Sunday, August 31, 2008

PSG: Onyewu's New Home?

As the final hours tick away on this summer's transfer window, the faithful of Paris Saint-German seem to think they'll see American Oguchi Onyewu suiting up for them very soon. PSG has been searching for a new starting defender after Lilliam Thuram retired due to a heart condition and attempts to find a quality replacement had failed. Monaco and Marseille (the club he almost signed with in 2007) had also previously expressed an interest with Marseille dropping out of the running last Thursday. According to today's Le Parisien, Monaco is opting for Swiss international Patrick Müller so if Gooch ends up in France, PSG will probably be his new home.

Still, much could change in the coming hours so stay tuned...

In other news, American Danny Szetela went the distance for Serie B side Brescia in yesterday's 2-2 draw with Empoli.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Subotic: Has The US Lost Him Already?

After last night's excellent showing by Oguchi Onyewu in Standard's 1-0 Champion's League loss to Liverpool, his stock is peaking at just three days before the transfer deadline. Another American defender in Europe is also on the rise as young Neven Subotic continues to show he is a force to be reckoned with in the Bundesliga. This weekend, he marked Bayern Munich's Italian international Luca Toni out of the match in a 1-1 draw at Subotic's Borussia Dortmund. His play this year indicates Subotic has confidence and tactical competence beyond his years - yet he continues to improve.

While Subotic continues to impress and Onyewu appears poised to make a jump to the next level, this pair could evolve as a high quality central defense for the United States - one which could have a very positive impact on the US team making some noise at the 2010 World Cup. A pairing of the 6'4" twin towers of Onyewu and Subotic could form the nucleus of a back line opponents would dread. Alas, Onyewu is a national team regular while Subotic has yet to be called up.

A month ago, ESPN's Jeff Carlisle (a friend of LFV) reported that US coach Bob Bradley "refused to take any questions regarding Subotic's situation." So, it remains unclear whether US coach Bob Bradley is already considering calling up Subotic or has already tried and been rebuffed. Word on the street in Germany is that Subotic was unhappy with with his US youth team experience and was actually pining to play for Germany (which is looking less likely).

Whispers here in Europe also indicate that one coach who does seem interested in calling up Subotic is new Serbian coach Radomir Antic, who took the reins of the White Eagles last week. The former Real Madrid boss has been charged with guiding Serbia to World Cup qualification from a tough group which includes France and Romania. After Serbia's disappointing showing at the Olympics, their federation is looking for new blood and Subotic's work this season has been too hard to ignore. Antic has already gone after Barcelona's uncapped teenage striker Bojan Krkic (who can play for Serbia or Spain) so don't expect him to be shy about Subotic.

So, if US Coach Bob Bradley and the USSF cannot soon convince Subotic to play for the Stars and Stripes, it may be too late to bring in this rising young star. After losing Giuseppe Rossi to the Azzurri last year, I'm afraid letting another starlet go could be more that the US faithful could bear.

Last winter Subotic said he would make a decision about which national team to play for; the USA, Serbia, or Bosnia-Herzegivina. While it is not clear yet what he decided, since Serbia plays the Faroe Islands on September 6th, and France four days later - we may find out Subotic's decision soon enough.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Monaco: Still Interested in Bradley?

Yet another twist in the Bradley transfer saga as the deadline approaches in just five days. After there seeming to be much interest from Monaco for Heerenveen's American midfielder Michael Bradley a few weeks ago, they then focused on Betis Seville's Marko Babic as a new offensive option. This morning here in Europe, word has come out on that ASM has not agreed terms on Babic and is now taking another look at bringing Bradley on board.

Looking over at the state of play on Standard Liege's American defender Oguchi Onyewu, PSG looks less likely as an option as word came out last night that the Paris side wants to acquire defender Jean-Alain Boumsong from Olympique Lyon.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Onyewu: I Deal With Reality

Standard Liege defender Oguchi Onyewu, seeming to be completely disgusted with the transfer process, told US reporters in Guatemala that "I only want to live in reality, and the reality of the situation is that I play for Standard. I enjoy it and what happens, happens."

Meanwhile, the buzz coming from cognoscenti back in the States links Onyewu to Serie A side Catania, which is still looking to replace top defender Juan Manuel Vargas after selling him to Fiorentina. In what appears to be a late house cleaning, they also just sold defender Andrea Sottil to Rimini with three more midfielders and defenders on the auction block. The Sicilian club had a pretty porous defense last season and boss Walter Zenga is looking to shore up the back line.

Another coach looking to anchor the back line is Cologne boss Christoph Daum, who at one time was stalking Gooch like a teenager in puppy love. Its not clear now if Daum is still interested, given the club's transfer focus on bringing in another attacking player.

All that said, I still think Onyewu will either stay at Standard to win another championship or he'll be playing somewhere in France where there has been sustained interest in him since 2007. Plus, its hard to see tiny Catania outbidding PSG or Lyon, two of the bigger teams which still seem to be in the hunt. PSG was also looking at Dynamo Kiev's Senegalese defender Pape Diakhaté, who is also being pursued by Monaco and Rennes (where Carlos Bocanegra is in desperate need of a quality partner in central defense). If Diakhaté ends up at PSG, perhaps Rennes will opt for Gooch, provided there is enough time left to make a deal - the clock is ticking. Two Americans at Rennes? Who knows.

Also when asked in Guatemala, Heerenveen's Michael Bradley seemed mystified by the entire transfer process, telling US reporters: "I have no real idea what is going on but my agent tells me something may happen next week." Greg Seltzer seems to think its Everton, Celtic, or Middelsbrough (a club which always seems to be linked to an American player but never seems to close the deal). Again, my spidey sense seems to indicate he'll head be heading to Germany (Bayer Leverkusen?) but probably not Hamburg which found its replacement for Van Der Vaart in Mladen Petric, just purchased from Borussia Dortmund. In about a week, we'll know the answer for sure.

There have also been whispers here on the boot that a few Serie B teams have taken an interest in Colorado Rapids midfielder Pablo Mastroeni but its not clear if any of them are in a position to acquire him now or wait until mid season, when he would be available on a free transfer. Back in July, Serie A side Cagliari had also taken a discreet interest in Mastroeni but given the club's modest budget, they may also be waiting for midyear.

Elsewhere today, American Jozy Altidore replaced Giuseppe Rossi in the 67th minute of Villarreal's preseason match against Italy's Udinese. Altidore's side lost 1-0.

NOTE: In case you are waiting for the fourth and final installment of The Evolution of American Soccer Players in Europe, I'm waiting for the smoke to clear on this transfer season before finishing it up.

Update: Adu Named To Squad For Match Against Caen

It looks like AS Monaco's American newcomer Freddy Adu may see his first Ligue 1 action tonight against Caen after being named to the 18 man squad. Fellow newcomer Dario "The Pitbull" Simic, a Croatian defender, transfered in from AC Milan, was also named to the Monaco squad in its third week of competition where they are in 4th place at 1-0-1 with 4 points.

The other 16 named to tonight's squad of Les Monégasques are: Roma, Ruffier - Mongongu, Nkoulou, Modesto, Muratori - Pokrivac, Leko, Perez, Gosso, Meriem, Diaz - Ménez, Pino, Nimani, and Bakar.

At the same time, Toro News is predicting American Danny Szetela will be in the starting lineup for Brescia in tonight's Coppa Italia match with Torino.

UPDATE: Freddy Adu came on in the 86th minute in a 1-1 draw with Caen before a half-full stadium of 9,000 spectators. Monaco's Frédéric Nimani was the main man for the home side, scoring a 51st minute goal and constantly causing problems for the Caen defense. Next week Monaco travels up to the Alps for a battle with Ligue 1 newcomer Grenoble, a team which is curently in third place while ASM sits in fifth.

Danny Szetela started and went the distance for Brescia in a 2-1 loss to Torino to end their Coppa Italia campaign.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Szetela: Back At It With Brescia

American Danny Szetela, just back from playing in the Olympic soccer tourney in China, is back into the swing with his Serie B club Brescia. Last night he started and played a solid 75 minutes in a 4-1 preseason friendly win over Darfo (...don't ask). Coach Serse Cosmi substituted five of his starters in the half to look at new talent and rest his players for Saturday's Coppa Italia match.

Indications are that Szetela has a good chance of starting Saturday against Serie A side Torino to determine who makes it to the fourth round of the hunt for Italy's second most coveted club trophy.

Also, hats off to the US ladies for their gutsy 120 minute performance to win the gold medal twice in a row, beating a quality Brazil side by playing team ball.

Unlike most of you reading this blog, I'll be waiting for a DVD in the mail to see the US men's win over Guatemala 1-0 last night (or this morning Italy time). My friend Bob Wagman, who was at the game, has a nice detailed report on on Soccer Times.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Lazio and PSG Links to Onyewu: Nothing But Rumors?

Since the news and rumors linking Oguchi Onyewu came out over the weekend, I've had my feelers out (and been scouring the Italian and French papers piling on my desk) to confirm them both -to no avail.

The first report linking Onyewu to Lazio came out at about 1PM (Western Europe time) on Sunday by the Lyon, France branch of Eurosport and we all did our share of speculation. Since then, while Lazio has been very public about the players it is pursuing, Onyewu does not appear to be one of them. There was interest back in 2007 but any talk of current interest from Lazio remains an unconfirmed rumor. While I'd love to see Gooch playing in Serie A, where I think he could help Inter in their time of need, its not looking very likely right now.

On the PSG rumor, Matthieu Margueritte of French football website Footmercato cleared it up when he reported yesterday that Onyewu's agent, said: “It is only one rumour. Paris did not come into contact with the player, nor with me.” Some have mentioned that another French club may be in the hunt but the other club has never been named. Again, Ligue 1 is a competition where I think Onyewu could do very well and given his agent's strong connections to French football, I still think a move to France may be in the works - its just not clear where that could be. Lyon anyone?

So, the only confirmed interest in Gooch this summer remains at FC Koeln and Fulham but in the transfer game, for every two clubs you know about, there are usually 3-4 more quietly in the mix. In any case, LFV hopes to see Gooch, who is not only a great player but a very good guy, get into a situation where he can achieve great things.

Speaking of transfer rumors, things seem to be quieting down on Heerenveen's Michael Bradley but friend of LFV Greg Seltzer breaks the situation down better than anyone.

In other news, Freddy Adu has arrived back in Monaco and is eager to play in Saturday's match against SM Caen, telling France Football; "I'm ready to play." Monaco president Jérôme de Bontin also seems excited to finally have his new signing available when he told the Monaco press today; " I am convinced that his presence will have an significant impact on the level of our offensive sector. He will be able clearly to give a new dimension to our attack."

All of this chasing transfer rumors has left little time to think about tonight's (or here in Naples, tomorrow morning's) US Men's World Cup qualifier against Guatemala. Luckily, my good friend Bob Wagman, who is in Guatemala for the match, has a great preview here.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Ferrari, Perugia Knocked Out Of Coppa Italia

The Coppa Italia tournament already started 10 days ago with first round matches between the clubs at Lega Pro (Serie C) level and below. Two weeks ago, American striker Gabe Ferrari played 47 minutes as Perugia topped Lumezzane 1-0 to earn a berth in the second round. But Perugia's Coppa Italia campaign came to an end this weekend as Ferrari saw 71 minutes of action as Perugia fell to Serie B side Ascoli 3-1.

Tonight a nine-man Perugia dropped a friendly to Frosinone 2-1 in a match which saw three red cards passed out between both sides. Neither Ferrari nor his primary competition at forward, Sergio Ercolano played in the match.

Playing without Danny Szetela, just returning from Olympic duty for the USA, Brescia won their second round opener (Serie B teams join in the second round) in a 2-1 win over Foligno. They next face Serie A side Torino this weekend in third round action. It remains to be seen whether Brescia coach Serse Cosmi will decide to play Szetela in Saturday's match.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Edu To Rangers, Subotic and Gibson Score, Pearce On The Move?

Various UK news sources, including Sky Sports and the Globe and Mail are reporting that the final details are being worked out in a deal to bring American Maurice Edu (picured to the right) from Toronto to Glasgow Rangers. After returning from Olympic duty in China, Edu was supposed to be in Glasgow yesterday for Rangers' home opener against Hearts to iron out a deal worth a reported $5 million. Rangers boss Walter Smith confirmed the reports but cautioned that it all "depends on a work permit so it will be a few days before we know about that."

If the deal goes through, the young central midfielder will become the third American to pull on the distinctive blue and white striped Rangers jersey after former midfielder Claudio Reyna and current left midfielder DaMarcus Beasley.

At the same time my buddy Greg Seltzer tells us that some Bundesliga clubs may be interested in acquiring Hansa Rostock's American defender Heath Pearce. If this is the case (and Greg is usually right on), then my spidey sense tells me that interest may coming from none other than Borussia Dortmund boss Juergen Klopp (who recently brought American Neven Subotic from FSV Mainz with him). After BVB's star left back Dede was injured in yesterday's 3-2 win over Leverkusen (in which Subotic scored the match winner in the 49th), Dortmund is in dire need of an experienced left back. Dede will have knee surgery on Monday and will miss at least half of the season. Thus, a Bundesliga-experienced left back like Pearce could be exactly what BVB needs.

In the Second Bundesliga yesterday, LR Ahlen's American striker Grover Gibson (pictured to the left) scored a 56th minute goal to put his team to a 1-0 lead in a 2-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt.

American defender Steve Cherundolo and his Hannover 96 squad had a rough Bundesliga start in a 3-0 loss to Schalke 04, giving up two goals in the first seven minutes. Hannover's other American, defender Sal Zizzo, did not play.

Still waiting on Freddy Adu's arrival, AS Monaco tied FC Nantes last night 1-1. After a disappointing midweek 2-1 UEFA Cup loss to Norway's Stabaek, Carlos Bocanegra went the full 90 minutes in central defense as his Stade Rennais side lost to Ligue 1 newcomer Grenoble 1-0. FC Lorient midfielder Andrew Jacobson did not dress as his team held French league juggernaut Olympique Lyon to a 0-0 draw.

Lazio: Renewed Interested In Onyewu?

Now the real circus begins as news items slowly leak out about teams interested in American defender Oguchi Onyewu. After interest from PSG came out of Paris a few days ago, this afternoon Eurosport is stating that Lazio has renewed its interest in Gooch. Like a number of Serie A clubs, they are in the market for a central defender but this is the first time Onyewu has been mentioned since January. They recently signed Czech Republic defender David Rozehnal from Newcastle and seem to be looking for new options after loaning out two Romanians; left/central defender Radu Stefan and central defender Cosmin Moti to Dynamo Bucharest.

Gooch's athletic style is well suited to the Italian game but if he ends up at Lazio, he'll need to be a bit more clever against Serie A forwards who are experts at selling a foul in the penalty area. Whether or not any renewed interest from Lazio is serious, I've got to hand it to Onyewu's agents, they sure know how to stir up interest in their client.

More on Onyewu's last transfer saga (January 2007) available here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Onyewu To PSG?

As we've reported here previously, Standard Liege's American defender Oguchi Onyewu has drawn interest from FC Koeln, Fulham lately (not to mention Marseilles an Lazio back in January). With French legend Lilliam Thuram being forced into retirement by a heart condition, PSG remain in the market for a central defender. Now, according to Info PSG, they are looking at Onyewu as an option along with 24 year-old Dynamo Kiev defender Pape Diakhaté, who is under contract until 2011.

Gooch has experience in the French league after out starting at Metz and since he has played for years on French speaking teams, integrating into the side should be easier. He has shown well in recent club matches and appears to be one of the better central defense options available in northern Europe. With two days left before the French transfer deadline, Gooch and his agent Roger Boli appear to be in a tough spot. Assuming he gets an offer, should he sign for PSG by midnight on the 17th or hold out for a better deal in England? Its no secret that Onyewu prefers to play in England but a strong couple of years at PSG could be a springboard to the top teams in Europe. It seems to have worked fine for Gabriel Heinze, Ronaldinho, David Ginola, and George Weah.

Update: It turns out that back in mid-July, Ligue 1 reached an agreement with FIFA to extend the transfer window from the original August 17th to August 31st - the same as the other major Europen leagues.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Great Recap Of the USA-Netherlands Match

Great recap of the USA-Netherlands match from my friend Bob Wagman. You can read it here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Gooch Plans To Surprise Liverpool

After scoring two goals over the weekend to help Standard Liege beat RSC Anderlecht 3-1 in the Belgian Cip over the weekend, Oguchi Onyewu has his sights on their next foe; Liverpool.

Onyewu told the Belgian press that he thinks Standard can surprise a team like Liverpool when he said "Now we must concentrate our Liverpool. There are always chances, I think nobody thought that Anderlecht would be eliminated but we surprised them." He further told the national TV station RTBF that "In football sometimes the underdog can surprise you. Hopefully, we can do something on Wednesday to show what Belgian football is about."

From the way Onyewu has comported himself the past few weeks, you would never know that he is perhaps on the verge of being transferred to a bigger European club. Regardless of whether he ends up at FC Koeln, Fulham, or somewhere in France or Italy, it seems he wants to go out of Liege with a bang. Standard will face Liverpool at home on Wednesday in the third round of Champion's League qualifying.

A few quick hits from the weekend:

- Villarreal may be missing Giuseppe Rossi and Jozy Altidore in training but they can be proud that the pair has already scored a combined three goals in Olympic play.

- American defender Bryan Arguez did not play for Hertha Berlin in their 3-1 German Cup win over Trier this weekend.

- The US team played very well within themselves yesterday against the Dutch and coach Piotr Novak proved what a good tactician he can be with his adjustments and substitutions. The missed US chance near the end came back to haunt them after the Oranje equalized but the card collecting in the waning minutes was annoying. If anyone's international stock rose yesterday, it was Sacha Kljestan and Freddy Adu (the AS Monaco discussion boards are buzzing already).

- I have a good feeling about the Nigeria game, when Altidore, Danny Szetela, and Benny Feilhaber will need to step up. The team is starting to gel and play with much more confidence. They seem to believe in their coach, his system, and each other - not a bad way to go into Wednesday's match.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Bocanegra, Rennes Draw Marseille 4-4 In Wild Finish

France's Ligue 1 got underway tonight as 19 teams try to break Olympique Lyon's 7-year grip on the championship. American defender Carlos Bocanegra anchored the central defense for Stade Rennais in a battle with traditional power Olympique Marseille. It did not help matters that going into the match, star striker Sylvain Wiltord had been suspended after criticizing coach Guy LaCombe in an interview with L'Equipe. At the same time, the club has been in the hunt for a quality central defender to pair up with Bocanegra, bringing in Lucien Aubey from Racing Club Lens in the last two days - too late to start with the team tonight.

Rennes got on top early with an Olivier Thomert goal in the 6th minute but soon found themselves under a Marseille barrage starting with a 12th minute goal by Bokari Kone (who beat Bocanegra badly in the process) and one by Hatem Ben-Arfa in the 14th. Mamadou Niang added one in the 29th to make it 3-1, which held going into halftime. Thomert scored again in the 51st, making it 3-2.

The Rennes home fans saw a wild finish thinking they had at least managed a draw when Marseille's Elamin Erbate scored an own goal to make it 3-3 in the 90th minute. Then, two minutes into injury time, Elliot Grandin thought he had the winner tapping in a goal to put the visitors on top 4-3. With injury time running out, a thrusting attack by Rennes led to midfielder Bruno Cheyrou finding the back of the net to make it 4-4 just before the final whistle blew.

An hour's drive away in Lorient, Andrew Jacobson did not suit up as the home side collected all three points, beating Le Mans 1-0 on a Christophe Jallet goal.

While Freddy Adu readied himself to face the Netherlands in Olympic play, his AS Monaco teammates faced Paris Saint-Germain. After a scoreless 78 minutes, Frédéric Nimani knocked one in to give Monaco the win 1-0.

The English Coca Cola Championship also started competition this week as Jay DeMerit went distance for Watford in a 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace.

Earlier in the week, Reading and Aston Villa faced off in a friendly featuring three American players. New signing Brad Friedel played the full 90 minutes in goal and made an impression on the Villa fans stopping a Stephen Hunt penalty in the 10th minute. The penalty was awarded after Marin Larsen took down Reading's American midfielder Bobby Convey in the box. Friedel could do nothing in the 36th minute when a deflected ball got past him for a Reading goal. A few minutes later, Reading's American keeper Marcus Hahnemann had to stop a John Carew header from tying the match.

Friedel made a few more key stops later before Villa equalized when Gabriel Agbonlahor slotted a cross past an onrushing Hahnemann in the 80th. The Royals start the Championship season Sunday against Nottingham Forest. Villa's other American keeper, Brad Guzan, is in China to play with the US Olympic team.

In another preseason friendly, Clint Dempsey put in an unremarkable 15 minutes for Fulham in a 2-2 draw with Torino.

Over in Germany, Hannover 96 opened up its German Cup campaign tonight with a 5-0 win over 4th division side Halle with American Steve Cherundolo going the distance at right back. In the 79th minute, referee Lutz Wagner had to stop the match for 10 minutes due to fighting in the stands and fireworks being launched onto the field.

Feilhaber: Still A Chance At Derby

A few weeks ago, we reported that Benny Feilhaber was on the auction block at Derby shortly before he was named to the US Olympic squad. Now, it seems he may still have a place in the club's side, but just barely. After his meteoric rise from Hamburg and the US national team to last summer's transfer to Derby, Feilhaber seemed to be the next big thing. But he fell on black days, riding the bench after Paul Jewell took the reins at Pride Park. But, he kept his head down, continued training, and waited for a break which never came.

Last week, the new numbers were passed out at Derby and Feilhaber went from being #22 to being #31, the last number passed out by the club. Its usually a good sign when a coach assigns a number (and a bad one when they don't), but being #31 is a clear sign that the American midfielder in the man on the bubble. There is, of course, always a chance he be sold before the August 31st transfer deadline.

As the English Championship season started today, Derby lost 1-0 to Championship newcomer Doncaster Rovers sans Feilhaber and Australian Ruben Zadkovich, also in Beijing to compete in the Olympics. That makes it 25 straight losses for Jewell, who has yet to win a game at Derby. Since he did not get a result today after starting seven of his new signings, the door may be creaking open for Feilhaber.

The question remains whether Feilhaber can prove himself now by starting and making a good showing at the Olympics. But that is already proving to be a difficult task. With so many quality players competing for a starting spot, it is easy to be outshined by the others - coach Piotr Novak only used Feilhaber as a substitute in the 1-0 win over Japan.

If Feilhaber can break out of his rusty cage and prove his worth, he needs to do it quickly. If Team USA has a chance to steal a point from a powerful Netherlands squad tomorrow, a resurgent Benny Feilhaber may be just what they need. Given Derby's form, he may be just what they need as well.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Young Americans Prepare For Italian Season

While their countrymen battle for advancement in the Olympic Games over in China, two young Americans are preparing themselves for the upcoming Italian soccer season.

Gabriel Ferrari, on loan from Sampdoria to Perugia, seems to be settling in well already seeing 75 minutes of playing time in this week's 3-2 preseason win over Serie A side Catania. A week earlier, he started and scored a 45th minute goal in a 4-2 win over Castel Rigone.

Perugia was a former Serie A/Serie B regular until a series of financial irregularities led to the club's collapse and re-founding in 2005, starting the 2006 season in Serie C2 (4th division). They've now found their way to the new Lega Pro (3rd division) with their sights on returning to Serie B, and eventually Serie A. Its a good situation for Ferrari; a club with aspirations where he can see plenty of playing time. If all goes well, he can either return to Sampdoria or stay on if Perugia earns promotion to Serie B.

Down south in Naples, Vincenzo Bernardo has returned from playing for the US U-20 team in the Milk Cup, an experience he called "very rewarding." Vincenzo came back to SSC Napoli to learn that 20 of the players he worked with last year had been chopped, leaving only seven, including Bernardo, to form the nucleus of the primavera (reserve) team. With preseason training starting in two weeks, Bernardo is keeping himself fit running up and down the mountains surrounding Naples in the oven-like heat of southern Italy. "Its a good way to prepare myself and get even more fit for the season" said Bernardo today after returning from a long run in the scorching heat.

Hamburg: Renewed Interest In Bradley

Now that Rafael van der Vaart has been sold to Real Madrid, Hamburger SV is shopping for an attacking player to fill the gap. Both the Hamburg press and Kicker report that the two main candidates are Spartak Moscow striker Roman Pavlyuchenko and Heerenveen's attacking midfielder Michael Bradley (currently in China playing for the US Olympic team).

Hamburg coach Martin Jol has made it clear that he isn't looking for a project, but rather a player who is ready to contribute now. He told Kicker: "In this market its not easy..."but its clear, I want a player who is ready - otherwise its a joke."

Hamburg president and German soccer legend Uwe Seeler seemed to favor bringing in the Russian when he told "What we're missing up front is a crusher, a poacher, someone who can bring pressure all on his own."

But Hamburg officials also admitted that Pavlyuchenko may be too difficult to acquire, in particular since the Russian is being courted by Arsenal, Chelsea, and Tottenham; all with deeper pockets than the Bundesliga club. Bradley may be a bit easier to acquire, provided Hamburg is willing to match or exceed Monaco's reported $13 million transfer offer.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Oh, Did We Get Lucky!

If you are surfing to this blog, you probably saw the USA squeak by Japan 1-0 to open up the Olympic tournament for the Stars and Stripes. A fair result could have been 2-1 for Japan, which created more dangerous chances than our boys and demonstrated more fluid passing and coherent defense.

A few quick bits:

Brian McBride - Battled hard as always but there was seldom anyone available for the second ball.

Freddy Adu - Held the ball way too long and was too easily muscled off the ball. Always seems not to notice the drop man when receiving a pass and surrounded by 2-3 defenders. Gave up possession too easily.

Michael Bradley - A virtual ghost for most of the match offensively but held his own defensively. The offensive terror of the Eredivisie seemed to be MIA today. Try him at playmaker vice young Freddy.

Maurice Edu - Earned his spurs today in a position he is not accustomed to playing. The near -penalty at the end can be attributed to defending like a midfielder in the open field (his natural habitat), not a defender in the penalty area.

Marvell Wynne - Stout performance, defended his turf like it belonged to his family. Phenomenal run to set up the US goal.

Stuart Holden - Solid match, well taken shot on goal but often left Orozco stranded.

Heath Pearce - Why could you not be on this team? Instead, the left back position became an open gate on the Honda highway.

Michael Orozco - Had a few bright spots early but the rest of the match seemed to zig when the Japanese zagged (see entry for Pearce, Heath). Needs to stay on his feet more.

Robbie Rogers - Reminded me of the old never-say-die Bennie Olsen on the wing. One of the few American players to show any imagination.

While a win is a win, I'm not very optimistic on the USA's chances against the Netherlands. They looked like 11 individuals and urgently need to get into a team rhythm if they want to have any chance of advancing. Michael Bradley should be used like the playmaker he is but he also needs to step up his game. He could blow his chance at that fat contract in England if he doesn't.

India Gunning For A Place In The 2011 Asian Cup

I recall many conversations with European friends who would often remark that once America (with its 300 million people) went crazy for soccer, we could become a dominant force. I usually reminded them that if it were purely a matter of population size, India and China would be wiping the floor with all of us. As rising soccer nations such the United States, Canada, and Australia have learned, it takes a good development system, good coaching at all levels, a professional league, many years, and lots of luck to arrive on the world stage.

While the Chinese men's team has seen steady improvement over the years and their women continue to fill the trophy case, what about India? While India has produced some world class cricket players, mountaineers, and golfers, it is now coming out of a long dry spell in producing quality soccer players. Not since the golden era of 1950s and 1960s has India been a power in Asian soccer. During that time, they won the Asian championships in 1951 and finished fourth at the 1956 Olympics. They later won the 1962 Asian Games Gold medal, and reached the semi-finals in the next two Asian Games tournaments before their star started to fade.

But things are starting to turn around for Indian soccer, starting with the signing of Bhaichung Bhutia at English side Bury in 1999; the first Indian soccer player to sign for a European side. He played in 37 matches, scoring three goals before returning to India to play for Mohun Bagan. Most recently, a positive step has been the launch of the 12 team I-League in 2007, which replaced the fading National Football League. Some major changes are the inclusion of four foreigners per team plus a national television contract and league sponsor.

Another big step was in 2006 when the All-Indian Football Federation (AIFF) hired English coach Bob Houghton to guide the national team, also known as the Bhangra Boys. Speaking on the development of the I-League, Houghton told the Indian media; "That's why it is very important to have I-League in place. We have to make sure that more Indian boys play at the top professional level week in and out. We have some boys in the national team who have hardly played any matches for their clubs."

And India is also building a youth program with an eye on qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. Houghton added that "The qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup will start from 2015 and that is seven years from now. The under-19 team will be 26, under-16 will be 23 and under-14 will be 21. So these three teams will be absolutely central in qualification for the 2018 World Cup. So there is a possibility because the good thing about it is that we have got the start and we have to carry on with it."

Currently, India is looking strong in the AFC Challenge Cup which they are favored to win. Led by Bhutia, who has 40 goals in 57 appearances for India, the Bhangra Boys just beat Turkmenestan 2-1 (both goals by Bhutia) to win group A and book themselves a place in the semifinals. Bhutia is supported up front by up-and-coming striker Sunil Chetri and served by a solid midfield. Now, they are set to face Myanmar for a place in the final in Hyderabad to play either North Korea or Tajikistan. If they manage to win it all, they'll earn direct qualification to play in the Asian Cup 2011 finals - a great opportunity for this sleeping giant which may be starting to awaken.

All I can say is Jai India!

USA And Japan Set To Face Off

Today the USA and Japan men's soccer teams will open up their Olympic campaign in a tough group which includes Nigeria and the Netherlands. In contrast to the USA which features three top over-23 players led by striker Brian McBride, Japan is essentially bringing its U-23 team with no overage players.

While the USA has looked solid defensively in friendly matches, it still has yet to find its shooting boots and coach Piotr Novak hopes they find them today. Novak opined that "As a coach you’re always concerned about the team not creating chances, but during the qualifiers they did create a lot of chances. We had the opportunities to score goals, and we did that in the game that mattered the most. Against Canada in the semifinal we scored three goals and as far as I know it doesn’t really matter how many goals you score if you win. In today’s football it’s not possible to run up a score because the games are so tight."

Their Japanese opponents have not fared much better of late and are now under pressure from their new federation president, Motoaki Inukai, who has criticized the team for its attitude as a cause of its poor form. Novak seems to have a different take: "I think the strength of the Japanese team is their whole team, the way they work together and understand each other very well. We watched them in the Toulon Tournament that we played in and their ‘team’ is their biggest strength. They collectively are very strong and never give up. They know the game and the discipline it takes and at any given time they can hurt you."

The Japanese player to watch out for is Hiroki Mizumoto, a pesky 6-foot defender who is strong in the air and never seems to tire. In the penalty area, expect him to stick to McBride like glue.

Given the strength of group B, both Japan and the USA need to collect all three points to have any hope of advancing in the tournament for a shot at a medal. Despite the heat (expected to be in the 80s) expect a full-tilt contest with a frenetic start.

My prediction: USA 2 : Japan 1.

Not near a TV? Catch the game live here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Olympic Soccer: US Women Drop Opener to Norway 2-0

The 2008 Olympic Women's Soccer Tournament got off to a start today with Canada beating Argentina 2-1, Japan and New Zealand drawing 2-2, and Gold medal contenders Germany and Brazil ending in a scoreless draw 0-0.

The USA women got behind 2-0 early against Norway and despite a strong second half, could not score a goal. They have a chance to work their way back into contention Saturday against Japan but they'll need to collect all three points. Ironically, Norway lost to the US Women 2-0 in the 2000 Olympics but still managed to win the gold medal.

Host China threw down their marker for the gold early with a 2-1 win over Sweden while South Korea beat Nigeria 1-0.

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Humbling Weekend For Serie A Powers

You saw it on Italian newsstands everywhere today under somber headlines; Chelsea 5 : AC Milan 0 , Hamburger SV 3 : Juventus 0. Never mind that these were meaningless preseason friendlies in which coaches experimented with new players and different lineups - Italian football had been shamed.

AC Milan took its lumps in the Railway Cup tournament held in Moscow on an astounding four-goal performance by Cheleas's Nicolas Anelka. The Premiership side took the lead in the second minute on a Frank Lampard free kick, which Milan keeper Zeljko Kalac could not stop.
Anelka's romp started in the eighth minute with a successful long range shot then caught Kalac out of position to tally his second not ten minutes later. Anelka's two second half goals came thanks to assists from fellow Frenchman Florent Malouda, nodding home a cross in the 51st then tapping in another cross from the winger seven minutes later.

Juventus figured it would fare better in the Emirates Cup after just beating Arsenal 1-0 but a weak first half against Hamburg saw them dig a hole they could not claw their way out of. The unavailability of Jorge Andrade and other defensive injuries have left the Old Lady looking pretty old in the back. Some well-taken early shots by Hamburg were easily saved by Antonio Chimenti but a defensive error by Nicola Legottaglie in the 18th minute allowed Jose Paolo Guerero to slot a left-footed shot in for Hamburg's first goal.

An unfit Mauro Camorenesi tried to rally Juve in the attack but the Torino-based side struggled to support the ball in forward areas. An early second half knee injury to Juve defender Dario Knezevic did not help matters and Christian Molinaro also had to be taken out due to injury.

Nonetheless, Juventus looked more lively in the second half and Amauri nearly scored on an header which was stopped by Frank Rost. Later Claudio Ranieri inserted Vincenzo Iaquinta, who muffed an easy chance before Hamburg struck again on two late goals from Croatian Ivica Olic to make it 3-0 Hamburg.

It seems more than a few Serie A teams are still looking for defensive help as unfilled roster spots and recent injuries are depleting the back lines of several teams. Among those still looking for help in central defense are Fiorentina, Genoa, Inter, Lazio, Siena and Udinese.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Cherundolo and Hannover Down Hertha 3-1

After a mistake-ridden 4-2 preseason loss to RCD Mallorca last week, Hannover 96 redeemed itself last night with a 3-1 win over fellow Bundesliga side Hertha Berlin. As expected, American Steve Cherundolo went the distance at right back while newcomer Sal Zizzo was not selected for the team.

Among the good news for Hannover was to see newcomer (and former Bayern Munich player) Jan Schlaudraff score goals in the 19th and 68th minutes. Cherundolo covered well in the back and managed to contribute on offense in the 44th minute sending a perfect through-ball to find Schlaudraff, who then tapped it to Mike Hanke, who easily stroked it into the Hertha goal to make it 2-0.

While Hertha's young American defender Bryan Arguez did not play last night, he appears to be out of the doghouse having started in a 1-0 win over Newcastle on Friday.

Gooch Goes Distance in Friendly Against Saint Etienne

American defender Oguchi Onyewu played a full 90 minutes for Standard Liege Saturday night in a 3-0 loss to French Ligue 1 side Saint Etienne. Despite the impending transfer of Onyewu, Standard coach Laszlo Boloni chose to use the Maryland native in the friendly.

This may indicate that he intends to use Gooch in the third round of Champion's League qualifying against Liverpool starting August 12th. While this would "cup tie" Onyewu, making him unable to play in European matches the rest of the year, this may be a of little consequence since few of the teams interested in him are playing in the Champion's League of UEFA Cup this season.

At the same time, a stout performance in a high profile match against the Reds may be just what he needs to get the offer he is looking for.

Suazo Linked To Roma

David Suazo, arguably the most dangerous striker in CONCACAF, has been linked to AS Roma. The Honduran's agent, Giovanni Branchini, mentioned yesterday that a move from Inter to Roma was "possible."

New Inter boss Jose Mourinho is in the middle of a house cleaning in which he has his eyes on a few of his old Chelsea players, but the club must unload some talent to make room for any new signings. At the same time, injuries to several key defensive players also has the nerazzurri looking for a stop-gap option in central defense.

Suazo, who scored 95 goals in eight seasons at Cagliari, has seen limited playing time since coming to Inter in 2007, scoring only 8 last season in 27 mostly substitute appearances. Meanwhile, Roma are in the market for a striker and reports out of the Eternal City indicate Luciano Spalletti has his eyes on Suazo.

Suazo reportedly prefers to stay at Inter but if the "Special One" puts him on the auction block, he could do worse than a stint at Stadio Olimpico.
UPDATE: As of Monday morning, La Gazzetta dello Sport is reporting that Bologna is also interested in acquiring Suazo.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Brett Favre Mystery Solved

We can finally count on a bit more space in US newspapers to cover MLS and Olympic soccer now that the mystery of American football star Brett Favre's future has been solved. Instead of playing for the Green Bay Packers (or some other team), it seems he has been disguised as Americana singer Shawn Mullins. He even seemed to pull of his new gig convincingly, showing up Thursday on the Bob and Tom Show.

Given Mullins' full touring schedule this fall, its hard to see the three-time NFL MVP and two-time Super Bowl winner finding the time to play professional football.

At the same time, its a relief to be able to dispel this rumor since Favre's playing style, with full respect for his athletic abilities, is probably not suited to Bolivian soccer. One thing though - he can definitely sing.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Thuram Retires Due To Heart Condition

France's all time most-capped player, Lillian Thuram, called an end to a distinguished career Friday afternoon at a press conference in Paris. The central defender was in the process of transferring from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain when a medical exam uncovered a heart defect which led to Thuram's decision to end a highly successful career.

He had considered trying to fulfill at least part of the two-year deal at PSG but the 36 year-old was talked out of it by his mother who had already lost one son to a heart condition. Reflecting on the decision, Thuram remarked that "There are family reasons which have also been taken into account," he said. "I wanted to be the Paolo Maldini of PSG but that has not been possible. It's sad to end a career like this."

Thuram was capped 142 times and was a key member of the French teams which won the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European championship. He most recently played for France in the Euro 2008 tourney. His 17-year playing career started at Monaco in 1990 before he moved to Serie A in 1996 where he played for Parma who he helped to win the UEFA Cup in 1999, and then to Juventus where he played on two scudetto winning sides. In 2006, he joined Barcelona where he stayed for two years before attempting to transfer back to France this summer.
Rumors out of Paris indicate Thuram will likely be offered a high profile position within the French Football Federation sometime before the summer ends.

Sal Zizzo: Rough Outing For Hannover Against Mallorca

There has been some speculation during the preseason that Hannover veteran Steve Cherundolo may get bumped from his starting right back role by a younger player, including possibly young American Sal Zizzo. After a 4-2 friendly loss to RCD Mallorca Friday night in which coach Dieter Hecking gave Zizzo a start, Cherundolo's job looks as secure as ever.

The largely experimental team made many mistakes which their Mallorcan hosts capitalized on each time, especially toward the end of the match. Zizzo was credited with many defensive mistakes, including getting the blame for causing the penalty kick which let Mallorca's Jose Manuel Jurado tie the score at 2:2. Zizzo was replaced in the 62nd minute by 19 year-old Leon Balogun as Mallorca scored two more goals by Oscar Trejo in the 72nd and Juan Arango in the 77th minute to make it 4-2.

Hecking seemed to be saving his first team for the next match in the preseason tourney against Hertha Berlin on Sunday night - expect to see Cherundolo in his customary right back position. Also, given Bryan Arguez' current situation at Hertha Berlin, it is doubtful if he will play against Hannover on Sunday.

The Evolution of American Soccer Players In Europe: Part III

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?