USMNT: Five MLS Players That Could Use a Move Abroad
It’s no secret that Major League Soccer is not the top league in the world. Every young player in the league, if they will admit to it or not, has dreamed of pulling on the jersey of Manchester United, Barcelona, or AC Milan in a Champions League final.
That’s not a slap in the face of MLS, but rather a great quality of our young players that they want to compete at the highest levels. It does, however, put the league in an awkward situation of wanting to hold on to the young up and coming stars which is good for the league, but may not be best for the development of the player.
Some players have left the comforts of home to chase the dream and found success. Jozy Altidore is scoring bunches in the Netherlands after struggling early in Spain and England. Michael Bradley in Italy and Clint Dempsey are playing at the highest point of their career and making names for themselves as great, world-class players.
On the other hand, some have found it difficult to settle into starting lineups and struggled to find any success. The long and winding road of Freddy Adu’s European tour comes to mind. Edson Buddle, Eddie Johnson, and Ricardo Clark all find themselves among that group.
As the 2012 MLS season has come to a close and the January transfer window is less than a month away, here is a look at some players who could be poised to make the jump. With a well-connected coach at the head of the US Men’s National Team to help start the conversation, now might be a great time to make the jump for these highly talented youngsters.
Graham Zusi - 26 years old, Midfielder, Sporting Kansas City
If the creative midfielder is ever going to move abroad now might be the best time. His stock has never been higher with some really great performances with both Kansas City and the USMNT. He’s had a good year and brought a major trophy back to Kansas City so the time may be right.
The best option for Zusi might be to look south. His size is something that may hurt him should he try to make the jump to any of the big European Leagues such as in England, Germany, or Italy. He may have a chance of playing in a league in Europe where skills are regarded the highest such as Spain or Portugal. Mexico still seems like the most likely place for him to succeed and would also help the USMNT come hexagonal qualification away trips.
Amobi Okugo – 21 years old, Midfielder/Defender, Philadelphia Union
The 2012 season was a major leap in the young utility players career. While he is a central midfielder by trait, he showed some great play in central defense this year. Defensive reinforcements are being brought in to Philadelphia and there are questions if he will be the first choice in midfield in 2013. With his career finally up and running he can’t afford a season on the sidelines.
His vision, passing ability, and athleticism could well tempt clubs from many leagues throughout the world. This offseason has seen him train with SC Freiberg in Germany already. The Bundesliga could be a great fit for Okugo and could join a few other Americans who have been give opportunities in the league. Another opportunity could be to look at the lower leagues in England. Joining up with a team in the Championship or League One could allow him a chance to break into the starting XI and prove himself. The sky is really the limit for this young talent.
Will Bruin – 23 years old, Forward, Houston Dynamo
Houston Dynamo fans would hate to see the young forward leave the team after really coming into his own. He has filled the massive shoes that Brian Ching once filled at the franchise and has played in some massive games in his short career. A couple of goals in the playoffs could also help his stock for other clubs watching.
His size would do well in just about any league, but for a first adventure into overseas action it might be fellow American forward Jozy Altidore that he uses as inspiration. After struggling through Spanish and English leagues Jozy has found his stride in the Dutch Eredivisie. Some claim the league is rather easy for goal scorers, but has also vaulted some great players into bigger leagues. Dutch sides may give a young American a shot given the success of Altidore in the league.
Sean Johnson – 23 years old, Goalkeeper, Chicago Fire
Both Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid had rough starts to their seasons in 2012. The crashing out of Olympic qualifying hit both keepers tough, but Johnson rebounded to have a respectable year in MLS. His play is still far too much up and down to be considered for any of the big teams, but his current training stints at Everton and Stoke City may showcase his skill and athleticism.
American goalkeepers have been very good representatives for those to come after them. While Keller and Friedel have had great careers, Howard and Guzan has shown the merits of MLS keepers. Any Premier League side struggling at the lower end of the table should take a serious look at upgrading the keeper position and Johnson could help a number of sides. A club looking for a boost in a promotion fight in the Championship may also take a look at him.
Omar Gonzalez – 24 years old, Defender, Los Angeles Galaxy
If Gonzalez wasn’t on this list before the MLS Cup final, he sure played his way into it. A loan spell last season ended in an injury that cost him the first part of the season. It can be argued his return is what helped the Galaxy vault up the table and through to lifting the cup. He’s big, strong, skillful, and full of potential.
Name a league and with the right team he could find a fit. He of course is not a candidate to slot into any of the top teams in the biggest leagues, but even a Champions League side in a smaller league could see value in adding him to their squad. It’s hard to say where he could end up, when there are so many places he could fit. Of all the young American players playing in MLS, this is the player that may be the most valuable and have the most potential to play at the highest levels of the game.