Friday, February 11, 2005

Americans do Play the Other Football, Part Two
By Imtiaz Mussa

As promised, it’s time for part two of the series. I’ll kick off with a few quick hits of what’s going on in Europe. Real Madrid could be set to undergo a transformation. Winger Santiago Solari will be with a new team next season when his contract runs out. Luis Figo could join him out the door as it looks like he’s ready to move on. The whole experiment of having Michael Owen, Ronaldo, and Raul on the same team has pretty much failed so either Ronaldo or Owen will not be a part of the team next season. And did I mention that Wanderley Luxemburgo is their third manager this season? That’s right! This season! They have had 5 over the past 3 years! Changes will be coming to the Bernabeu as Barcelona has jumped them as Spain’s best team. In London, young Arsenal star Jose Reyes (no not the shortstop for the Mets) is pretty much on the fence about his future. Since the game against Manchester United on October 24 when Arsenal lost their undefeated run, he has lost his form. Combine this with the fact that Reyes has been missing his native Spain and the fact that Arsenal can use the money (they’re building a new stadium that is costing them a ton of pounds) and you get the possible sale of Reyes. There has been one club which has already stood out. Guess who? Real Madrid would offer cash and Michael Owen to the Gunners for the 21 year old. It should be an interesting summer. Arsenal all but lost defensive midfielder Patrick Vieira to Madrid for 24 million pounds but Madrid decided to be cheap and not pay him what he demanded. For the team that pays anything for the best players in the world, that was a poor job. Vieira would have added the defensive presence that they desperately needed. Alright, focus T-Bone; it’s time to get back to the task at hand.

After the 2002 World Cup, people started to realize that the US was for real. European teams started to take a look at MLS and see what they could grab. But, there was a new group of players that are world class who didn’t play for Bruce Arena’s team in the Far East (Eddie Lewis actually did play). This is all about them.

Let’s take a trip on the time machine to June of 2003. I was on vacation in London and my cousin points to a little blurb in the Sunday Times which says that Manchester United will look to sign NY/NJ Metrostars keeper Tim Howard. I immediately get excited realizing that the best keeper in MLS is going to my favorite team. My cousin turns to me and says, “He’ll be a backup for Sir Alex.” I look at him and say, “Tim Howard is the real deal and he will start for Manchester United.” Looks like I was partially right.
Tim has had his ups and downs
Howard blew Ferguson and the rest of Manchester United away with his training and first bunch of games that they had to make the number one keeper. Time for a history lesson. For nearly ten years, Manchester United had the greatest keeper in the world in the form of the Great Dane Peter Schmeichel. But after the glorious season of 1999 when United won the treble (the Premiership, FA Cup, Champions League), Schmeichel decided to move on. Since then, United have been looking for their next great keeper. It hasn’t been too good. So up comes Tim Howard who once trained with AC Milan and was having fun being the best keeper in MLS. In the Charity Shield exhibition game, United and Arsenal are tied going into a penalty shootout. Up steps Thierry Henry, one the best strikers in the world and he faces Tim Howard. Would Howard be intimidated? Nope, he stops Henry and United win. It was going well for Tim and United until they hit a dry spell in February and start to drop points. Howard had been playing an MLS season when United bought him. He basically had no rest in 11 months. With United unable to score goals, Howard was under the gun to post a clean sheet every time. You can’t go to the well too many times. Howard would get pulled for Roy Carroll and United would finish the season coming in a disappointing third place. They would only win the FA Cup that season. Enter this season as many expected Howard to claim the number one spot and keep it. But Howard started to make mistakes that led to critical goals as United started to drop points again and fall out of the title race in September! Howard got pulled again in favor of Roy Carroll who is on the same level as Howard. Both don’t have the full faith of Sir Alex Ferguson and the rest of Manchester United nation. What does this tell us about Tim? He can play in the Premiership but may not be able to handle the pressure of a real big time club. With that being said, he is only 26 years old and with Brad Friedel having just retired from the US National Team, as long as Howard plays, he should get the USA Number One jersey.

Next on the list is Carlos Bocanegra who left the Chicago Fire to join Fulham in early 2004.
Carlos is a regular at Fulham
Even before he left, Bocanegra entrenched himself as a starter in Arena’s defense and showed Fire fans that he was worth the fourth overall pick in the 2000 draft. Over in London, Carlos is a regular in the Fulham defense and is quickly gaining notoriety. Though playing in Europe will be hard to do while in Fulham, Bocanegra could conceivably make a big money move to a bigger club in a few years where he will taste European football. There are a few things he would do good to improve on. First, while with the Fire, Bocanegra was a central defender but he now plays left back. He still needs to get a better grasp of the position. That brings the second point. Great left backs such as Roberto Carlos, Ashley Cole, and Gabriel Heinze all know how to get up and attack. If Bocanegra can do that, he will become one of the best in the Premiership.

Teams in the Championship dream of one thing; getting promoted to the Premiership. For Reading, two Americans are a part of the first team roster. Goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann starts for the side and at one point in his career, played for the Rapids. He started at Fulham but never got into the side thanks to Dutch number one Edwin van der Sar. Hahnemann has come to Reading and is a fan favorite. Many wish the same could be said for Bobby Convey who was called the best player in the Premiership before leaving in the summer of 2004. Originally bound for Tottenham Hotspur a few years prior but couldn't go due to a lack of national team appearances, Convey landed at Reading. But since his arrival, he has struggled with injury and finds himself on the bench. That could prove to be a problem. Bruce Arena had very high hopes on the former member of D.C. United.
Convey getting his new jersey seems like a distant memory
Meanwhile over at Preston North End, Eddie Lewis is loving life as he tries to get his team promoted. Another original signing of Fulham, he never broke into the side and ended up at Preston. But since being at the Championship side, Lewis has flourished and is now a regular member of US side. Lewis did play in the 2002 World Cup and looks set to be on the roster for 2006.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Cory Gibbs left F.C. Dallas to join Feyenoord of Holland. The defender only played a year in MLS but came to the league having not done much of anything at German club St. Pauli. In his year in Dallas, Gibbs got the playing he needed in order to develop some of his talent. At only 25 years old, Gibbs should end up with a permanent place on the American national team. Having played a few games for the Rotterdam side, Gibbs has impressed the fans with his solid defending.

Well, that does it for this part of Americans do Play the Other Football. Part Three will take a look at who’s next to leave MLS.

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