It Seems To Me. . .
U.S. players seek regular club playing time to enhance World Cup status.
By Robert Wagman
(Wednesday, February 5, 2014) -- United States men's coach Jürgen Klinsmann has made it very clear, both in public statements and directly to the players on his radar for inclusion in this summer's World Cup squad. If they have any hope of making the squad, they need to be playing regularly for their club teams.
The players have taken this edict very much to heart and a number of them have made recent moves.
The first was striker Clint Dempsey. He had been acquired last season by Tottenham Hotspur from English Premier League for Fulham to score goals. He had set records for Fulham and Spurs expected him to do the same. He was something of a disappointment, so during last summer's transfer window, Spurs went shopping for attacking midfielders and Dempsey could easily read the handwriting on the wall.
He had several choices. He could stay with Spurs and fight for playing time. He could move to another EPL or European team, but the likelihood of finding one where he would be assured of playing and the club would be willing to pay him the kind of money he was making at Tottenham was not high.
When a third option opened up -- the Seattle Sounders were anxious to calm their restive fan base by bringing in a big name and paying him an Major League Soccer record salary. Dempsey jumped.
An almost identical situation occurred at AS Roma in Italy where midfielder Michael Bradley had established himself as a key player in a defensive midfield role. Roma was doing well, very well, this season, but felt it needed greater goal production from the midfield and went shopping for attacking midfielders.
The club made it clear that Bradley was welcome to stay -- in fact, Roma coach Rudi Garcia publically said he wanted him to remain. But Bradley too got the message, especially with the arrival of Radja Nainggolan from Cagliari. So when Toronto of MLS (in even more dire straits with its fan base in revolt) came calling and was willing to pay him even more than Dempsey was getting at Seattle (with MLS willing to pay a record $10-million transfer fee), Bradley was Toronto-bound.
Other moves are happening. In Germany, German-American midfielder Jermaine Jones, a stalwart with the U.S. men looking at less playing time at FC Schalke 04, left the German Bunesliga for Besiktas of the Turkis Süper Lig.
U.S. midfielder Brek Shea has not been getting minutes at the EPL's Stoke City, so he went to the second division with Barnsley, which is in a major fight to avoid relegation.
The issue here is simple -- are these players better off? In the case of Dempsey and Bradley, would it be better to stay with two of the better teams in two of the world's best leagues, training every day and fighting for playing time, or making the jump to MLS, getting 90 minutes every match but against lesser opposition?
Likewise, is Shea better off playing at lowly Barnsley or competing for a place at Stoke? What about Jones at Schalke?
Klinsmann has made it clear he supports both Dempsey and Bradley's move to MLS and Shea's willingness to find playing time in the second-tier English League Championship. They might be making the right moves to guarantee a trip to the World Cup, but in the long run is the U.S. team better off?
Time will tell.