DAVID SMITH - Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Taking somewhat of a back seat to what turned out to be a largely lackluster summer transfer window finale for Americans was the September 1 deadline for Premier League clubs to submit their final 25-man rosters for the first half of the season and for Champions and Europa League participants to name their final 25 for group-stage play.
Beyond the roster decisions which were obviously never going to be in doubt, the day gave final confirmation for a small handful of Americans on the fringe of their teams' plans as to what they can expect to see in the coming four months in terms of playing time.
The list of English Premier League's official 25-man rosters included a pair of fringe yanks - Fulham's Eddie Johnson and Aston Villa defender Eric Lichaj - hoping to get time on the field for their respective teams in the near future, albeit in vastly different situations and implications.
For Lichaj, his inclusion by Villa's upper brass (it's hard to think that interim coach Kevin MacDonald had much say in long-term roster decisions) in the final 25 barely two weeks after he made his first-team debut with the team in Europa League qualifying can only be taken as a positive sign of the team's continued commitment to his eventual development as a first-team regular.
Ultimately the amount of time he actually spends on the field in league play will depend largely on the philosophies and squad policies of Villa's yet-to-be-named new coach.
If the team stays healthy he could very well be limited to cup games and little more (europaleaguechoke), however Lichaj is clearly seen by the organization as a promising player on the rise, so his time will undoubtedly come.
In the case of Fulham forward Eddie Johnson, his inclusion in the Cottagers' list of available players is no huge surprise since they never had a Chelsea-sized roster to begin with.
This however does little to quell fears of a dearth of playing time under new boss Mark Hughes and furthermore possibly bodes poorly for the prospect of a loan to a Championship or (gasp) League One club.
In his favor, Johnson is so far down the pecking order at forward that Hughes likely wouldn't be taking any staffing risk in letting Johnson go for a few months on loan.
However, the general willingness of Premier League clubs to send an able-bodied senior player away for a spell under the new and relatively untested limitations of the recently-implemented roster rules is yet to be seen.
And then there was the Gooch; nearly back to full health, yet left out of AC Milan's squad for the Champions League group stage.
How can I put this gently....sorry, they're just not that much into you.
Would things have been different without the untimely knee injury? Without any doubt. Onyewu would have nailed down the starting role for Milan by last November, led them to their best-ever defensive record on the way to winning the triple instead of that other team from Milan, and would have topped it off with a World Cup Best XI performance in anchoring the USMNT to an eventual third-place win over Germany in South Africa.
Somewhere along the way he would have found a few spare moments to apply his world-class plugging abilities on the field to a more aquatic environment where he and Milan back-line mate Alessandro Nesta would have applied their own top-kill to the Deepwater Horizon leak, saving the lives of countless helpless pelicans and sea turtles as well as the entire gulf coast economy.
Sadly, none of this could come to fruition...oh what could have been.
With the last-minute additions of world class divas Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimović to the roster, the Rossoneri are suddenly looking fit to challenge Inter's recent hegemony on Serie A.
On a team with such lofty expectations, a player who has appeared in only two competitive matches over the last ten months since injury and only made a short cameo for the club in the months prior will have a Sisyphean task to earn playing time in even the least important of league games.
Milan having perhaps the toughest group in the Champions League certainly didn't help his chances; the two games against Real Madrid will certainly see head coach Massimiliano Allegri putting out his strongest lineup possible and the clashes with Auxerre and Ajax aren't exactly throw-away games.
Nevertheless, were Milan in a strong position in the group following their matchday three and four clashes with Madrid, their final two games against the lesser opponents could have provided the opportunity for Allegri to rest several of his starters in favor of hungry fringe players like Onyewu.
As it stands, his best chance to see any time for his team will likely come in the Coppa Italia, which begins for Milan in January in the round of 16. It's going to be a long four months.
Lastly, Greek club Aris Thessaloniki will enter the group stage of the Europa League without one-time American starlet Freddy Adu on the roster. To put it nicely, the world is round, the sun rises every morning, and I'm not going to touch this one with a ten-foot pole.
Obviously situations can change at the drop of a hat or the pop of a ligament and early-September is too early to sound the death knoll on a player's season.
For those seemingly on the outs, the day-to-day training regiment always provides the means to chip away at a coach's opinions and earn a chance to prove themselves on the field.
Whatever the situation, it's going to be a long, uphill battle, and the opportunity for reprieve may not come until early 2011 when the transfer window re-opens and teams can tweak the limited rosters as needed.