Freddy Adu Still Brings The Hype

Freddy Adu was greeted with great fanfare as he came off the airport in Greece. They even have a song for him already!

But lest you get too excited, he received the same type of greeting from Benfica fans when he arrived in Lisbon in 2007 (scroll to about the 1:35 mark).
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Still Waiting On Some Crucial Transfer News

As the first week of January comes to a close, we are still awaiting news on two of the more important US transfer targets: Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark.
While Donovan has gotten most of the attention, the moves of Holden and Clark are more critical for the US national team. Both of these guys look likely to be apart of the US World Cup squad and it is hugely important for the US that these two land well and get playing time.

It seems pretty clear that both will head to Europe. Both are out of contract with MLS and can therefore sign a free transfer, meaning that European interest ought to be high. Moreover, work permits won’t be a problem – definitely not for Holden (he has a UK passport) and Clark has been a national team regular.

Stuart Holden: He was linked to Blackburn in December, but now it looks like it was another Premier League side Burnley. Holden is apparently going to Burnley for a trial. Yet it is a question if this move is still possible, given Burnley manager Owen Coyle’s departure for Bolton. With Burnley in flux, I think this would be a very risky move for Holden – unless he is interested in playing in the Championship next year. Burnley is currently just two points clear of the drop zone and with the loss of their manager and their frugal ways one has to think they are likely to go down. However, the one major advantage of moving to Burnley is that Holden would be pretty assured to get a lot of playing time between now and the World Cup.
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Thoughts On The MLS Labor Negotiations

I am not all that familiar with the history of MLS labor negotiations, but the heated rhetoric and threats of a lockout or strike have clearly raised the temperature to a point where we should all be concerned to a point.

Having followed international negotiations at times in my day job, much of this is following a similar pattern. And I think it’s pretty clear that these negotiations haven’t really started yet.

We are in the posturing stage. With both sides making uncompromising doomsdayish statements mentioning the s-word “strike” or the L-word “lock-out”. Both sides are trying to convince the other of their sincerity in their willingness to blow up the league. While this form of brinksmanship is common and to be expected in negotiations, brinksmanship can also get out of control and that’s what we have to worry about here.

The owners want the status quo, while the players want far-reaching changes as MatchFit notes (read there great primer on the negotiations). Therefore it is in the interests of owners to stall talks, because the far-reaching structural changes wanted by the players, would take a lot of time to negotiate so as you get closer to the deadline there becomes little chance of these major structural changes to the league happening. I think that’s why you are seeing a lot of heated rhetoric from the players and accusations that the League is not really negotiating in good faith – because they aren’t.

Frankly, I don’t think there is anyway the league is going to agree to change their basic single-entity operating structure. But I bet they are willing to compromise on salary issues and quality of life issues and perhaps guaranteed contracts. Therefore, I think if a deal gets done it will be finalized at the last minute in a flurry of activity with the players giving up for now their larger demands in return for significant improvements in wages and overall treatment.

But the danger here is that all this brinksmanship goes awry. One could easily see a situation, in which the owners overplay their hand and the players, extremely pissed that the owners haven’t even considered their larger demands, decide to walk away. The owners really shouldn’t underestimate the willingness of really badly paid and treated players to go to the mattresses on this.

However, there are two big reasons not to panic yet and to believe that a deal will get done.
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Filling out the WC roster: Strikers/Wingers

We don’t need a target man, we need attacking players. The major challenge for the US over the next six months is to identify a couple of additional dangerous attacking players that can change a game.

My assessment of the current state of the US 23-man world cup squad is that there is currently competition for 2 or 3 spots at striker and outside midfield. This assumes that there are 8 defenders, 3 goalkeepers, and 4-5 central midfielders (Bradley, Edu, Jones, Feilhaber, Clark), leaving 7 spots for outside midfielders and strikers. Assuming that Altidore, Donovan, Dempsey, Holden and Torres are in the squad – that leaves just two or three spots left for additional attacking players.

While Davies is retaining hope of returning, I think the probability of him making the squad are very slim, and for the sake of this piece and for Bob Bradley’s approach to the World Cup he must assume Davies won’t be available. Davies is pretty much irreplaceable. It was not just his speed and knack for goal, but that he had in 2009 moved beyond his developmental stage as a player and had become a dangerous striker in an elite league. That makes him irreplaceable over the short term, since even promising players are not that far along.

However, the situation at striker is not as dire as it may have seemed after Davies went down. Due to the versatility of Donovan and Dempsey – either of whom could play up top – and the emergence of Holden/Torres, Bradley has some flexibility. He doesn’t need to find a starter to play 75 minutes against England. Furthermore, while Jozy has not set the Premier League ablaze, he has emerged as a legitimate target man, playing at Hull and doesn’t need to play alongside another target striker like Brian Ching or Conor Casey. In fact, I would argue that with Dempsey the US in effect already has two target strikers on the roster. Instead, of wasting a spot on a redundant target man, what we need is speed to make up for the loss of Davies and that could be made up for at two different positions striker or as a winger.

In other words, Bradley should be looking for difference makers offensively. Players who he can put in when we are down 1-0 to Slovenia or deadlocked 0-0 with Algeria that can help change a game. I think this means that Bradley can take a few more risks with these final roster spots, as these players don’t have to be a boring but trusted veterans.

Who are the candidates for those final roster spots?

Damarcus Beasley – I have to say I haven’t been impressed with Beasley for about five years. He was plain bad in 06 and his career has struggled since. However finally healthy (actually he did just suffer a slight knock) he is turning the SPL a blaze. I think if Beasley is starting he is a lock for a spot and right now would probably start against England at left midfield to neutralize Aaron Lennon. Chance at WC210: strong
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Despite Claims, Little Pressure on Donovan at Everton

Considerable ink has been spilled claiming that there is tons of pressure on Landon Donovan to show that he can cut it at Everton during his short loan. This move is seen as critical to his career. Having “failed” in his previous stints in Germany, it is argued, this is Donovan’s last chance to show that he is a world class player.

In reality – Donovan has almost nothing to prove in England.

Financially, Donovan has very little riding on it. Prior to the loan, Donovan signed a new lucrative deal with the Galaxy that doubles his salary and ensures that no matter what happens over the next six months, Donovan’s furture is secure. Now, an outstanding performance could see him make considerably more if bought by a big club, but it is also quite possible no team will meet MLS’ valuation of Donovan no matter how well he performs due to his age.

So what this is really about is his legacy. Sure a dominating performance in England will enhance his stature. Such a showing would no doubt boost his global rep and will serve to mollify many of his American critics who never forgave him for giving into his homesickness at Bayern Leverkusen and returning to California and to MLS earlier this decade. But in reality Donovan’s status America’s most valuable player and perhaps its greatest player in history will not be effected by the outcome at Everton.
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