Archive for the ‘Americans Abroad’ Category

Coaching Change At Napoli Could Benefit Bernardo

March 17, 2009

After a superb five year coaching stint at Napoli, Edy Reja brought the Partenopei from the depths of Serie C all the way back near the top of the Serie A table. He did so with shrewd purchases and strong attacking football – all with a budget dwarfed by the bigger clubs in Italy.

But in 2009 with whispers of Champions League in the air, Napoli’s tires went flat with an eight game winless streak and an unsettled clubhouse. Sometimes the one who got you where you are isn’t necessarily the one to take you to the next level so Napoli’s management opted to replace Reja with former AC Milan great Roberto Donodoni.

Of course Reja was the one who took a shine to young American primavera striker Vincenzo Bernardo last fall after watching him score against his first team while causing some unexpected trouble for his defense in practice. Reja had the club sign Bernardo to a professional contract and has since had the New Jersey native train with the first team almost every day.

Now with Reja out of the picture, we’ve got to wonder what this will mean for Bernardo’s future chances at Napoli. In January, the club turned down several loan offers from Serie B clubs as well as teams in England, Belgium, and Romania since they wanted an ironclad deal that he would play (and were even willing to provide financial incentives to ensure he saw plently of playing time). Instead, the 19 year old remained at Napoli training with the first team while making occasional appearances for the primavera (reserve) side.

When asked about the new coaching situation at Napoli, Bernardo stated: “I’m grateful to coach Reja both for the chance with Napoli and for all I’ve learned from him. I’m looking forward to learning from Coach Donadoni and I remember watching him back he he was playing for the Metrostars.”

Word out of the Napoli camp is that Donadoni has seen Bernardo in training with the first team and it appears he is remaining with that group for now – a good sign.

As Napoli’s chances for earning a Champions League and UEFA Cup positions start to fade, the chances that Bernardo could actually suit up at least once for the Napoli first team seem to be increasing. When teams hit the end phase of the season well clear of the relegation zone and out of the running for a European spot (the limbo zone), managers are more likely to experiment with young players and to start laying the groundwork for the future. After last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Reggina (which was nearly a loss before Ezequiel Lavezzi saved a point), Napoli now appears more firmly entrenched in the limbo zone.

While this does not mean Donadoni is ready to start experimenting yet, don’t be surprised to see him give a few more young players a runout in the San Paolo as the season fades. Whether one of them is Bernardo remains to be seen but hey, you never know.

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Bocanegra, Rennes Head Into The Lyon’s Den

March 1, 2009

American defender Carlos Bocanegra and his Rennes teammates face perhaps their stiffest test of the year as they head into Stade Gerland tonight to take on league leaders Olympique Lyon.

Fresh off nearly toppling the mighty Barcelona on Wednesday night in the Champions League (a match which ended 1-1), Lyon coach Claude Puel is looking to carry the same attacking spirit into tonight’s match.

The real reason Bocanegra and his team will have their hands full is that this same red-hot Lyon is itching for revenge from a humiliating 3-0 loss at the hands of Rennes in the Stade del la Route-de-Lorient back on October 5th (their worst loss of the year). Lyon, a team accustomed to winning trophies every year, hates to lose – but to losing to those “upstart punks from Bretgane” really got their goat.

Lyon is expected to start essentially the same lineup as they used Wednesday against Barca with the possible exception of hometown hero and striker, Karim Benzema, who may be rested initially in favor of Frederic Piquionne. The six-foot, two-inch Piquionne is deceptively fast and always dangerous on set piece plays (not to mention he is even more dangerous when served by the sublime dead ball skills of Juninho).

Questions remains whether Lyon will be able to bring the same 90 minute intensity tonight against a better rested Rennes side. Can their boisterous home crowd help carry them through?

A road win could vault Rennes back to 5th place while a draw would bring then even with Lille in 6th place in Ligue 1. Lyon, sitting atop the league with a comfortable six point cushion over Toulouse, can always use the points but tonight, its all about pride.

Lyon has not lost at home so far this season while Rennes has only won three wins on the road (out of 12 played so far). Rennes has earned six draws on the road so stealing a point from a fatigued Lyon side could represent success for Guy Lacombe’s side, provided they can withstand the early barrage from the revenge-minded home team.

Bocanegra is expected, as usual, to start at left back for Stade Rennais, which is expected to play a 4-5-1 of striker Briand, midfielders Br.Cheyrou, Sow, Danze’, Mbia and Lemoine, a back line of Bocanegra, Aubey, Hansson, and Fanni, plus Douchez in goal.

More later after the match.

Happy New Year Vagabonds!

January 1, 2009

Happy New Year to all of our readers wherever you are; from Dubai to New Jersey and from Korea to Texas – thanks for stopping by this year.

2009 should be an exciting year and here is just a bit of what we can look forward to:

– The USA taking on Sweden on January 24th
Gooch perhaps finally making the jump to a new club
– Players like Marvell Wynne and Sacha Kljestan possibly moving across the pond
Vincenzo Bernardo and Jozy Altidore possibly being loaned out
– Young Giuseppe Nazzani getting a chance with Bologna’s first team
– The Confederations Cup and U-20 World Championships
– Seeing if Clint Dempsey can keep his hot touch into the spring
– Waiting for Freddy Adu to establish himself as a first team player at Monaco
– Michael Bradley finding his stride and tearing his way through the Bundesliga
– Carlos Bocanegra continuing his strong play at Rennes and earning a CL spot
– Danny Szetela continuing his solid left midfield play at Brescia – with few at home noticing
– Seeing if Landon Donovan can prove that he can hang with the big boys every week
– Whether DaMarcus Beasley heads home to play in MLS or finds a new European club
– Watching Maurice Edu assert himself as a key player in Rangers’ title run
– Watching Bruce Arena turn the LA Galaxy into a winner
– Watching juggernaut Barcelona dominate La Liga all the way to the title
– Seeing if TSG Hoffenheim can keep the dream alive and win the Bundesliga championship
– Seeing if anyone can challenge Olympique Lyon’s dominance of Ligue 1
– Whether Cristiano Ronaldo can avoid the burnout syndrome that comes with being the world’s hottest player
– Wondering when Brad Friedel is finally recognized as one of the best keepers in Europe
– Whether Steven Gerard goes to jail for some recent brawling (doubtful)
– Whether Juventus can catch Inter from running away with another Scuddetto
– Whether Real Madrid qualifies for a UEFA Cup spot, much less a CL one
– Whether Fiorentina sells all of its talent (again) or makes a run for the top three
– Seeing how far Edy Reja can take his bargain-basement priced Napoli team…all the way to the Champion’s League?
– Seeing how far AS Roma will continue to slide, especially now that Francesco Totti is injured
– Watching and enjoying how well Seattle (a great soccer town) supports the return of the Sounders
– Wondering when the scary young talent on the Argentina side starts to gel into a world-beater

Here are some fun highlights from 2008 which we hope you’ll enjoy:

Best Goals:

Best Keepers:

Best Skills:

Flops and Follies (Multisport):

The Evolution of American Soccer Players In Europe: Part III

August 1, 2008

Part III: The Post-1998 World Cup Breakout

By now, most of the trailblazers had returned home to play in Major League Soccer (MLS); Caligiuri to Los Angeles, Wynalda to San Jose, Harkes to DC United, and Lalas to New England. Nonetheless, the number of American players in Europe exploded to unprecedented numbers with over 20 playing in Germany alone – a combination of established professionals, young players, and journeymen. This time period also saw more Americans playing in other leagues and more importantly, seeing significant playing time.

Claudio Reyna remained in Europe and transferred to Scottish giant Glasgow Rangers, where he scored 10 goals in 64 appearances before a move to English Premiership side Sunderland. Another key player to stay in Europe was Kasey Keller, who after a successful stint with Leicester, became the first American to play in the Spanish Primera when he signed with newly promoted Rayo Vallecano where he stayed for two years, starting every week.

Joe-Max Moore moved over from Nuernberg to Premiership side Everton in 1999, where he stayed until 2002 – earning several stretches of regular playing time. Meanwhile, McBride returned to Europe from the Columbus Crew to play in England for second division Preston North End and later Premiership side Everton. By 2000, Greg Berhalter was at England’s Crystal Palace where he saw the field only 19 times before he left in 2002.

McBride was just one of many transfers from MLS in the late 1990s as some American players, having proven themselves in their domestic league, sought their fortunes in Europe. Five other top players made their way across the Atlantic including DC United ace Tony Sanneh who played for Bundesliga outfit Hertha Berlin from 1998-2001 before moving to Nuernberg in 2001.

In 1998, Tampa Bay’s Frankie Hejduk was picked up by Bayer Leverkusen in where he had an immediate impact as a striker in Christoph Daum’s “three-headed monster” formation with three forwards. Some fans still remember Leverkusen’s star striker Ulf Kirsten celebrating Hejduk’s first goal by surfing around the penalty area while Hejduk did his own reggae dance. A coaching change, foreign player restrictions, and a huge player pool at Bayer later found Hejduk in a battle to fight his way back into the starting lineup.

Hejduk and other American players in Germany found their playing time restricted by a rule at the time which limited the number on non-EU players on the field to three per team. Regardless of how well an American player’s form, he was fighting for one of three spots, not 11. If your team had a few star Brazilians and top Africans (also non-EU players), even if not playing in the same position as the American, the situation could be very tough. Luckily, these restrictions were later relaxed to allow coaches more latitude in selecting their lineups.

And yet another American keeper found his way to England when the Colorado Rapids Marcus Hahnemann moved to Fulham in 1999 where he served mainly as a backup. Eddie Lewis joined him at Fulham in 2000. By 2002, Hahnemann found a starting job at Reading, a team he helped to later earn promotion to the Premiership. That same year Lewis, who has seen little playing time at Craven Cottage, took a transfer to Preston North End of the English second flight where he scored 15 goals in 111 appearances.

Following in the footsteps of Keller and Tab Ramos was the Chicago Fire’s Ante Razov, who was transferred to Racing de Ferrol of the Spanish second division. During his one year with Racing, Razov scored six goals in 19 appearances before returning to the Fire. It would be several years before another American would suit up for a Spanish club.

The post-1998 era also saw an increasing number of US soccer’s top young talent signing with European clubs but often experiencing mixed fortunes. San Diego native Steve Cherundolo signed on for the Second Bundesliga’s Hannover 96 in 1998 and saw action immediately before a serious knee injury set him back for most of 1999. He later earned the starting role at right back and helped the club achieve promotion to the Bundesliga, becoming a recognized team leader in the process.

A strong US showing at the 1999 U-17 World Youth Championships made even more European clubs take notice as the Stars and Stripes took home the Gold and Silver balls for the best two players in the tournament. Landon Donovan, the Golden Ball winner, signed with Bayer Leverkusen in a deal which had all the marks of making him a future star in Europe. Unfortunately, Donovan found himself inside of an insidious development in modern soccer – a warehouse club. Warehouse clubs stock up on top veteran talent to enable them to be more successful in league and European play but they are seldom a good situation for a young player looking to break into the first team.

Instead of being in a roster of 25-30 players to work his way into a first team of 18 (which was restricted by non-EU player limits), Donovan found himself among 40+ quality players at Leverkusen, many of whom played for their national teams. Fellow Bayer Leverkusen player Frankie Hejduk later said the club had “enough good players to field two good Bundesliga teams.”

So, the FIFA U-17 Golden Ball winner found himself languishing in lower division reserve matches with little chance of ever seeing first team play. US national team coach Bruce Arena seemed to realize Donovan’s predicament and called him up for many US matches to give him a better chance to develop. I interviewed Donovan several times during his time at Leverkusen and while he never came out and said it, I got the impression that he may have felt that the club and given him the “bait and switch.” Sadly, some club officials started to respond to Donovan’s frustration by telling the press he was “homesick” when all he wanted was a chance to play.

But Donovan was not the only U-17 starlet to find that he has signed with a warehouse club. Taylor Twellman, the 1999 U-17 FIFA Silver Ball winner signed with 1860 Munich with expectations that he too would get a chance to work his way into the first team one day (a promise many warehouse clubs seem to make). While Twellman was the leading scorer for the 1860 reserve team, he was later told (after nearly a year with the club) that 1860 “doesn’t really use the reserve team to produce first team players, but rather buys them on the market. ” Unfortunately, this was becoming a trend all over Europe.

While they were not the only young players stashed in the basements of warehouse clubs, both Twellman and Donovan eventually worked their way back to MLS in 2001, where they’ve since made their mark as two of the best players in the league.

Ironically, the one young player in Europe who saw the most first division playing time was not even a member of the 1999 US national youth teams; Cory Gibbs. The 20 year-old Gibbs signed as a central defender for FC St Pauli, which was promoted to Bundesliga in 2001. He started each week and immediately received a baptism by fire against the Bundesliga’s best which often sliced through a soft St Pauli midfield. He became the youngest American to score in the Bundesliga and stayed with the club as they descended into the Second Bundesliga, and eventually the third division. By the end of three seasons, he had started 60 matches, scoring three goals and saw rapid development in his tactical prowess before returning to play for the Dallas Burn in 2003.

The post-1998 World Cup era also witnessed more American players not only in the top leagues, but also in the well-financed German Regionalliga (third division), where salaries were often better than in MLS. Among these players were John Van Buskirk at Sportfreunde Siegen, Jacob Thomas at Eintracht Braunschweig, and the American trio of Tim Lawson, Brent Goulet, Grover Gibson at SV Elversberg

During this time, fans at home started to take greater interest in how American players were faring in Europe but found few sources to provide it. While largely ignored by the major sports media, a small group of online news sources began to appear starting with San Diego native John Dwyer’s weekly report Amis in Deutschland in 1998 (see his excellent web site here). Within two years, new sources appeared such as Soccer Times’ weekly update from European-based reporters; Americans Abroad, as well as periodic US-based reporting on SoccerSpot.Com and in Soccer America’s print magazine.

Coming Next Week: Part IV: The Post-2002 World Cup Era
Comments, Questions, Ideas? courtitalia@yahoo.it

(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.

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 Sees Action for Dortmund in Charity Tourney

July 7, 2008

Borussia Dortmund fans got their first good look at new defender Neven Subotic in Sunday’s Hallelujah Cup, a charity tournament to raise funds to fight child poverty. The tournament consisting of the main Ruhr valley teams, namely Borussia Dortmund, MSV Duisburg, Rot-Weiss Essen and SG Wattenscheid 09 played in a round robin format of 50 minute matches (25 minutes per half).

Subotic got to spend time playing on the BVB back line next to Mats Hummels and Roman Weidenfeller for the first time in a game situation. Against RW-Essen, he had a defensive misunderstanding with Leonardo Dede in the 5th minute which nearly gave up a goal to Essen’s Josef Kotula. Match reports indicate he had a few other shaky moments but he later created a dangerous scoring chance against Essen in the 18th minute. That said, all four teams reportedly looked out of form prior to their summer training camps.

Dortmund ended up finishing fourth in the four team tournament which was won by MSV Duisburg of the Second Bundesliga. The Borussia Dortmund team will now decamp on Wednesday to their training camp at Feusisberg near Lake Zürich in Switzerland. The team has five weeks to prepare for the its first competitive match, the DFB-Cup (German Cup) 1st round, which will be played either on August 4th or 5th. Friendly matches against Young Boys Bern and Galatasaray are also planned plus a July 22nd tilt with AS Roma.

Brescia: Probably Won’t Pick Up Option on Danny Szetela?

June 29, 2008

As most fans may recall, American midfielder Danny Szetela signed for Spanish Primera side Racing Santander in 2007 and was loaned to Brescia of Italy’s Serie B last year. Part of the loan deal was that Brescia has the opportunity to buy Szetela provided they pick up that option by June 30th. Current indications out of Brescia, where Szetela made 9 decent appearances this past spring, are that the club will send him back to Spain.

For my money, this is good news for Szetela since Brescia seem to be the eternal Serie B team and he may find better options to get quality playing time in 2008-2009. At the same time, he should not feel too bad about Brescia not wanting to keep him since they have their eyes on (among others) Fenherbance’s Stephen Appiah, a Ghana international US fans probably remember well from Nuernberg in the summer of 2006.

Of course, if other deals fall through, Szetela could find himself at Brescia a bit longer. Such are the rules of the silly season.