there are parallels to the New England Revolution’s loss last night, with both teams frustratingly not turning it on until it was too late. However, the emotion surrounding the two, for me at least, isn’t the same. And thus, my frustration isn’t either.

(And to be fair, by the time I made it through the Revolution game on the DVR – hey, the Bruins did deserve some attention – I was too tired to repeat the common refrains we’ve heard this season, though with a slightly brighter attitude based on an energetic second half. There, that about covers it.)

For the USA’s Gold Cup loss however, there are some thoughts that jump out at me and I am awake enough to write about them.

First, the difference between the USA’s ability to beat Canada two to zero, and lose two to one against Panama is, to me, more about playing style than playing ability.

Is Panama that good of a team? They aren’t bad, but no, I don’t think they are terrific.

But they are skillful. They control the ball and play with the skill, quick passing and trickery that the USA so infrequently displays. They play like you’d expect from a good Central or South American side.

For the USA, beating Canada is like beating a slightly worse version of itself. When in doubt, effort replaces skill in order to win.

Playing Panama is an adjustment and a reminder that despite the fact that players on the field for the US represented (theoretically) better pedigree as judged by their club teams, pedigree and professionalism are no replacement for skill and “soccer brains.”

This is simply another piece of evidence that true soccer skills development is something the USA needs to figure out in our youth development program. By the time players get to MLS, or get shipped overseas, it’s too late.

That skill deficit is something we hand to our National Team coach, Bob Bradley, to deal with. And while many USA fans have reasons they believe Bob Bradley is not the right coach for this team. I find many of those reasons farcical or delusional.  However, the the other idea that’s really sticking with me: there may be a different reason to see Mr. Bradley off into a new role.

Bob Bradley understands the game, has tried to bring in fresh/better talent as possible and treats his duties with respect (even if he’s unable to dress that way.) There comes a point where the talent within the USA team will only go so far.

However, the USA has a history of coming out flat and either being outplayed or giving up an early goal in the beginning of matches.  Tonight, it was both.

While the eleven players on the field are who really make a difference  and a coach can only do so much to predict or prevent individual errors, this early-game lethargy is the one argument against Mr. Bradley that I find most compelling.

Of course, it’s true that after an opponent gets comfortable in a lead, the USA looks better because they are allowed to see more of the ball as the opponent tends to bunker and counter-attack. But there’s rarely a killer instinct in this team that can sense and attack another team’s weaknesses during nearly any part of the game.

When there’s a history, a pattern, a near predictability to the USA’s inability to start a game with a fire in its belly, what does that tell you? It makes me start to wonder about the coach’s ability to properly get his team mentally ready for the game.

And that’s a problem that Mr. Bradley needs to answer for.

Switching gears, I think there are a few rapid-fire points worth considering at a player-level:

  1. Anyone that is still insistent that Michael Bradley is only on that field because his father is the coach is watching with their eyes closed. Michael Bradley is clearly an imperfect, if improving, midfielder, but he is a driving force in the USA midfield. If Bob Bradley was fired tomorrow, the next coach would have a similar interest in having Michael in his team.
  2. There’s quite a bit of banter on Twitter (and elsewhere) about Freddy Adu and how he “cannot even make the 18 man lineup” for the US team he’s training with. I’ve commented on Freddy before, and hope that there’s still an exciting future for him. On a more timely note, however, given that first 45 minutes we all suffered through today, it is hard to think that Freddy would have been a step down for many of those players. I haven’t seen much of the Turkish Second Division, but I bet that if you come out that flat you risk bodily harm. If not by the other team, maybe by your own fans.
  3. Lastly, I don’t know what Jermaine Jones was saying or thinking when he came off the field against Panama tonight. However, he’s not done nearly enough in that USA jersey (and certainly not tonight) that he so coarsely removed and threw for him to be given a pass. With that petty display by Jones, Maurice Edu just got his starting role back in my mind.

So as we look forward to the game against Guadeloupe, we look through a fog that worries about a lack of skill, motivation and questions around our lineup.   Hopefully we can muster a solid drubbign of Guadeloupe amd we cam chalk up some of these concerns as a post-loss over-reaction.


Logic trumps Emotion: The US National Team’s “Provisional 30”

US National Team coach Bob Bradley today announced the 30-man provisional US World Cup team that will head to Princeton, NJ for its pre-World Cup camp.   This is not an easy task and Coach Bradley will inevitably have people pick away at his choices from every conceivable angle.

Choosing this team, and soon having to narrow the list to the 23-man FIFA limit, is a difficult task for any World Cup bound coach – at least as far as media/blogger critiques are concerned.   I do not plan to second guess the Coach . . . but that does not mean I don’t have some opinions on the choices, or on those left out.

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann, Brad Guzan

Thoughts on the goalkeepers: Frankly, this was the position with the least mystery.  The three choices are all capable keepers and probably well ahead of others that follow on the depth chart.   No surprises.

Defenders:  Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector, Jay DeMerit, Clarence Goodson, Jonathan Bornstein, Heath Pearce, Chad Marshall

Thoughts on included defenders:  Hard to say that there are any real surprises here.     Bornstein seems to get more criticism than he deserves, but is a Bradley favorite.    Onyewu is coming back from injury and – if we are honest – didn’t look like a world beater in his pre-season friendly matches with A.C. Milan.   Goodson and Chad Marshall are in a tough spot for making the 23 man limit, since others like Bocanegra and Spector are more versatile across the back line. 

Thoughts on excluded defenders: Edgar Castillo looked like a possibility for a while but was never too likely to bounce Bradley favorite Jonathan Bornstein. (Nor was it clear he should.)   As a New England Revolution fan/watcher, I have a soft spot for Michael Parkhurst and Kevin Alston, but Parkhurst had not done enough to be here and Alston isn’t ready for a World Cup.   (Watch this space though…)

Midfielders:  Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Stuart Holden, Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Francisco Torres, Alejandro Bedoya, DaMarcus Beasley, Sacha Kljestan, Robbie Rogers

Thoughts on included midfielders: Donovan, Dempsey, Bradley were obvious choices.  Watching qualifying and Gold Cup games also mean that Holden, Clark, Edu and Feilhaber were all likely choices.   After that, it gets a bit interesting.   Many in the US fan base will be glad to see Torres included, though he’s not a lock for the 23.   Beasley, Rogers, Kljestan and Bedoya are bubble players right now.  Beasley brings experience while Bedoya represents the future.   Rogers is a bit of an enigma, having performed very well for the USA against lower-level competition, but not really looking like a game changer against stronger opponents.  Kljestan is a positive offensive factor, when on form, which is never guaranteed.

Thoughts on excluded midfielders: Generally speaking, there were not huge surprises here.   Kyle Beckerman’s fate was probably sealed when Maurice Edu reached full fitness. 

Freddy Adu:  If you’ve read my work before, you know I have a soft spot for Freddy Adu.  Seeing his pro-club teammate Eddie Johnson make the 30-man cut must be extremely hard on Freddy, who seems to be finding his form to some degree in Greece.   I could argue that there’s more experience in Adu than Bedoya (or Rogers?), despite both showing promise, but that’s from an outsider’s view so I’ll defer to the Coach’s perspective.   

Forwards:  Jozy Altidore, Robbie Findley, Brian Ching, Edson Buddle, Eddie Johnson, Herculez Gomez

My thoughts on included forwards:  Clearly, current-form rules the day.   Buddle, Gomez and (even) Johnson have been scoring and that is clearly the determining factor here.   Jozy was a lock, though his season was more about promise than results.  Ching will need to prove he’s game-ready in camp to make the 23, but there aren’t many other forwards like him available.  Johnson would be a surprise to make the final cut, but that is what the camp is for.

My thoughts on excluded forwards:  This was always going to be the most scrutinized group.

Charlie Davies. Coach Bradley did what he had to do.  The World Cup is not a place for sentimentality.  It is a place for the best team you can assemble – which at forward has a lot to do with form and confidence.   It’s not a popular thing to say in US Soccer circles but ever since that horrible accident took place Charlie was always on the outside looking in. 

Jeff Cunningham and Conor Casey:  Jeff and Conor must be wishing that the World Cup was in 2009 instead of 2010, because they were the hot properties of last year, but haven’t made an impact this year, while others have been shining for their respective leagues or teams. 

Kenny Cooper:  Hindsight is 20/20 for Kenny Cooper, whose pro-club hopping was an over-engineered attempt to make this World Cup team, which failed on a number of levels.   As he watches Edson Buddle (MLS), Herculez Gomez (Mexico) and Eddie Johnson (Greece) prove: it’s not where you play, it’s how you are playing.

Logic trumps Emotion

The exclusion of Charlie Davies will clearly be the main discussion point following this 30-man roster selection.   But clearly Bob Bradley made the decision that he won’t be ready.   That’s logic. 

My wanting Freddy to get another look?  That was more emotional.

Now that the team is beginning to take shape, let’s get back to illogical commentary about the expected results.   How we’ll beat up poor injured England.  (Illogical.)  How if we don’t get far into the tournament Bradley and Sunil Gulati are useless.  (Illogical.)

The next few months are logically going to be an emotional ride. 

Game on.

Freddy and Eddie’s Big Fat Greek Adventure

Freddy Adu scored his first goal this weekend for Aris Salonika in the club’s match vs. Ergotelis in Greece.  Not long ago, as we waited for confirmation of Freddy’s next career move, I wrote “Much Adu About Something?   My default position: don’t give up on Freddy so easily.  

Now that we have our first goal, following a beautiful assist recently to fellow American Eddie Johnson, shall we declare victory? 

Others, like USSoccerDaily, are now writing their own cases for Freddy making the USA Men’s World Cup squad for South Africa.    Ives is asking his readers if Freddy should be called into camp for the Netherlands game.

Despite my stated position of thinking that Freddy has much to offer, it is not time to declare victory for Freddy’s World Cup hopes and he certainly should not start shooting more commercials with Pele.   However, it is a promising start for a player the USA could really use at his top form.   Hopefully this is the first report of many about positive news.

If there is a victory to be declared, and I’ll admit it may be too early for this as well, it may be of the choice of Greece as a home front for these two Americans (Adu and Johnson) who are restarting their stalled international club/country careers.

I’ve watched some games of the Greek league now that Eddie and Freddy are there and seen many more clips of goals and action.   In fact, the videos of this latest game are telling.

Aris Salonika vs. Ergotelis Goals

Freddy’s Goal

Was the Greek league a good choice because it offers the best soccer?   No.  I’m not convinced that the Greek level is much if any better than a good MLS game.   Sometimes the defending is simply comical.  Goalkeepers?  MLS goalies have a new option for international transfers. 

What the soccer does offer is intensity.   Sometimes that intensity proves to magnify the missing level of organization and skill on display.   The soccer is energetic, often frantic.

From a soccer perspective, this may not delight purists but it does offer a cauldron in which skillful players must raise their intensity, think quickly and (hopefully) continue to play with the smarts and skill they possess.   It also appears impossible for a player to “mail it in.”  From my limited time watching Greek soccer, effort appears paramount.    People haven’t often criticized Freddy for a lack of skill, but intensity, effort and heart have been question marks for some.   The Greek league should help sort that out.

But, to limit a discussion about the value of an international league for a growing player soley as a discussion of  the level of soccer played is a bit too narrow.   There are greater circumstances at play which can be as important to a player’s growth.

The intensity in the Greek league does not limit itself to the actual soccer.   The fans, the chanting, the press coverage and the atmosphere are things that are simply not re-creatable today in the USA.   Watch those videos – better LISTEN to those videos – again. 

When Aris scores, the roar of the crowd and the way the fans rush the field barriers is something that tells a player that what they do matters, for all 90 minutes.   And it may be a small thing, but listen again to the VERY end of the short clip showing Freddy’s video.   The clip ends with the stadium announcer breaking through the crowd noise to announce the goal, and starting a call out of “Freddy,” to which the crowd emphatically answers “ADU” in full voice.    Fans that are this into their players will equally expect them to perform.

So what we have here is a league with a level of soccer that isn’t terribly high overall, but that brings intensity to the game on and around the field.  The sometimes lax defending and goalkeeping says to me that there’s an opportunity for a skillful player who can match the surrounding intensity to shine.   But what if that player happens to be a young, potential superstar that can become a critical element in a team whose support will demand he play 100% all the time – and he (or they, sorry Eddie) can rise to the occasion? 

What is there for the taking: regained confidence, increased maturity and the potential to be a standout in a European league.  That sounds like a good situation indeed.  It’s the kind of situation that readies someone for bigger things, bigger pressures and bigger success.  You know, the kind of things that you see at World Cups or top-tier European leagues.

Good luck over there boys.

Much Adu About Something?

It is easy to suggest that “child prodigy” Freddy Adu is simply an over-rated marketing project more than someone who has the potential to be a significant player on the world-scene.   I think that view is actually a convenient cop-out.

Clearly, I’m in the camp of Freddy supporters that hopes his career heads the right direction.  I like inventive, skillful, unpredictable soccer… and a confident Freddy Adu has the capabilities to deliver that.  I am also frustrated that (aside from Clint Dempsey) we tend to only count “workers” in our successful international exports (keepers, defensemen, etc.) to the best leagues – as I’ve talked about before.  So I am willing to cut him some slack in the hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  But I do not underestimate the fact that he’s having trouble – for whatever reason – breaking into lineups that he should clearly have the talent to break into.

The one thing worth getting our arms around, is how much steak is there to go along with the Freddy sizzle?   There are those that assert (with evidence) that the handful of professional coaches who have not found ways to use Freddy cannot all be wrong.   It’s a powerful argument.   Yet, I’m not fully bought in.

Coaches, and their continued disinterest in Freddy, are often seen as a rationale for the suggestion that Freddy’s attitude or training regimen are not up to professional standards.   I have no facts to dispute this, but I don’t recall coaches having called Freddy out for these transgressions… at least not since he was older than 17.   Peter Nowak, his first professional coach – who was long presumed to be glad to get rid of Freddy both called him back for the Olympics and leading blogger Ives Galarcep says that in conversations with Peter, there’s no apparent bad feelings or grudge.   Have I missed comments from the foreign contingent or Jason Kreis that suggest Freddy is some sort of lazy trainer or locker-room cancer?

My biggest point of confusion comes from the idea that he just doesn’t have what it takes.   Freddy has been (it appears) let go from Portuguese first-division club Belenenses where he was on loan from Benfica.   Belenenses might be a terrific club but that sure isn’t clear from what I see.   I’ve attended a game in the Portuguese first division before and watched a few on Television . . . it is a fine league.   There is little value in arguing the inarguable – where it sits relative to MLS, or even other leagues in Europe – but I’ll start with the position that it is a good (not great) league, where its few best teams (Benfica, Porto, etc.) can compete with (though certainly not dominate) other teams in Europe.   Much like many European leagues though, I strongly doubt the weaker teams offer anything approaching the quality soccer of the best in the league or other top European teams… or, as I walk out on a limb, those bottom dwellers are probably not significantly better than most MLS teams.

So, back to Belenenses… it sits dead last in the Portuguese first division with 10 points in 14 games.   That is one victory, one and seven ties in 14 attempts. In those 14 games, Belenenses has managed to score six goals.   Freddy, meanwhile, could barely catch a moment of game time.

Now, Freddy Adu is no Pele – despite what advertisers may have attempted to show us.  But, a player that played over 6,300 minutes and scored 12 goals with 19 assists in MLS, all well before his 20th birthday (no, I’m not entertaining the “real age” conspiracy here,) should be seeing the field for such a struggling Portuguese side which is desaparately in need of goals and attacking options.

One knock that detractors use against Freddy is that he cannot handle physicality of pro-ball.   MLS is no less physical than Liga Sagres, and while Freddy wasn’t leading the league in MLS he was a solid player.   I don’t see that argument having much to offer.

However, as I said, there’s weight to the idea that a number of coaches haven’t figured out what to do with Freddy.  While the situations and circumstances are not identical, there is an interesting comparison here to make between Freddy Adu and Jozy Altidore.   I realize they are not the same type of player, but there are similarities.

They both started professionally in MLS and are young, skillful attacking players.   In MLS Freddy had more minutes and assists, Jozy as an out-and-out forward had more goals.   They both were “bought” by big clubs and subsequently loaned out, which is not unusual for a young, new-to-Europe player who needs experience.

Freddy by bought by Benfica of Portugal and loaned to a French league club, Monaco and rarely saw the field.   The then was shipped to Belenenses and also didn’t see much action.

Jozy was bought by Villareal of Spain and was sent to a small club, Xerez in the second division and saw very little of the field.   However, he then went to Hull City, also not a huge club, though in a league with much more attention, and he’s been finding the field.   But, we are still all waiting for his first Premier League goal.

Hmmm. No goals yet.  Been in trouble for Tweeting inappropriately after turning up late.   Didn’t see the field regularly for second Division Xerez. Etc.   I’ve heard nobody giving up on Jozy (and rightly not!) but aside from being played more at Premier League bottom-dweller Hull City, where is the drastic difference?

Freddy is dealing with the weight of his fanfare and “child prodigy” expectations more than a drastic failure which is drastically different from other players trying to seek fame in European soccer.

His next move will be interesting and important for his career.   I hope he has level-headed, open-minded and knowledgeable advisors that have his long-term best interests in mind.

Dempsey: Exceptional American, American Exception.

Kudos are clearly warranted for Clint Dempsey as he hits his second goal in as many weeks for Fulham FC.  While his first professional coach and likely mentor, ex-Liverpool great Steve Nicol, might not immediately love that Clint helped Fulham take down Liverpool, it was clearly a significant achievement following a goal the prior week against wanna-be powerhouse Manchester City.

As a Revs fan, I was on the Dempsey bandwagon early.  He brought swagger, skill, attitude and the honest work-rate of a rookie who was both earning his keep while still making waves.   That same set of values transferred to the US National team as well, and has held down a steady starting role.

All is not perfect, in fact, I’ve been critical of Clint’s recent US National Team performances, where he seemed almost disinterested with his midfield role and only came alive when moved to forward.   Funny thing though, even in games where that criticism is leveled on him, he often scores important goals.  In some ways he’s turned into the USA’s Thierry Henry, a player who we always expect to do more than what is reasonable for our national side.  (Ask a Frenchman if they think Henry is as good for France as he was for Arsenal or even is for Barcelona.)

More troubling for the US isn’t the ascendency of Clint into a stand-out professional but the fact that there are too few of his ilk. Now, to be fair, there are MANY proven US professionals making a difference both for MLS clubs and abroad.  But, I’ll submit there what is lacking is any true “skill player” right now that is making an impact on the international scene.

There are many good summaries of US Players and their progress abroad and Steven Goff does an easy to digest version for the Washington Post here.   Skim that list for a second, and it’s hard to suggest US players aren’t playing solid roles for their professional teams in international leagues.

Could we have a more impressive list of clubs?  Sure.

Could more of the players be in “better” leagues?  Yup.

But that’s not my primary concern right now.   My primary concern is that of that long list of players, most of those seeing solid time are “workers” not “skill players.”

What’s my definition of a “skill player?”  I cannot suggest it’s nailed down, in fact it’s a bit like pornography, I know it when I see it.    When Dempsey does a feint, a back heel or whatever slick trick he has lined up, he brings that special something that is worth notice.  He brings the kind of game that makes a kid go to the backyard and try to do the same thing – something we have far too little of.   (Yes, as a US fan, I prefer he does these things well past the midway line and not leave us exposed – which has happened a number of times – but he’s young and still improving.)

While hard to define, I can offer some “skill player” boundaries though.

One easy place to start? Goalkeepers are clearly not in the list, they are their own animals.

Of the defenders in Goff’s list… maybe Michael Parkhurst counts, at least he’s not a destroyer in the classic sense – but he is no Maradona.  (But as a self-revealed Revs fan, I am a bit biased.)   Edgar Castillo is on the wait and see list.   And let’s be honest, even skillful defenders are not going to represent the crème de la crème of skill for the majority of the playing world.

Let’s skip to the forwards… only two are listed as having seen time this weekend. Jozy Altidore and Kenny Cooper.   Both have skills, but neither are magicians.   Jozy only saw 30 minutes for a bad Premiership club (though he’s had a number of unrelated club issues) and Kenny only saw 15 minutes in the second division of Germany.   Not setting the world on fire, either of them.

Freddy Adu is in that list – though he’s just as easily deployed as a midfielder or forward.  A “skill player” if there ever was one – and one I really hope finds success.  But, put plainly, he has not found success, consistency or playing time in any recent league or team.  A real let down for US fans that want skillful creative soccer from our team.

(I’m saddened not to mention Charlie Davies, due to his very frightening and fatal – for others – car accident.   I wish him a speedy recovery and acknowledge he was making a mark in Sochaux.  He brings the attitude and workrate  that Dempsey shows.  However, in fairness, he was a speed-demon with a nose for goal, not a “skill player” in the sense I am searching for here.   As many are, I am hopeful to see him back on the field to make that impact his recent run of form had promised.)

In the midfield – where for me the skill and magic lives – there are hopes outside of Dempsey.   But nothing that makes the world stop and take notice.  I like Michael Bradley, but he doesn’t fit my vague “skill player” definition, sorry.   Feilhaber is undeniably skilled – but Aarhus isn’t a club anyone I know has as a poster on their wall – so international impact is not something we cam claim here.   Torres has the skills, at least, I think (time will tell.)  But as much as respect as I have for the Mexican league (I do) there is still a gulf between it and the top European leagues.

Then there is the odd case of Landon Donovan.   Who knows what to say? He is clearly an impact midfielder with skill – perhaps the most of any US player.  He makes an impact in MLS.   How do we rate that?   I am hardly a Euro-Snob and generally have no problem with our best players playing at home.   But I’m the first to admit, scoring against Chivas USA isn’t the same as scoring against Liverpool, let alone Chivas Guadalajara.   (If you doubt this, please watch this weekend’s playoff “LA Derby” good fun, hilarious defending.)

That leaves Clint.   I’m happy we have an exceptional American to point to right now.

I’m sad he’s the American exception.