Featured / MLS

YANKS COME HOME!!!

After reading “The Throw-In: Time to come home, young Yanks,” I wanted to continue the discussion looking not just at Americans hoping to earn National Team positions, but at MLS as a product on the rise that can serve the needs of all American players. With Charlie Davies and Kenny Cooper making the return flight to the US in the offseason and now Benny Feilhaber joining the Revolution, now is a great time to look at Americans who can continue to grow the level of MLS.

Scouring the current crop of Americans plying their trade outside of our borders, here is a list of 18 players who, should they join MLS, would both continue the improving quality of our league and also serve to show top young American talent that fleeing for Europe at the first inquiry is not essential for developing into a top-level professional.

This list focuses not on the upper echelon of US talent like Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey or Stuart Holden. Rather, it catalogs players who are struggling for minutes, form, confidence or consistency and could find them in MLS. For the sake of the discussion, let’s remove the ever-present financial aspect of each scenario. This is intended to look purely at the player’s developmental situation, career trajectory and possible position within Major League Soccer.

Reading stalwart

Goalkeepers

Marcus Hahnemann

This one is a sitter just to get things started as Hahnemann has already acknowledged a desire to return stateside to finish his career in MLS. A dip in form has seen young Welshman Wayne Hennessey supplant the Iowa native in net for Wolves this season and a return to the US at the season’s end appears imminent. One on the list of top-quality American goalkeepers to play in Europe, Hahnemann will best be remembered for the 276 appearances he made for Reading FC.

Prodigiously talented, but still an unknown professionally.

Diego Restrepo

Restrepo has taken the opposite route from Union favorites Carlos Valdes and Roger Torres, departing the US in favor of Colombian club America de Cali. During his final year at the University of Virginia in 2009, Restrepo broke many of famed alumni Tony Meola’s records and led the Cavaliers to a national championship, a penalty kick victory over Akron. Born in Venezuela, Restrepo has chosen to begin his career in South America, but he has yet to make an appearance for the Red Devils. Listed at 6′ 0″, a return to the US would provide the 23-year old a chance to fight for first-team soccer and then potentially earn a prestigious move back to South America or Europe once he has proved his merit as a starting goalkeeper.

First American to play in Moldova?

Colin Burns

The definition of a journeyman, Burns has played in Moldova, Finland and Sweden before his current move to the Norwegian second division. Whether he could cut it as a full-time starter in MLS is still a question, but after five years abroad in Europe’s frigid north, even a backup job in Dallas, Houston, LA or anywhere else warm would have to look good.

I don't get St. Etienne on my TV!!!

Defenders

Carlos Bocanegra

At 31-years old, Bocanegra has had successful spells in both the Premier League and the French Ligue 1. But with his speed waning and national team opportunities appearing scarce looking forward to the next World Cup cycle, a move home to MLS would allow Bocanegra the opportunity to play the final years of his illustrious career in front of adoring fans, rather than withering away in the obscurity of a mid-table club outside of Lyon. And by no means is he done. Playing in the center of the pitch, there are very few MLS teams who would not look at Bocanegra as an upgrade.

5 bucks if you can't pronounce Nordsjælland correctly on the first try.

Michael Parkhurst

The former Revs defender left MLS after 2008 on a free to try his luck in Europe. After three seasons it is time for nine-time US international to return home—joining any of the Scandinavian leagues counts as a good stepping stone for a US international trying to make a name in Europe, but become stuck there and its time to journey back across the pond.

With the technical standard of MLS on the rise, Parkhurst is the kind of player the league needs to count amongst its ranks. Named MLS Defender of the Year in 2007, Parkhurst also won the Fair Play Award in 2007 and 2008. The Fair Play Award (won by Sebastien Le Toux in 2010) is given to a player who plays maximum minutes and still records an extremely low number of cautions and ejections. Parkhurst plays technically sound defense without the need to physically intimidate. He also provides the kind of distribution from the back that few MLS centerbacks can match. As MLS continues to improve in quality, brutish, violent defenders will eventually be cast aside and players like Parkhurst will come at a premium.

Needs to get his groove back!

Jonathan Spector

Spector just can’t get the chance to stay hot, especially in a topsy-turvy relegation battle at West Ham. Still only 25-years old, this offseason will be of special importance for Spector. Relegation and a chance to play consistently in the Championship might do Spector’s confidence a world of good, but the Chicago native should explore the opportunity of a move stateside to right his ship. His technical abilities are clear and, despite being a right back by trade, Spector has slotted in admirably as a holding midfielder for West Ham this season. Like Rafa Marquez for New York, Spector could arrive on American shores boasting the ability to play as many as three or even four positions, making him a valuable commodity and justifying his potentially high salary.

Come to MLS, we want to watch you play!

Edgar Castillo

Plain and simple, MLS is lacking in quality outside backs—it’s a fact that we’ve all come to accept. Enter Edgar Castillo.

The Mexican-American fullback is currently bouncing around loan deals in the Mexican top-flight like a rubber ball. With stops at UANL, San Luis and Puebla, Castillo still has not found the kind of permanent first team soccer that he deserves. Enter MLS and an opportunity to showcase every week for the National Team and the US viewing public. A technical player of Castillo’s ability would not be lacking for opportunities in MLS and he would be a valuable addition to many teams looking to solidify shaky defenses.

Too comfy in lower level English soccer.

Frank Simek

Having bounced around England since initially joining Arsenal on a development contract in 2003, Simek has found a home at Carlisle United in League One. A solid, if not spectacular, defender, Simek has represented the United States on five occasions. Simek had looked likely to break into the Premiership during his time with the then Championship side Sheffield Wednesday, but with their relegation a further setback, Simek moved over to Carlisle. While the Championship still represents a very high level of soccer, MLS will always come up trumps over League One and with the lingering rumors of an expansion to St. Louis, Simek could prove a viable candidate to lead his hometown side.

Defender to forward? Usually the other way round.

Charles Kazlauskas

Converted from a defender to a forward in 2004 during his time with NEC Nijmegen, Kazlauskas trialed with both Chicago and Kansas City in 2005 before returning to Holland after finding no takers. This mid-career positional switch makes the Lithuanian-born Kazlauskas a well rounded forward who might revert to a more defensive position in a league like MLS that relies on speedy fullbacks to create width.

Does anyone actually know Freddy's real age?

Midfielders

Freddy Adu

There is nothing left to be said about Adu—if only to have a permanent address for longer than four months, Freddy needs to come home.

Besides, it’s not as if he is over the hill. At 21-years old, Adu has already been through many levels of soccer purgatory, including the Portuguese and Greek Leagues as well as his current home the Turkish second division. His time in the wilderness has certainly killed the expectations once held by too many in the US soccer media. An opportunity to run a MLS midfield without the world resting on his shoulders might be just what the doctor ordered.

MLS Midfield Maestro?

Jose Francisco Torres

If your coach thinks you’re too small and not tough enough to compete at the highest level, what do you do? Come to America!

If Torres doesn’t get killed in his first season in MLS, he will learn valuable lessons about strength, composure and body positioning that the more technical Mexican league simply cannot teach—kind of like leaving La Liga for the Bundesliga. With Torres slipping down the depth chart at Pachuca and 90 minutes of action no longer a guarantee, a move to MLS could reignite his young career and remind Bob Bradley why so many US fans are clamoring for the diminutive playmaker to earn more minutes.

Any fuel left in his jets?

DeMarcus Beasley

It’s hard to believe that Beasley isn’t 30 yet. Both with club and country, Beasley seems to have been around forever.

While his pace and work rate were always first class, his slight frame simply couldn’t hold up to the beatings dished out in the Dutch, English and Scottish leagues and the injuries he suffered kept him from developing into the player he had once projected to become. Beasley is currently a squad play at Hannover, rarely making the bench, let alone the pitch, for a side who has come out of nowhere to challenge for a Champions League spot. Once the season runs out, so to will Beasley’s tenure with Hannover and with fewer and fewer teams interested in buying what Demarcus is selling, he would do well to consider a return to MLS while he still has some pep left in his legs. While he is no longer a player who can take over a game, Beasley can still hold his own, filling a veteran role in most MLS starting XI’s much like fellow US internationals Eddie Lewis and Frankie Hejduk have done in the past.

HERCULEZ! HERCULEZ!

Forwards

Herculez Gomez

Gomez is an American anomaly. He scores goals. It’s almost a novel concept for fans of the National Team. Yet despite his output in front of goal, concerns linger over whether he is a full 90 minute player. For Pachuca in the Clausura, he rarely starts, but often finishes, both goals and games. For players outside of Bob Bradley’s inner circle, minutes equals chances with the national team and MLS would offer Gomez a chance to lead the line for a lower to mid-table side looking for a proven finisher as well as to finally silence his critics.

Bad Edson, BAD EDSON!

Edson Buddle

He never should have left. What could devalue MLS as a product more than to have one of its most prolific goalscorers leave only to earn a contract with the second worst club in Germany’s second division. While Ingolstadt has found safety and is seven points clear of the drop zone, Buddle only has another year of Bundesliga to look forward to. Unless he can earn a move to a more prestigious club in the offseason, Buddle’s best move is to tuck his tail between his legs, fly home to MLS and pray he can score enough goals to get one or two more chances to play for the US.

Looking for consistent minutes

Mike Grella

During his first full year with Leeds United, Grella featured prominently off the bench, scoring 5 goals in all competitions, and helping his team to promotion back to the Championship. This season has been tough on Grella, who after seeing new signings jump over him in the pecking order, was forced to accept loans to Carlisle United and Swindon Town in League One in order to find playing time. As a 24-year old with promise as both a striker and an attacking midfielder, Grella needs minutes to cultivate his game. His creative, aggressive style would translate well to MLS and allow him to fill multiple roles for potential suitors.

Has the well run dry?

Eddie Johnson

Since leaving Kansas City after the 2008 season, Eddie Johnson has struggled his way through Europe—8 goals in 77 appearances simply won’t cut it. What makes it so hard to simply write him off is that, despite his lack of tallies, he is still a very good soccer player. He possesses the pace, agility, touch and vision of an elite-level player, but ultimately strikers are judged on goals scored, and Johnson just isn’t producing. With a loan to Preston North End currently running down, a summer return to MLS could give Johnson a fresh start to refocus himself and go in search of the goals he was never able to acquire in Europe.

Was tearing up MLS when he left

Chris Rolfe

Looking to put a painful year out of commission through injury, Rolfe scored this weekend for Aalborg. At 28, Rolfe is a little late in his career to try and find his feet in Europe, especially following his most recent injury setback. With the end of the Danish season fast approaching, Rolfe needs consistent playing time. With 36 goals in his first four years in MLS with the Chicago Fire, should he choose to cut his European adventure short and return to home soil, plenty of teams in search of a proven goalscorer would welcome him with open arms.

Time for the step up to MLS

Jon-Paul Pittman

Pittman’s career began at the age of 9 in the youth systems of Aston Villa and later Nottingham Forest. While still only 24, Pittman has tallied a respectable number of goals, 22 with Crawley Town and 14 with Wycombe Wanderers over the past 4+ seasons. But despite finding a comfort level in the lower English divisions, Pittman must make a dramatic change to prove himself and find out whether he will ever have the ability to play at the highest level in any country. In his case, a move to MLS would represent a new challenge, a step up and a change in style to determine whether or not he can hack it.

18 Players equals a stronger MLS

That makes 18. Theoretically, one player added to every MLS roster in an effort to earn more minutes for talented Americans, while increasing the level of MLS simultaneously. In addition to this list, which other Americans have worn out their European welcome? Who else could benefit from a return to home cooking? Who else belongs in MLS?

12 Comments

  1. This list is awesome. Info not to be found anywhere else.

  2. The real problem is that most of these players will never come to MLS if they can make more money playing in Scandinavia or sitting on the bench in Germany or England. Guys like Gringo Torres and Bocanegra would have to be made DPs to get them to come home. We basically saw that with Feilhaber, who was signed for something like $10K less than the DP threshold.

  3. I think you missed a big name, Jozy Altidore, he is on loan, at Bursaspor which is a Turkish club, from his parent club Villarreal. I really do not understand why these players think that lower leagues in Europe are better than the MLS, the MLS is a better league than mostly everyone else in the world thinks. These players are wasting their time in the lower leagues.

    • I intentionally left Jozy off this list because I think this year has been good for him. Learning to train at an elite level with Villarreal can only improve his preparation as a professional and while the Turkish league is not the EPL or La Liga, it is a very under appreciated league and a decent place for Jozy to be playing, provided he continues to get minutes. He’s still only 21 and while I think you’re totally right to wonder if he should come home, I am still holding out hope that he finds a stable club situation and develops into a prolific goalscorer.

  4. Great article and a necessary discussion. I think we see even more examples with players who have never played in MLS, not just those who left and could return. Philly flirted with Jeremiah White but his reported contract demands ended the negotiation before it began and I recall Jemal Johnson of MK Dons fame trialiing around MLS this season or last without any takers.

    The pay, unfortunately, will not be the thing that attracts the players to MLS. CD9 sends a powerful message by coming to MLS to get healthy and get sharp, and Bob would do well to amplify that message. If Davies gets the call for the Gold Cup this summer, it will send a strong message – as equally strong, perhaps if Altidore were left off the squad.

    I’m not sure I agree with all of the players on your list, but there are some interesting examples of players who, to this point, have been unsuccessful in coming home. Last I heard Ryan Guy was still trialing for a contract after being turned down by Portland and he was a fixture for St. Pat’s before coming home. And Orozco Fiscal’s short lived MLS career can’t necessarily be counted as a success. Maybe continued expansion will help this problem, maybe the rising salary cap will address it first.

  5. Good stuff. I think the most important thing is, obviously, getting minutes on the field. Clint Dempsey, Maurice Edu – that’s what we need. Guys playing major minutes for mid-level European squads.

    Gooch at AC Milan is a good example. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing for a top team, if you’re not seing the field. I liked Jozy’s move to Bursaspor (they played in the Champion’s League last year).

  6. How about Jermaine Jones? Pity he did not break thru at Schalke and is now loaned out and not playing today against ManU :-(.

  7. Great list, great food for thought. I do have to disagree on one person though, Diego Restrepo.

    I am a Virginia fan, so i know Diego’s case very well. A couple of things. Diego is 6’1′ tops, not 6’5′. 2009 was not his last year, it was 2010. And he just got to Colombia 4 months ago, gotta give him time to establish himself before saying that he needs to come to MLS. Plus MLS didn’t want him, hence why there was combine invitation for him.

    One las point, Diego has played for America, here are some highlights I found on the ‘net: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ia4Ve-XQuTA

    • Thanks for the info.

      The info on him is sparse at best, with chunks of time missing here and there.

      Just checked and his UVA profile listed him at 6′-0″ while wikipedia and a couple less credible sources had 6′-5″.

      Hopefully he can tear it up in Colombia.

      • Not a problem, glad to help. Still shocked that MLS did not sign him, I saw him play at UVa multiple times and is the best college GK i’ve ever seen (better than Seitz, Perk, MacMath, Brown, Fitzgerald, Attinella, etc etc). Awareness, reactions and shot-stopping are off-the charts.

  8. Outstanding article. I flew in (figuratively) from Rochester home of the Rhinos (USL) and the Flash (WPS) and am truly impressed by this website and the soccer coverage coming out of Philly.

    Would love to see Grella come to MLS, he’s an exciting player with more untapped potential that would be a prolific goalscorer.

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