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Monday, September 25, 2006
While I was uncharacteristically optimistic about the start of the new English soccer season, I have increasingly begun to feel that optimism was misplaced for a series of reasons.

Firstly, last Tuesday night the BBC released the results of an investigative report that revealed the prevalence of "bung taking" in English soccer, which included a deep look into the manager of one of the Americans in the Premiership, Sam Allardyce at Bolton.

"Bung taking" is an English term for the general wrong-doing of English managers and agents in transfer deals that allows both to profit at the expense of club and player.

Whenever a swindle takes place, it is generally considered that both the fan and the player are being exploited by the greediness of the various authoritative figures in soccer because the system does not allow the player to pay his agent like in the US. Rather, it is the club that foots the bill.

One of the most disturbing discussions recorded on the television program occurred between an undercover BBC reporter and the general manager of Belgian club Charleroi that involved the shipping of large quantities of Africans to the club.

The Africans would be given trials, and the best players would be kept in a set up that would allow both the club and agent to pocket large sums of money. This system could be applied to any third world country, including Argentina and Brazil.

In Belgium, foreign nationals can easily gain work permits to work without the hassles in other countries and use the league as a jumping off point to bigger clubs. This works to the advantage of the transient soccer players from third world countries, giving them the exposure to potentially earn a larger pay-day - but, of course, that is never guaranteed in soccer.

The fact that systems like this exist is destructive to the American player's chances of playing in Europe simply because, unlike African players, neither American players nor MLS will be exploited so blatantly.

American players would not be willing to be shipped over to Europe for trials at European clubs en masse in the system described for the clubs in Belgium and at the same time MLS requires more money for their investment developing the players than European clubs are willing to give.

Sadly, this policy has resulted in what many commentators have described as a poor transfer season for American players this summer.

MLS does not want to be seen as a development league for Europe, and as a result, is forced to retain players like Clint Dempsey against his will for the good of the league.

The fact that some Americans in Europe have been frankly playing like crap, with the exception of the boys at Reading, doesn't help either.

At the beginning of the season, everything seemed so bright for the Americans in England, especially after the disastrous results of the World Cup in Germany. Yanks were burgeoning in the Premiership and more seemed poised to move into influential roles.

Instead, what has happened? This past week in the Carling Cup, two Premiership teams featuring Americans in their starting line-ups lost to sub-Championship level teams.

Claudio Reyna, starting only because newly signed replacement Hatem Trabelsi was injured, headed the ball straight to the opposing team for a volley-goal that lost the game for Citeh and Carlos Bocanegra made a terrible tackle in the 18-yard box that provided the spot kick that proved to be the losing goal for Fulham.

To make matters worse, Bocanegra has already been struggling to find minutes in the Fulham backline, and on the few occasions that Reyna has been given a shot, he has failed to make enough of an impression to stay on for the full 90.

City recruit DaMarcus Beasley has also failed to make a quick impression, mainly due to an injury nag - just be sure to wear the correct color shoes next time!

Meanwhile, two youngsters, Jemal Johnson and Johann Smith have not made the big breakthrough that I was looking for.

I must admit that Johnson's move to Wolves is probably for the better, he will get more minutes and rapidly show his worth as a speedy option moving into the attack. With the departure of Craig Bellamy, I had originally hoped that he would be given more of a look with Blackburn.

Smith, on the other hand, has made it onto the Bolton bench a handful of times, but has yet to make it onto the field. I had tipped the US Under-20 Milk Cup star to make a big impression if given the chance, but Allardyce's addition of Nicolas Anelka does not bode well for Smith's chances to break through this year.

It really does not help either that Allardyce is in the center of all the BBC's reported "bung" scandal, but then again the rag-tag collection of big name players that is Bolton still competes heartily.

Speaking of managers, lets not forget that Eddie Lewis, who has not been finding the field lately either, just lost the manager that brought him. In the temperamental world of English soccer, who knows what Kevin Blackwell's replacement will think of the American.

Leeds are not the only lower league strugglers, with Frankie Simek's Wednesday and Zak Whitbread's Millwall digging early holes.

I am not even optimistic anymore for Jonathan Spector and Cory Gibbs, that have been injured so far this season.

While West Ham do not have the best backline in the world, Spector will still have some work ahead of him to force his way into the line-up, having been injured throughout the entire preseason.

Meanwhile, Charlton seem ready to go back down to the Championship, and it is becoming increasingly unclear that Iain Dowie can do anything with his new team, even when Gibbs makes his reappearance in November.

Of course, I am ignoring Tim Howard going undefeated so far at Everton and the aforementioned Reading boys, but the reality is that both of these are the exceptions at the moment.

Oh well... I'll just act like I always believed when the Yanks turn it around over there.
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A big question for U.S. fans heading into the World Cup is surely on Jozy Altidore and just what is plaguing the young striker at Sunderland.
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