Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Americans do Play the Other Football
By Imtiaz Mussa

Being in London for a few months meant that I could definitely take in some football; as the rest of the world likes to call it. I went to matches and saw plenty more of them on television and I kept track of the Americans who were over there. Some of these guys are familiar faces who have played in MLS and the US National Team but then there is this group of players who came to Europe at younger ages and played a bit in the youth system. Wondering why these guys didn’t go through MLS first? The answer is simple, they never intended to play in MLS and the European teams took notice. So I think I’ll make this Part One of the Series on American Players in Europe, entitled; The Cover Boys.

Donovan, Mathis, Beasley don the red, white, and blue

Prior to the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan, ESPN the Magazine ran a cover of three of the younger, more exciting players in MLS. The players were Clint Mathis, Landon Donovan, and DaMarcus Beasley. Each one of these players has since found their way to Europe but the paths have been different.

A happy Mathis at Hannover

Clint Mathis starred as the New York/New Jersey Metrostars main hitman before walking out on MLS in January 2004. His destination was German club Hannover 96 where he got off to a blistering start scoring four goals in his first five games but then as most strikers do, he cooled off and found himself taking a seat on the bench. Hannover had a disappointing season overall. Fast forward to this season and on September 25th; Mathis scored his first goal since going on his initial run of goals. After that goal, he ran toward his own bench, grabbed his crotch, gave coach Ewald Lienen an angry look and pointedly tapped his wrist as if wearing a watch as his way of saying he should have been put in earlier. Then, Mathis comes out in the media and talks about how he does not like the generally more defensive system Lienen was using in Hannover. That spelled the end of Mathis’ career with Hannover as the German club decided it was time to let the fiery American go. In the upcoming MLS season, you can see Clint Mathis suit up for expansion team Real Salt Lake.

Landon Donovan had some European experience before suiting up for the USA in 2002. German side Bayer Leverkusen signed the attacking midfielder to a six year deal when he was 16. In 2000, he went to Germany and was placed on the first team but did not see any playing time. Homesick and unhappy with this role in the reserves, Donovan got a chance to come back to States and play for the San Jose Earthquakes. Leverkusen still had the rights to him but simply loaned him to MLS where he could play regular first team football. Donovan’s break out occurred in 2002 when Arena gave him regular playing time in Korea/Japan. He showed the world that he had the potential to be a tremendous player. Since 2002, Landon has become the face of Major League Soccer and has led San Jose to another MLS Cup to go with the one that they won in 2001. But it couldn’t last forever. Parent club Leverkusen has called Donovan back with the intention of giving him ample playing time. The German club has moved on to the knockout stages of the Champions League and they may face PSV Eindhoven.

The place Beasley calls home

PSV Eindhoven has had many great players play in the Phillips Stadion. Ruud Van Nistlerooy, Arjen Robben, and oh yes, Ronaldo got started there. Now it is the home of DaMarcus Beasley who has earned the love and respect of the not only the Dutch faithful but all European football fans. Much like Donovan, Beasley used the 2002 World Cup to show the world flashes of brilliance which included a goal in the shocker against Portugal. Beasley continued to play well in MLS and for National team coach Bruce Arena. It paid off as Beasley moved to PSV Eindhoven in the summer of 2004 and has become a fan favorite, scoring some spectacular goals in the Eredivisie and the Champions League. Of the three players, Beasley seems to be in the best position to succeed in Europe having already made a niche for himself.

So this concludes part one of the series. Be sure to read part two when we take a look at more players who have left MLS and what they are doing.


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