THE NEXT GENERATION
Is it time for Wynne to move?
This year is proving to be a good one in terms of evaluating domestically-based American players. The Gold Cup featured a bunch of young MLS players playing in their first international tournament at the senior level. Also this year, we have seen USA U-20 coach Thomas Rongen put together a team consisting largely of MLS and college players.
It has been clear that for some, a move overseas would be beneficial or even necessary to their careers.
There are a number of different factors in determining which players would benefit the most from such a move. Obviously, the first is looking at which players have the highest potential to succeed in the best leagues in the world. Also, it's important see which players are being held back by playing domestically.
While some players can have solid international careers and achieve their potential playing in the MLS, there are others that need to move overseas to keep improving. Finally, the players that most need to move abroad are players that have that ability but are also at a crossroads in their career. They are at a point where they have either outgrown the MLS, have been a poor fit in MLS from the start, or are even deciding where to begin their professional career.
So when looking at these factors, here are the players that stand to benefit the most in moving their careers overseas.
Stuart Holden (Midfielder, Houston Dynamo)
Stuart Holden is a player that now appears ready to head overseas and start a European career. Holden briefly tried to launch a European career at Sunderland after leaving college in 2005, but he returned to the USA after an incident in which he was physically attacked outside a bar in Newcastle.
The opportunity to make the move in 2009 or 2010 now looks more promising for the 24-year-old Holden. His improved play in 2008 and 2009 has paved the way for him to make consecutive World Cup qualifying rosters. His crossing ability is one of the best in the USA player pool while his shot and field vision are well above average. Right now, all indications are that Holden is the backup right-midfielder on the USA team behind only Clint Dempsey.
Holden has the ability to succeed in Europe, and such a move would only improve his game. His career in MLS has been one of constant improvement. This was most evident when Dwayne De Rosario left Houston and Holden was given more responsibilities on the field. With Holden a key part of their offense, Houston remains one of the best teams in the league. So while Holden keeps improving, it is only a matter of time before he outgrows the MLS.
Brek Shea (Midfielder/Defender/Forward, FC Dallas & USA U20 National Team)
If ever there was a talented young player that is falling victim to the inadequacies of MLS coaching, it is Brek Shea. He is an imposing presence on the field at 6-3 with a strong build, raw athleticism, and solid but unpolished skills. In MLS, however, coaches have been unable to even find a proper position for him. As a result, his development has been slowed and his play has been very inconsistent.
The good news for Shea, 19, is that that U-20 Coach Thomas Rongen wants him to be a big part of the World Cup team in Egypt. This could be the career boost that Shea needs because Rongen wants to move him into a more attacking role within the USA U-20 team.
History has shown that Rongen has done especially well at working with attacking midfielders and forwards at this age level. His U-20 teams have had players like Jozy Altidore, Freddy Adu, Sal Zizzo, Danny Szetela, Robbie Rogers, and Bobby Convey play very effective soccer at the U-20 World Cup. If Rongen can get Shea to play to the best of his ability in Egypt, there is a strong possibility that he will be noticed by European scouts.
Robbie Rogers (Midfielder, Columbus Crew)
Like Stuart Holden, Robbie Rogers had a brief tenure overseas that was prematurely cut short. After one year at the University of Maryland, Rogers left school to play at Heerenveen in the Dutch Eredivisie. Before getting to the first team, Rogers left Holland, reportedly because of homesickness, and returned to the USA. He has played with the Columbus Crew ever since.
It is clear now that a second try at moving abroad is almost a necessity for Rogers. At just 22 years old, there is little more he can accomplish in MLS yet he also has a lot of room to still grow. In MLS last year, he helped lead the Crew to its first MLS Cup championship and was named to the league's best XI.
Rogers' play at the international level has been uneven. In the 2008 Olympics and the 2009 Gold Cup, he showed quality moments but also long stretches of ineffectiveness. Playing in MLS is giving Rogers a chance to dominate opponents but also fall way short of reaching his potential. This is why he should move abroad.
Marvell Wynne (Defender, Toronto FC)
The 2009 MLS season will be Marvell Wynne's fourth season in the league. It has also been the season that has shown that for Wynne to achieve his potential, he should move overseas to a team willing to work with him to improve his tactics as well as a few other areas of his game.
In 2006, Wynne was the number 1 overall draft pick in the MLS Superdraft. His strength and amazing speed were the main reasons why he was so highly rated by scouts. More than 3 years later in 2009, he remains virtually the same player he was when he entered the league.
The reason why MLS hasn't been a good fit for Wynne is that with his raw athletic ability, he can often get away with poor positioning and ill timed runs. His speed easily allows for him to make up for these mistakes.
In May, 2009 USA national team coach Bob Bradley gave Wynne an important start in a World Cup qualifier on the road against Costa Rica. Wynne's deficiencies were badly exposed in this game which Costa Rica won 3-1.
Wynne's shortcomings are correctable over time with good coaching. Wynne is still a young player at 23, but a move does need to be made soon. There have been occasions where he has shown that his potential is very great, but in MLS he is never going to get close to the player he could be. Finding a well coached team in Europe that has an interest in working with him should be Wynne's highest priority at the conclusion of this MLS season.
Dilly Duka (Midfielder, Rutgers University & USA U20)
2009 has been an incredible year for Dilly Duka as he has come out of nowhere to emerge as one of the key components of the USA U-20 national team. Duka finished his second season at Rutgers University in the fall of 2008 and he received his first U20 camp invitation in January 2009.
Just two months later in March, he was the starting central midfielder and playmaker for the team in U-20 World Cup Qualifying. Shortly after leading the team to qualification, he announced he would not be coming back to Rutgers as he would seek to go pro. MLS league rules prevented Duka from signing with the Red Bulls this past summer, which means that heading into the U20 World Cup he will remain a free agent.
The U-20 World Cup will be an opportunity for Duka, 19, to showcase his talent. If he has a good showing in Egypt, he should seize any good opportunity to play overseas to develop his game. While he would be one of the top MLS draft picks next year, playing domestically would not be the best route for him. Since the MLS eliminated its reserve league at the end of the 2008 season, it has become increasingly difficult for young American professional players to play games domestically.
For a promising young playmaking midfielder like Duka, a combination of mediocre coaching and a lack of playing time would seriously harm his development. Duka should take advantage of any good European opportunity he gets after the 2009 U20 World Cup.
Ike Opara (Defender, Wake Forrest University & USA U20)
The 2009 U-20 World Cup will be a very important tournament for Ike Opara. It's been fairly obvious that he was going to use this tournament as a chance to earn a European contract since he announced in December, 2008 that he would not enter the MLS Superdraft and would remain in college at Wake Forest.
Had he stayed in the draft, he would have easily been one of the top picks, if not the number one overall pick. The decision to not go professional at that time has been seen as a move to play in front of top scouts at the U-20 World Cup while as a free agent, which would allow him to sign with any team without a transfer fee.
Opara, 20, would be wise to follow through with his chance to move overseas because he is one of the best centerbacks to play with a USA U-20 team in years. Given his talent and physical tools, he would have a chance of seeing first team action with a team in a solid league more quickly than most defenders his age.
The MLS isn't necessarily a bad option for Opara because MLS seems to develop young centerbacks better than it does young players at other positions, but if he takes advantage of a good opportunity in Europe after the U20 World Cup, he could emerge as one of the faster rising stars of USA soccer.
These players clearly stand the most to gain by moving their career overseas, and this fall will be a good chance for them to make their case.
Duka, Shea, and Opara will have the opportunity to impress scouts at the U-20 World Cup. Wynne and Holden will have the rest of the MLS season and possibly the remaining World Cup qualifiers to grab the attention of European clubs.
The January 2010 transfer window should see a few players on the list make moves, and next summer there should be a few more. While not all will move overseas in the foreseeable future, most of the players on the list will probably move by next summer.
The more players that do move, the better it will be for each of their careers. Each of these players has the ability to be a impact player for the USA national team and also for good clubs in strong European leagues.
The decisions each of the players make as to where to continue their careers over the next 12 months will largely affect how they develop over time. Finding good clubs in Europe to play for will be beneficial to both them and to USA soccer in general.