Monday, October 16, 2006
Scrolling through my list of to do's, I've got things that I need to do, and then the more urgent things that go on the short list. But most of all, I try to find anything else I can possibly do besides the things that are absolutely necessary.

I remember once in high school, I took apart the electric pencil sharpener and put it back together the night before a project was due.

So, with a couple of things due for my Masters program and a test to make for an English class in my day job, I figured the time was just about right to delve into the YA reader mail.

Let's start off with a question from Lawrence Krisanda who asks: "Who were the first American players to play in England's Premiership? Or the 1st division I guess it used to be called? There had to have been someone there before John Harkes or Joe Max-Moore."

You know what Lawrence, I was listening to this fascinating report on a BBC pod cast the other day about this company in Silicon Valley who some people say has aims of world domination. The company has become so popular that its very name has become a verb in everyday lexicon, though I'm not sure if it has made its way into Webster yet.

Well, I just checked, and a matter of fact, according to Wikipedia, "Google" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary on June 15th, 2006.

I'm just joking around with you here Lawrence, and you must have received Sean O'Conor's response by now. But for the rest of you, here's Sean's reply:

"John Kerr played for Portsmouth in the old First Division in 1987, pre-dating John Harkes' entry into the top flight by three years.

Joe-Max Moore debuted in the Premiership for Everton in late 1999, three years after Kasey Keller first represented Leicester City in the Premier League. Bruce Murray (1993-'94) and John Kerr (1993-'95) played for Millwall in the old Second Division (current Championship).

I keep thinking there must have been some American, perhaps of dual nationality or by birth, who played in England in years past, but have so far been unable to find one to pre-date Kerr."

While there may be cries for Roy Wegerle, who joined Chelsea in 1986, he would have to have an asterisk next to his name since he didn't gain American citizenship until 1991.

Moving on some of the columns that have appeared on YA, newly arrived contributor Eugene Peysakh received a couple of comments regarding his article Off The Beaten Path.

Barry Joyce says, "I agree completely that US players would better develop by playing on good teams in the French, Portuguese, Dutch or Greek leagues, rather than sitting on the bench at one of the top clubs in Europe.

Ronaldo played for a Dutch club before becoming famous at Spanish and Italian clubs. Ronaldinho played in France before joining Barcelona. Didier Drogba of the Ivory Coast played in France before signing with Chelsea. There are many other success stories of players incrementally working their way up the ladder, rather than trying to make a big splash at a big-name club before they are ready for that level.

While those two players you cite are certainly great examples of players who have worked their way up by playing in somewhat lesser leagues, they are also two of the best players in the world and the United States has yet to produce a player of equal caliber.

Every star on the Czech side in Germany had followed a similar path as well, for example.

I certainly agree that getting playing time in leagues such as French Ligue 1, the Portuguese Superliga or even the Greek National league is better than riding pine for the best clubs in the world (a la Jovan Kirovski), but the fact is the powers that be in those parts of Europe don't seem to be all that interested in American talent.

Aside from Benfica's interest in Eddie Johnson, there hasn't been much talk or even speculation about interest in U.S. players from those leagues.

Nick Powers, however, "couldn't disagree more" with the premise of the article and pointed out, "we have yet to see an American make the jump from a Scandinavian club to a perennial Champions League team."

I think Nick makes a valid point here in that while many people talk of the Scandinavian leagues as a stepping stone to bigger and better things, no American players have proved this to be true.

One time left back flavor of the moment Wade Barrett seemed to have killed any chances he had with the National Team by making the leap to Denmark, Adin Brown's Norwegian side was relegated to the second division and while there was talk of a Heath Pearce transfer in August, he's still toiling away with FC Nordsjælland in Denmark.

But as long as these clubs continue to be interested in the American player and entice them with the opportunity to triple or quadruple their salaries by signing in Denmark or Norway, it will continue to happen.

Keith Stevens sent in a couple of questions about the upcoming transfer window, asking who seems likely to leave MLS for Europe, and specifically about Kenny Cooper, Pablo Mastroeni and whether it is "a lock [Clint] Dempsey is gone".

First of all, I hardly think that it is a lock that Dempsey is gone. MLS has clearly shown in the past that it will not part with its marquee players easily and Dempsey is easily one of the more recognizable faces of the league.

While Chris Coleman was recently spotted scouting the Texas native, it would take quite a transfer offer to pry him from the vise that is MLS.

Mastroeni is another player that MLS certainly considers as marquee, having played in two World Cups. And while Brescia was reported to have come knocking in August, the answer from MLS, Colorado and their coach was a firm "No. Not good for MLS, not good for Colorado and not good for Pablo."

Brescia is a Serie B team, currently seventh in the league and while just about all of us at YA had pegged Mastroeni for a transfer following Germany '06, there wasn't a great deal of interest and it's difficult to believe that Brescia will be willing to pay the transfer fee MLS wants.

As for Kenny Cooper, with Manchester United on his résumé and 11 MLS goals on the season, it wouldn't be surprising to see that there is some interest from clubs that needed a scoring boost.

However, Cooper has only just arrived, and unless there is a significant transfer offer, I think we'll see him plying his trade with Dallas once again next spring.

We had a couple of comments on Jason Endres' 23 Tickets to Canada. David Snipes didn't hold anything back when commenting on FC Dallas defender Blake Wagner's inclusion as a "fairly safe bet".

"Please NO!!!! I watched the U-20's at the Busan Tournament this summer and Wagner was beyond awful; by far the worst player on the pitch for any team there...After the U.S. got thrashed by Korea 5-0 where Wagner was directly responsible for 4 of the goals."

While I didn't watch that particular game, or any of the matches in Busan, I tend to be wary of any opinions that blame one single player on the field for four out of five goals in 5-0 drubbing.

It's easy to blame a defender each time there is a goal, but it's clear that there are breakdowns all over the field when your keeper has to pick the ball out of his own net five times during a game.

I guess I should put forward that Wagner is still only 18 years old and that if selected for the upcoming World Youth Cup in Canada, I'll find it hard to believe that some of his teammates will be "pissed to see him there", as David predicts.

He'll be 19 when that tournament rolls around, and like every other American selected to represent the United States, he will be far from the finished product. On top that, it will have been a very respected coach in Thomas Rongen who will have selected him, which should do more than enough to justify his selection.

More on the youth side from Cameron Schulten, who writes, "I was looking at the proposed roster for Canada 2007 and couldn't help but ponder our World Cup squad for 2014. Just looking at the player pool available with Feilhaber, Freddy Adu, Lee Nguyen, Michael Bradley, Quentin Westberg, Jonathan Spector, Eddie and Jemal Johnson, AND Johann Smith, it's hard not to start drooling!

The list goes on of talented American youth players who have already begun to establish themselves in Europe and will be in their absolute prime come 2014. The future looks positive!"

World Cup 2014 is a long way off, but sure is easy to get excited about the players you've mentioned. The U.S. is certainly going to improve between now and then, but so are France, Brazil, Argentina, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, etc, not to mention African sides such as Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon.

In any tournament format, every team can theoretically win, but I still think the United States is a long, long ways away from competing with the elite teams.

We have the athletes to compete and at times that can be the deciding factor - just ask Portugal - but we are still are lacking from a tactical perspective where all 11 players are on the same page.

The more young players that we have like Bobby Convey and Benny Feilhaber who can find playing time for big clubs in big leagues, the smarter our players are going to become and the better our national team will be for it.

Alan Boothe wrote in to comment that "Johann Smith recently signed a two-year professional contract with BWFC and I have not seen that news on your site."

As a matter of fact, Jason Endres had a long talk with Smith recently and will have a YA exclusive up on the site soon.

This one from Daniel Williams was certainly one of my favorites and he asks, "What about Jemal Johnson of Wolves?"

The space YA affords is not the correct medium to convey why this question makes me laugh so, but he's got two goals and has made seven appearances thus far with Wolverhampton. Looks like he's off to a good start.

Nicholas Lawrus asks, " Why did you leave Spain's La Liga off the current poll? That's what I would pick."

We've not yet reached scientific perfection in listing our poll choices. Heck, we can't even agree on which ones to put let alone include all the right ones. In short, it wasn't on purpose.

Yanks Abroad editor Greg Seltzer recently wrote an article on whether or not the US should accept an invitation to participate in Copa America and Charlie Snyder says, "To me, it pretty much seems like a no-brainer to participate in the 2007 Copa Americas. It is essential to the growth of our national team to face the best competition we can as many times as we can. Suni needs to get his act together and select a coach to represent us at this tournament. The clock is ticking and the time's a wasting!!"

Andrew Ikeda adds, " I agree with Greg Seltzer. We need to play in the Copa America at any and all costs!"

I agree with all three of you guys. The teams in Europe started playing competitive games less than two months after the end of the last World Cup, while the next game that really means anything to US Soccer won't be until some time in 2009 when the Red, White & Blue take on Mexico.

Aside from our neighbors to the south and an away game in Costa Rica, what other games really pose any sort of challenge to the Americans?

Surely some can argue that the Gold Cup is a competitive tournament, but with invitees such as Brazil's Under-23 side or a depleted Mexico side, and games in front of US friendly crowds (well, they are in the US anyway), it's hardly on par with what the Americans would face if they were to compete in the biennial South American tournament.

And Russ Pryor has another question concerning Copa America, asking, "Is there a means by which my friends and I could send e-mails to U.S. Soccer to encourage Gulati to accept the invitation to participate in Copa America?"

I'm sure you can send an email over to the head of U.S. Soccer communications, David Applegate at dapplegae@ussoccer.org and share your opinions with him.

And finally, Tom Knapp had a few comments on Neal Thurman's article, 30 Minutes of Optimism, where Neal named Quavas Kirk as one hopeful for the future. Tom doesn't exactly share the same opinion.

"Just what we need. Another "athlete" with limited ball skills and little tactical awareness. Wonderful. What's wrong with you? Seriously.

Too many who know nothing about the game who are so deeply involved. As a country, we are screwed. Not just you, but the whole culture.

The kid will never be a huge player with his skill set internationally and competent in MLS. Never anything else. Fact.

If you had any clue what makes a Nat player, or a quality player you would see this already. It is very obvious.

Don't worry. 80% of Yank fans are just as clueless. At least there will be a bunch of you hyping the hopeless so you can feel better about yourself, as another "athlete only" fails to turn into a soccer player.

Man we are screwed in the US. The stupidity is astounding. Truely school kids."

Well, that's one way to express your opinion.

I would have chosen a less aggressive line and refrained from name calling and condescension, but you're certainly entitled to your opinion and behind the safety of the keyboard, you can say it anyway you want.

And anyway, his name is Quavas. How can you be so down on a guy called Quavas?


You know what they told Jay DeMerit, right? You will never be a huge player with your skill set. Never.

Quavas Kirk aside, I do agree with you that American soccer culture certainly leans toward the athletes in the system, while the more skilled players are largely ignored.

Benny Feilhaber just saw first team action with Hamburg SV while just three years ago he had to walk on to the UCLA squad, and that is just one example.

Meanwhile, Marvell Wynne is being touted as the next big thing, and why? Because he's fast. A friend of mine was explaining to me how good he was just the other day, how he had seen the future right back of the Nats. "What did he do?" I asked.

"He made up 10 yards on Samuel Eto'o in 20," he told me, referring to the New York Red Bull - Barcelona scrimmage this year.

Speed is certainly a valuable asset in soccer, but it far from the most important. Wynne has a long way to go before his skill set equals that of Quavas Kirk, but unfortunately his freak athleticism may get him more looks in the future.

Again, both of them are youngsters and have a lot of developing ahead of them.

That just about covers the mailbag for the week, keep the letters and postcards coming.

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