Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

Champions League Predictions: Let The Bands Do The Talking III

April 28, 2009

Its been awhile since we’ve asked some musicians to help out with Champions League predictions so here we go!

Barcelona – Chelsea

What does Chelsea need to do to Barca to beat them in the Nou Camp?

…and get on the outside – fast!

What does Barcelona need to do to hold off Chelsea’s streaking Florent Malouda, the dogged determination of Frank Lampard, and the ever-dangerous striker Didier Drogba?

Prediction: Barcelona 3: Chelsea 1

Manchester United – Arsenal

How does ManU need to come out early to break the hot streaking Arsenal’s confidence?

And how does the young Arsenal side need to approach this match against the Red Devils?

Prediction: Arsenal 2: Manchester United 2

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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

The Evolution of US Soccer Players in Europe: Part I

July 18, 2008

While players are now reporting to their European clubs’ preseason training camps, we’re all still following the movement of American players between various clubs. This got me thinking that after 20 years of following the fortunes of US players in Europe (9 of them as a reporter), its hard not to notice the evolution of the American presence in the European game. So, let’s take a look back and see where we’ve been, how far we’ve come, and what progress is yet to be made.

1980s: The Trailblazers

The NASL went defunct in 1984 so young American players wanting to play at a higher level had a choice; go to a college team, play in a US semi-pro league, or try heading to Europe. But heading to Europe was no easy task since few clubs were interested in experimenting with unknown quantities, especially from a country without a soccer culture. For the time, it was comparable to an English youngster wanting to try out with a major league baseball team.

But some young Americans were starting to get noticed since US players became much more visible in the 1980s. The US played in the 1984 and 1988 Olympic soccer competitions as well as the 1987 Pan-American Games, in addition to a number of lesser international tournaments. In 1986, Bundesliga side Hamburger SV took notice of Paul Caligiuri and brought him to the team where he never managed to break into the lineup. Later, in 1988, he was transferred to Second Bundesliga side SV Meppen where he played for the next two seasons.

Around the same time, Brent Goulet, the 1987 US Player of the Year, moved to English lower division side AFC Bournemouth and later to Crew Alexandra where he scored three goals in 1988. Goulet later moved to Germany where he played on several second and third division teams for the next decade. While other US players received interest from European clubs, few teams seemed willing to make the investment.

Post-1990: Establishing A Toehold

Thanks to a wonder-strike by Caligiuri, the US qualified for its first World Cup in 40 years in 1990 and while the US team did not win a game, scouts at Italia 1990 took notice of several players. What they found were players with decent skills and a good work ethic available at bargain basement prices. Tab Ramos was signed by Spanish second division side Figueras and later moved to Real Betis while John Doyle went to Sweden to play for Örgryte IS. Hugo Perez ended up at Red Star Paris and later joined Doyle at Örgryte IS – the first European squad to have two Americans on its roster.

Among the higher profile US players of the era, John Harkes signed on with English second division side Sheffield Wednesday and helped the team to win the 1991 League Cup Final where they defeated Manchester United 1-0. In 1992, a young keeper named Kasey Keller started a four-year stint at another English side, Milwall, where he earned praise from the club’s faithful and opponents alike.

At the same time, Cobi Jones was struggling to get playing time at Coventry City but still managed to score nine goals in 28 appearances from 1992-1995. The South African-born Roy Wegerle became an American citizen in 1991 while playing for first division side Queen’s Park Rangers where he scored 29 goals in 65 appearances from 1990-1992. He later played for Blackburn Rovers and Coventry City, as well as the US national team.

Overall, most of these players went to second division sides but the biggest impact was felt in Germany where a few American players made their mark. By 1991, Caligiuri had moved to FC Hansa Rostock in eastern Germany, a team he would help to win the final East German championship before the league was disbanded . A year later, Kaiserslautern’s star midfielder Tom Dooley become an American citizen – further raising the profile of American players in Germany. All the while, Chad Deering spent three years, from 1990-1993, in the Werder Bremen system before moving to Schalke 04.

The one American player that made the Germans sit up and take notice was Eric Wynalda who was loaned by the US Soccer to FC Saarbrucken, a Bundesliga club. He made an immediate impact scoring nine goals in his first 10 games before opposing defenders started marking him more closely. In 1994, young Americans Brian McBride and Mike Lapper signed with the Second Bundesliga’s VFL Wolfsburg.

Around the same time, the US Men’s Team started not just showing well but actually beating a few major teams including a 2-0 home win over England in 1993. Instead of ignoring the US as a source of potential talent, some in Europe started to take a closer look. Fluke or no fluke, there must have been something going on in US Soccer. Thus, a toehold was established in the European game but few , mostly the naturalized Americans, were with top-flight teams and not all legionaires across the Atlantic were seeing regular playing time.

Coming This Week: Part II: Post-1994 World Cup: Breaking Into First Division Soccer

Comments, Questions, Ideas? courtitalia@yahoo.it

Copyright Chris Courtney 2008

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.