Archive for July, 2008

Is Onyewu The Answer To Inter’s Defensive Woes?

July 31, 2008

I recall during the 2006 World Cup when a colleague from La Stampa turned to me and called Oguchi Onyewu, the “American Materazzi.” Of course this was well before Materazzi’s incident with Zinedine Zidane during the World Cup final so there was no doubt he meant it as a compliment to the American player curently with Standard Liege. Two years later, I wonder if the fates of Materazzi and Onyewu may now somehow be connected.

Jose Mourinho has taken the reins of a powerful Inter Milan side which now finds itself in a defensive emergency just three weeks before the start of the Serie A season. Recent injuries to defenders Marco Materazzi and Christian Chivu have left the Nerazzurri with some big holes in central defense as they look to defend the Scudetto for yet another year. This has led Inter’s president Massimo Morratti to back onto the transfer market looking for a solution.

The loss of the soon to be 35 year-old Materazzi is a particularly hard blow given his strong physical presence in the middle, which is hard to replace at this stage. There was some talk in Milan of an interest in bringing in Chelsea defender Ricardo Carvahlo, who played for Mourinho at both Porto and Stamford Bridge. This may not be so easy since the failure to seal a deal on Frank Lampard may have soured both sides soured on any further negotiations right now.

When you look at the transfer pool at this late stage, there is not much depth in the available central defenders. This makes me wonder if Mourinho may look to acquire Oguchi Onyewu not only as an early season stand-in but as a player to take on Materazzi’s role in the future or better yet, to give him a sturdy physical partner to replace the often ailing Chivu. The new Inter boss had been keen to sign Onyewu in January 2007 during his last season at Chelsea but was not able to convince his club to spend the money at the time. Having been sold on him once before, could Mourinho now decide that the “American Materazzi” is at least a short term answer to Inter’s defensive woes?
At the same time, if Chelsea did sell Carvahlo to Inter, could this open an opportunity for Onyewu at Stamford Bridge and give Gooch the Premiership break he has been looking for? Is Gooch even ready for either club?
All speculation aside, the Bundesliga’s FC Cologne remains among the most interested in acquiring Onyewu for the 2008-2009 season. With 30 days left in the transfer period, only time (and money) will tell where he ends up.

(Updated) Connecting The Dots: Ronaldo’s Effect on Bradley Transfer Prospects

July 30, 2008

(MUNICH, July 29th, 2008) Today Real Madrid made it clear that they are no longer interested in signing Dutch ace Rafeal Van Der Vaart from Hamburger SV as an alternative to Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo. According to Real President Ramón Calderón, its Ronaldo or no one – they think their 85 million euro bid may still be workable.

Hamburg had been considering signing Heerenveen’s American midfielder Michael Bradley in the event Van Der Vaart was sold to Real Madrid for an estimated 12 million euros. Unless another club swoops in for Van Der Vaart, Bradley’s door to Hamburg appears to be closing.

Bradley has voiced a desire to play in England where Middelsbrough and Everton are keen to sign him but little is known of any negotiations taking place with the Premiership clubs. Interest in recent weeks has also been coming from continental clubs such as Bayer Leverkusen and AS Monaco (which reportedly offered 8.5 million euros). Leverkusen appears to be cooling on Bradley as their prime target for attacking midfield is now Fluminense’s Thiago Neves (who is also being pursued by Tottenham Hotspur). So, With Bradley’s Bundesliga options appearing to narrow, it now looks like his main options are in England or on the Cote d’Azur with AS Monaco.

UPDATE: After several statements from Real Madrid (which appeared in the Spanish Marca and Financial Times Deutschland), that the club had written off Van Der Vaart as an option, it now appears the Dutch midfielder may be on his way to the Bernabeu after all. The “off the table” language used by Real President Ramon Calderon not two days ago (in their game of financial chicken with Hamburg) has been replaced by statements that indicate a deal is near. Now, papers such as Die Welt, and Focus are commenting on the 180 by Calderon asking whether it was all to get the price he wanted or a power play with a club Real does not see as their equal. Either way, you fooled us Mr. Calderon!

What this means is that Hamburger SV remains a viable option for Bradley but now another door appears to be closing. Word out of Monaco this afternoon is that they agreed on terms to acquire Bordeux’s midfielder Alejandro Alonso (believed to be their plan B if Bradley was too expensive). So, Bradley’s options remain open in England and Germany but Monaco now seems to be off the list. Still, much could change in the next few weeks as the dust starts to clear on another transfer season.

Arguez in Hertha Coach’s Doghouse

July 29, 2008

Accroding to several Berlin news sources, young American defender Bryan Arguez is in Hertha Berlin coach Lucien Favre’s doghouse these days after missing two practices in the past few weeks. His most recent was last week when he skipped an afternoon practice to join 200,000 other Berliners (including many other expat Americans) to see Senator Barack Obama speak in front of the Siegesaule. He probably would have been excused missing that day had he not already started a trend of missing and being late for practice.

After looking like he would see several early season starts as a stand-in for Swiss international Steve Von Bergen, Arguez may be blowing a golden opportunity. Last week he was on the subs bench but did not play in a 0-0 draw with Liverpool before 51,000 home fans. A shaky performance in a previous match and skipping practices have drawn public questions on his level of committment (ouch). Favre has several options on Hertha’s starting back line when the Bundesliga season kicks off in three weeks. Whether Arguez will be one of them looks less likely than it did two weeks ago.

Oh Cana-Huh?

July 25, 2008

In the spirit of covering our North American brethren, I had been working on a few articles on Canadian soccer including one on ace Julian De Guzman who is making quite a name for himself at Deportivo La Coruna. That was until I saw the incredible display of poor sportsmanship shown by Canadian fans before the MLS All Star Game last night. After that, I lost my urge to finish a number of pieces on Canadian soccer.

It was one thing when Canadian fans booed the US national anthem before a visiting of U-12 hockey team during the run up to the Iraq War (come on, they were only 12) but this one boggles the mind. The US professional league decides to not only expand into Canada but also holds a showcase event there, only to be received with loud, sustained booing during the US national anthem. The Canadian fans not only showed a lack of respect for their southern neighbors but also a lack of respect for themselves. Were they really so insecure to believe that they would not have a chance to sing Oh Canada (which they did while both teams were on the field)?

MLS shined a spotlight on Toronto this week and what we ended up seeing was just how petty their fans could be. I know plenty of great Canadian fans who love the beautiful game and would never do such a thing. Now, some poor sports in Toronto have “branded” their nation’s fans in a way which must make real Canadian soccer fans feel nothing but shame.

The Evolution of US Soccer Players in Europe: Part II

July 25, 2008

Post-1994 World Cup: Breaking Into First Division Soccer

After the 1994 World Cup in which the US team showed great progress from 1990, the European soccer establishment started to notice two things; that the Americans do indeed play soccer and that a few more of their players are worth signing. The next step was to make the jump from second division teams to clubs playing first division soccer.

By now, John Harkes moved to Premiership side Derby County while defender Alexi Lalas signed with Padova of the Italian Serie B in 1994. Lalas would help Padova earn promotion to Serie A while Roy Lassiter was loaned to Genoa for the 1996-1997 season. After that, it would be several years before another American suited up for an Italian professional team. Meanwhile, all time US scoring leader Bruce Murray left England after a one-year stint at Milwall where he scored two goals in just over a dozen appearances.

The advent of Major League Soccer (MLS) in 1996 slowed but did not stem the flow of US talent to Europe as the young league could not afford to match continental salaries. MLS would later prove, however, to be a launching pad for the European careers of many American players.

In Holland, Dutch-American Earnie Stewart was still playing for First Division side Wilhem II before moving to NAC Breda. Then in 1998, John O’Brien signed on with powerhouse Ajax and was later loaned to Utrecht where he established himself as a dangerous midfielder in the Dutch league before returning to Amsterdam. Also, a handful of players were plying their trade in Denmark and Switzerland. So, in addition to achieving a presence in the bigger soccer nations, US players were broadening their presence into some of Europe’s smaller leagues.

After short stints at NewCastle United and Denmark’s Brondby, Brad Friedel landed at Turkish power Galatasaray in 1995 and started nearly every match before retuning to play for the Columbus Crew from 1996-1997. He then found himself back in Europe in the rarefied air of Liverpool in 1997. After a protracted battle with the UK Home Office to get a work permit, he languished and Anfield until 2000, making only 25 appearances before signing with Blackburn Rovers, where he has been a mainstay ever since.

At this time, while some inroads were being made in other countries, Germany remained the most fertile European soil to grow American professional players. In 1994, Saarbrucken tried another American striker in US international Joe-Max Moore who scored 13 goals in 25 games for the Second Bundesliga team. In 1995, he moved to 1FC Nuernberg where he tallied eight goals enroute to becoming a fan favorite for his tireless work rate and goal scoring when the team needed it most.

In 1994, a young Claudio Reyna signed on with Bayer Leverkusen where he worked his way up to the first team, making 26 appearances in three seasons. By 1997, he moved to Bundesliga side VFL Wolfsburg where he flourished as a starter and became the team captain – the first American to do so in a major European soccer league. Playing alongside Reyna at Wolfsburg was fellow American Chad Deering who played with the club from 1996-1998 before returning to play for the Dallas Burn in MLS. Reyna and Deering both helped Wolfsburg earn promotion to the Bundesliga in 1997.

Another young American, Jovan Kirovski, after spending an extended period with the Manchester United youth program was denied a work permit to play professionally in England. So, in 1996, he signed with Bundesliga power Borussia Dortmund where he saw limited playing time. Nonetheless, in 1997 Kirovski became the first American to score in Champion’s League play, and to earn a CL winner’s medal during Dortmund’s successful run to the title. Of course, many observers in Germany did not recognize the California-born Kirovski as an American, thinking he was just another east European import.

Around the same time, German-American players started to indicate their desire to play for the US team, often discovered by fellow German-American Tom Dooley. Dooley brought in David Wagner, his teammate at Schalke 04 and later uncovered Michael Mason at FC St Pauli. US coach Steve Sampson called in both players several times in 1997-1998 but neither made the 1998 US World Cup Team. Wagner, Mason, and his younger brother Marco would continue to play professionally in Germany well into the-2004-2005 season.

Paul Caligiuri stayed in Germany but moved to SC Freiburg of the Second Bundesliga while Eric Wynalda transferred to VFL Bochum of the same league. Greg Berhalter went to Dutch side FC Zwolle in 1994 before moving on to Sparta Rotterdam and finally Cambuur Leewarden, where he saw more regular playing time. This time period also saw increasing numbers of lesser-known players being signed to professional contracts such as Joe Enochs at FC St Pauli and Melchior Arnold at FC Luzern in Switzerland. While most US players earning their paychecks with German and some Dutch teams, more players started to work their way up the ladder in the English game.

In 1995, Mike Lapper made a move to second division club Southend United, where he made 52 appearances. That same year, Juergen Sommer, current US goalkeeper coach , became the first American keeper to play for a Premiership side when he signed on for Queen’s Park Rangers (after an early 1990s stint at Luton Town). Then, in 1996, Keller was transferred to the English Premiership’s Leicester City where he made 99 appearances and helped the team win the 1997 League Cup. As time passed, an increasing number of American goalkeepers would be plying their trade in England.

One of these goalkeepers was Ian Feuer who already had stints at Peterborough and Luton Town before being loaned out by the New England Revolution to English minnow Rushden and Diamonds. His most memorable impact came in early 1999 when his heroics in front of the Rushden and Diamonds goal helped the home side claim a 0-0 draw with Leeds in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. Feuer’s ability to successfully withstand the Premiership side’s barrage are still remembered by the club’s faithful today.

This article is a continuation of Part I which you can read here.

Coming Next Week: Part III: The Post-1998 World Cup Breakout

Comments, Questions, Ideas? courtitalia@yahoo.it

Subotic and Dortmund Down Bayern Munich 2-1

July 24, 2008

Borussia Dortmund’s new head coach Juergen Klopp made a good impression with the BVB fans last night as his new-look team beat Bayern Munich 2-1 in the preseason T-Home Super Cup. Included in the starting 11 was young American defender Neven Subotic whom Klopp brought with him from FSV Mainz.

Subotic looked nervous during the early going but started to show his stuff in the 26th minute with a terrific 45-meter pass to Delron Buckley to set up a dangerous chance for BVB. From that point on, he looked more confident and won more than his share of one-on-one challenges with Bayern’s attacking players. The 47,000 home fans on hand at Westfalen Stadium seemed pleased while Bayern’s new coach Juergen Klinsmann was none to pleased to drop such a match just three weeks before the start of the Bundesliga season. The two teams will meet again in league play on August 23rd.

BVB’s goals came in the first half from Jakub Blaszczykowski and Tamas Hajnal (on a great free kick) while Mehmet Ekeci saved Bayern’s honor with a 73rd minute tally.

Subotic’s starting place in central defense is not yet secure since it remains a tossup whether it will consist of Subotic and Mat Hummels (the combination used often in preseason) or whether veteran Robert Kovac, now back from Euro 2008 duty with Croatia, will bump one of the two youngsters. Klopp told Bild last night that ” I have not yet made up my mind on that one yet. It doesn’t matter to me whether a player is young or old, what counts for me is performance.”

Subotic and his Dortmund teammates did not have long to celebrate given their next challenge on Saturday against Juventus.

Photo AP, July 23rd 2008.

Monaco Still After Bradley

July 23, 2008

According to Le Parisien, now that a deal to bring Freddy Adu to the Rock is sealed, Monaco boss Jerome De Bontin is now focused on signing Heerenveen starlet Michael Bradley. Recent reports from Le Figaro and Nice Matin indicated that Monaco had offered €8.5 million euros for the high scoring American midfielder but that Heerenveen was demanding a price closer to €10 million. Previous reports had Middelsbrough offering circa €5 Million while Germany’s Bild had Bayer Leverkusen’s offer at €4.5 million.

With only 20 days left until the French transfer deadline, Monaco will need to resolve the Bradley transfer soon. If they cannot afford Heerenveen’s asking price, they’ll need the time to sign another attacking midfielder – namely Bordeux’s Alejandro Alonso from Argentina.

A few Spanish clubs are also interested in Alonso so Monaco may be keeping him on the back burner until they know the outcome of their Bradley gambit. With four goals in 80 appearances, Alsonso is not quite the goal scoring threat that Bradley is but he does come with a good understanding of the French game, UEFA Cup experience, and (most likely) a lower price tag.

It remains to be seen whether another club is able or willing to match Monaco’s offer for the 20-year-old American and whether Heerenveen will accept it. The Stade Rennais FanZine Da’Squad mentions that Bradley is among the options the club (which recently signed Carlos Bocanegra) is considering to fill a hole at attacking midfielder.

Either way, if the leaks and rumors turn out to be true, he could be the most expensive American player ever which (at today’s exchange rates) would price his transfer at circa $13.7 million. This would surpass the previous record of $10 million Spanish side Villareal paid for the New York Red Bulls’ Jozy Altidore just over one month ago.

Donovan A Better Fit In Spain

July 23, 2008

Now that Sky Sports has mentioned that Landon Donovan is interested in a move to the English Premiership, many are speculating on what it all means. My spidey sense tells me that his agent, Richard Motzkin, is just testing the waters to gauge interest in Europe and to send a signal to MLS that his client’s price will be going much higher when contract renewal time comes in 2009.

If I’m wrong, then England is not the place he should be going – the fit isn’t right. Landon Donovan is a technical, smooth, flowing player with many similarities to Germany and Chelsea’s Michael Ballack. Ballack is one of the world’s best players but he has struggled in the forceful English game where he seldom has a chance to put his best tools to use -he would have been much better off at Real Madrid. Andrei Shevchenko also has many similarities to Donovan and Ballack and his English experience has not fulfilled expectations.
Its not fair at this point to look back to Donovan’s frustrations at Bayer Leverkusen and compare them to how he would do now as a 26-year old veteran pro. He is a different player now and he has an opportunity to choose his new situation more carefully.
If Donovan wants to challenge himself in European soccer, he should do it where he can thrive, not just survive. That place is Spain, not England.

Altidore Sees First Action For Villarreal

July 22, 2008


Villarreal got a good look at its four new signings, including American Jozy Altidore in a Sunday friendly against third division side Navata. The match turned out to be a 12-0 romp for the primera side and the club’s faithful got its first look at Altidore before he departs to participate in the Olympics for the USA.

Yellow Submarine coach Manuel Pellegrini has indicated that Altidore will remain with the first team until at least January due to an injury to veteran forward Nihat Kahveci. Kahveci suffered a thigh injury during the Euro 2008 tourney while playing for Turkey and eventually required surgery, keeping him out of action for the first half of the Spanish season.

So, Altidore will have a chance to prove his worth as Villarreal faces a tough run of Spanish league and Champions’s League matches during the fall. Regardless of how well he does at the Olympics, he’ll need to work extra hard to integrate into his new club team after missing so many weeks of preseason training. Opportunity is knocking – will he be ready to answer?

Cherundolo Reports In At Hannover Training Camp

July 22, 2008

US and Hannover 96 defender Steve Cherundolo has now reported into his club’s training camp after being given a bit more time to rest after three tough international matches for the USA. During the break, he also changed agents, from his longtime representaive Dr. Michael Becker to the Hannover based Harun Arslan. Arslan also represents other players for Hannover plus German national team coach Joachim Löw.

As you can see in the photo here, assistant coach Ingo Geissler put Cherundolo to the test early in a drill to maintain balance on a training ball while heading the ball back repeatedly. Who needs the 10 minute abs video when you can do this drill?