Thursday, September 29, 2005
We know that most sports fans harbor fantasies of being players, managers, and/or agents. Knowing that we can't do much to help our readers actually achieve any of the above ambitions, we've decided to do the next best thing and create an opportunity to get inside the minds of players, managers, and agents.

Every month or so, we'll pick a US player who is currently playing in MLS or elsewhere in the States and analyze where that player SHOULD be playing. We will bring in opinions from different members of the YA Staff who focus on different foreign leagues.

Each of us will discuss which team (if any) from the league we follow would make the best match for the player we're discussing. We'll try to take everything into consideration - from the needs, profile and financial resources of the team to the abilities, potential and personality of the player. In this edition of YA Matchmaker...

Eddie Johnson

This MLS season was meant to be Eddie Johnson's big sending off party. He was coming off an excellent year as a goal scorer for Dallas, punctuated by his sudden emergence as a prolific front man for the US National Team. With the addition of Carlos Ruiz to the FC Dallas strikeforce, the only question seemed to be "will they score three goals per game or four?".

The story was supposed to end with all of the big names of European football lining up in New York to bid for EJ's services. Somewhere along the line, a not-so-funny thing happened; Johnson has had a year marked by injury and inconsistent play. So now what? Will Europe come calling? And if so, which team represents the best fit for Eddie?

England (Neal Thurman)

The first question is who might want or need Mr. Johnson’s services either during the January transfer window or after next summer’s World Cup? I think we can quickly rule out Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, and Liverpool based on the depth each of those squads possesses at striker. While any of those (with the possible exception of Tottenham) would represent a prestigious move – it would also likely mean a lot of time riding the pine. Eddie Johnson, have you met Tim Howard? OK, so those teams are off the list.

There is a second tier of teams that, whether I agree that they’re set at striker or not, are probably set in their own minds after recent acquisitions. Aston Villa (featuring Baros, Philips, and Angel) and Middlesbrough (Yakubu, Viduka, Hasselbaink, and Maccarone) are unlikely to invest in a striker at this point. This is also probably true of West Ham United, who have been in excellent early season form – especially on the offensive side of the ball. That leaves 12 teams that might have a need for a striker.

So, of those twelve teams – West Brom, Birmingham, Charlton, Fulham, Manchester City, Everton, Wigan, Portsmouth, Newcastle, Blackburn, Sunderland, and Bolton – which would be the best fit for Johnson? Right off the bat, I’m going to rule out teams that rely heavily on a 4-5-1 formation because I don’t think Eddie is prepared to be the lone ranger for a Premiership offense – so, goodbye Charlton and Everton. I’m also going to rule out Portsmouth and Sunderland because they both seem to be a bit of a mess and no place for someone with career ambitions other than cashing a nice big check.

My final criteria is that I think Johnson would be in the best position to succeed if he is paired with an effective target man. Of the eight remaining teams, Fulham (Brian McBride), Birmingham (Emile Heskey), and Bolton (Jared Borgetti) best fit this description.

I have to admit that when I got this assignment, I had initially thought that I would send EJ to play alongside his national team strike partner Brian McBride at Fulham, but as I went through the process of writing the article, I found myself liking the notion of an all-CONCACAF Bolton front line of Borgetti and Johnson even more. In addition to an attractive striking partnership, I also like the fact that Bolton has a lot of veterans of "big clubs" like Ivan Campo to help Eddie continue to develop as a professional. Finally, Bolton's presence in the UEFA Cup would be beneficial to Johnson's World Cup preparation – a benefit he wouldn't enjoy at Fulham.

So, there it is – Eddie Johnson to Bolton. Big Sam, time to get yourself on a plane to New York City to start talking dollars and pounds with Don Garber.

I will throw in one other wrinkle for those who are willing to contemplate a slightly more complex set of moves that would create a great home for EJ. If I were Manchester City, I’d realize that I have a lot of old strikers on the decline – Mssrs. Fowler and Cole, that means you – and little around to replace them. I’d take the money that I got for selling Shaun Wright-Phillips to Chelsea and buy both Dean Ashton – currently of Norwich and future Wayne Rooney strike partner for England – and Eddie Johnson.

Ashton proved in the second half of last season that he is ready to be not only a target man, but that he can hold the ball while waiting for reinforcements, score it himself, or create for others. With the sort of attention that he would demand from defenses, Eddie Johnson would be free to do what he does best: get in great positions and put the ball in the net. If they could pull this off, City would be headed back to Europe next season with a dynamic strike force in front of an already effective midfield. Now if only they could find a replacement for David James – I wonder if there are any good goalkeepers in Manchester who have some spare time on their hands???

Germany (Greg Seltzer)

Aha! You all thought i was gonna say Ed should get himself to Holland... didn't ya? It is true that he would fit like a glove with Ajax, AZ Alkmaar and PSV Eindhoven; he could play in a free range offense and run like a gazelle all day - but I want something different for him.

I don't want him to have it nice and easy and fun. I want him up against the most organized, nastiest, most cold blooded defenses. I'm not talking about the famous tactical grab 'n' hold Serie A defenses, I'm talking buckle your seatbelt defenses. Yep, it's off to the Bundesliga for EJ. It's time to dodge some elbows, leap some crunchers and play in traffic.

Right now you may be thinking "Greg wants Eddie to get injured". Hardly... I just want him to get used to doing the business against Grown Ass Men because that's what he will face in World Cup play. Part of the reason Italy struggled in 2002 is because their backline failed to play physically enough. EJ can learn how to score at the top international level by playing in a league where the penalty area is a war zone. So where does he go?

Bayern Munich is out because that would be too easy (and because they have certain Makaay fellow to work the roaming forward role). Hamburg, Hertha Berlin and Schalke would be very nice, but they each already have two players for his role. Borussia Dortmund and Stuttgart are a bit of a mess and Wolfsburg seem to have a defeatist attitude when the chips are down. Bayer Leverkusen are out... well... just because - no need to tempt déjà vu, I say.

That leaves a couple of so-so choices, several relegation bait sides and one perfect destination: Werder Bremen.

The northerners are an ambitious outfit - four times German champs, including the domestic double in 2004. They play a quick strike game and run the counter at every opportunity. Coach Thomas Schaaf likes both of his fullbacks to get forward and likes all of his midfielders to make plays for the forwards. They employ some smart NHL-style offensive tactics, such as shooting on goal from distance for the sole purpose of producing fat rebounds for net crashing attackers.

When not playing off of underrated target man Miroslav Klose, Johnson could take expert lessons from the ingenious Ivan Klasnic. Both of these veteran strikers have a slight tendency towards injury and/or suspension, opening up pitch time. The Weserstadion crew usually have a fixture load bloated by European contests and deep German Cup runs, so he will not constantly remain a "supersub".

Bremen play quite offensively for a Bundesliga team, and have several players with whom EJ would make a fast friendship. When not on the ball, he could run onto endless Johan Micoud through passes, pinpoint Torsten Frings (yes, THAT Torsten Frings) crosses and thunderous Tim Borowski rebounds.

As for the German culture that turned off Landon Donovan, I doubt Johnson would make any such fuss over training habits or weather. EJ has spent several winters training at Manchester United, and he actually seems like he would relish being dropped into an "Outward Bound" soccer outpost. More to the point, I say the difficult challenge would cause him to grow his game AND as a person.


So now we've had our shot at managing Eddie's career.

Neal has sent him off to Bolton to form a dynamic CONCACAF duo with Mexico ace Jared Borgetti, while Greg has EJ headed to northern Germany where he can learn to score in the proverbial 18-yard jungle.

Now we'd like to hear your thoughts. If you think there's a better fit for him in either England or Germany, let us know about that. If you have an opinion on where he might fit in other leagues (e.g., Spain, Italy, Portugal, France, and even Germany) we'd like to hear about that too.

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