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Friday, December 8, 2006
By this time every year, the big (and not so big) clubs in Europe have had enough time to know what their current roster is capable of accomplishing. They'll have experienced some injuries to key players and they'll know what needs shoring up.

As the January transfer window approaches, they'll be looking to fortify their rosters for the second half of their seasons. It's rare that major superstars move in January, but it is very common for teams to acquire one more solid starter or a key player to supplement the bench.

This is also the one time where the MLS schedule is an advantage for American players. Their seasons are over and MLS clubs are probably more willing to part with players since they have three to four months to figure out a replacement strategy.

With all that in mind, we've seen a laundry list of MLS-based American players either "on trial with" or "training with" numerous teams.

Of course, Josh Wolff started the ball rolling recently with a move to 1860 Munich. I've been critical of him in the past, but it is nice to see the hard working forward get his chance to play in Europe and he seems to have found a good fit in the Lions.

I can't claim to be an expert on the roster needs of any team outside the Premiership, but I have seen enough MLS to have a pretty good sense of who has a chance to make the leap and what sort of situation might be ideal for them.

First, we'll discuss the possibilities for obvious guys like Freddy Adu, Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson, then we'll go into some other guys who probably should be getting a look and aren't.

Freddy Adu

So Freddy has had his day (or fortnight) at the famous Carrington Training Ground with Sir Alex and the boys, and as everyone who has seen him play suspected, he isn't ready for the big stage quite yet.

The reports out of England are saying the politically correct things about Manchester United not being able to sign Adu until he turns 18 (which is true), but the rumors are that those on the inside are convinced that Sir Alex wasn't impressed.

Hardly a surprise as Freddy isn't physical enough for MLS defenders - what's he going to do when John Terry or Nemanja Vidic comes to clean him out?

Peter Nowak is right on when he says that Holland might be a better next step for Adu, but even that might be a big ask.

I know it's bordering on the heretical, but the best thing for Freddy might be a trade to the Red Bulls, where Bruce Arena can coach him up for a couple years before he heads to Europe as a 19 or 20-year old.

Clint Dempsey

Despite outbursts in the latter half of the MLS season and my criticism of him for that, I do believe that Dempsey is ready for the Premiership (his apparent destination of choice). The real question is which team would represent the best situation for Deuce.

Fulham seems to be his strongest suitor, but one wonders what they might have in mind for him. I'm still not sold on Clint as a right-sided midfielder and that seems to be the only real opening available.

Dempsey's other likely spot is "in the hole" behind the strikers, and while Fulham aren't deep there, they do have a solid starter in Claus Jensen.

Jensen has had some injury issues over the last year or so - maybe Dempsey is intended to be a back-up for Jensen now, with an eye towards being his eventual replacement.

A much more interesting location for Dempsey would be Reading, where Steve Sidwell seems insistent on moving on despite the Royals exceptional performance in the first half of the season.

Eddie Johnson

The biggest disappointment of 2006 in US Soccer has been training with Reading, and regardless of whether they show an interest in Johnson, you have to hope that spending time with a team in the Premiership gives him a great lesson in professionalism.

Personally, I'd like to see the one-time National Team phenom come back for one more MLS season to prove that last season had as much to do with his health as his talent and attitude. That said, he may already have convinced himself that he's better than MLS.

If that's the case, I think he'd be better served heading to the Coca-Cola Championship where he might be able to start on a regular basis rather than heading to a Premiership team like Reading where he would have to contend with guys like Kevin Doyle, Dave Kitson and Leroy Lita in the rotation.

A stint in a secondary European league with a reputation for strong work ethic (Belgium or Holland) might be a nice staging area for the big time, but if I had to identify a Premiership match for Johnson, it would be Watford where Marlon King's injury leaves the Hornets without a speedy striker.

Brian Carroll

I have to admit that I was a little taken aback by this one when I first read it because Carroll is such an unassuming part of the DC United squad. The more I thought about it, he has all the things that most European clubs look for in American players.

With the current state of US Soccer's reputation being one of producing fit, athletic, intelligent, hard-working players, a European manager looking for a holding midfielder might see buying American as a reasonable option.

One looking for a crafty winger or a pure goal scorer has more likely taken look a little further south or stayed at home in Europe to do his shopping.

With that in mind, Carroll is exactly the type of American player that foreign clubs believe can be successful: he doesn't make mistakes, he runs all day, he makes good but not great passes to help initiate the offense or keep things moving.

Carroll seemed to have made an impression with his second trial at a first division team in Olympique Marseille of French League 1. The coach himself made comments about his soccer intelligence after just one day of training, and he was with the club for over 10 days.

Carroll is waiting to hear if he can latch on with the European side, and while it is unlikely he will be a star, he's definitely worth a look for the price.

Nate Jaqua

Jaqua has never really dominated in MLS, but he's been a solid striker who gives you the impression that he could do more. The question is whether that unrealized potential has more to do with Jaqua or his environment.

Big strikers are generally dependent on their teammates as opposed to creating their own opportunities. Brian McBride is a great example of a player never really dominated the scoring race when he was in MLS.

Yet when he arrived at Everton, he had better service and fewer people collapsing on him when the ball came near. As a result, he started scoring goals almost immediately.

Jaqua might be well-served to head to a secondary European league to see if the same is true of his game. My impression is that he'd be a terror as a center forward in a Dutch 4-3-3.

Edson Buddle

Due to the fact that soccer players don't get much acclaim here, our exports are generally pretty humble compared to their European counterparts, who have been showered with praise most of their lives. I'm convinced that this is one reason that Americans are attractive targets for European clubs.

Buddle, who has a great deal of talent, is most assuredly not in that mold. Dogged by questions about his attitude and choice of off-field activities, Buddle's arrival of foreign shores could damage the reputation of Americans.

Throw in the fact that he's underachieved throughout his career in MLS and you have to hope that, for the sake of the reputation of US players as a whole, no one is sucked in by his physical skills while ignoring his baggage.

Bobby Boswell & Brad Davis

If you take a few minutes to read Boswell's story, you are reminded of another American central defender - Jay DeMerit. Like DeMerit, Boswell was largely overlooked at all levels as a young player and wasn't drafted by MLS coming out of college.

Rather than hooking on in the lowest levels of English football, Boswell came to DC as an undrafted free agent and staked his claim as the best defender in MLS.

Throw in the fact that he, unlike other find MLS defenders like Michael Parkhurst, has the prototypical size that teams covet in a central defender and you have a guy that should be getting some looks from teams across the pond.

Did I mention that Boswell also fits perfectly into the mold of the type of player that European clubs look for from the US?

I hear Newcastle is still looking for anyone that could even loosely be described as a competent defender, but Boswell will not pass the stringent requirements to work in England until he is able to pile up some US caps.

While it's usually the hard-working players for the spine of the team that causes clubs to browse the shelves here in America, we have also proven that we can produce a quality left-footed midfielder (see Convey, Beasley, and Lewis).

The next guy off the assembly line should be Brad Davis. He's had some injury troubles, but on his game, is a deadly crosser of the ball and an excellent free kick taker.

If Eddie Lewis can be successful in England, then Davis can have a career in Europe as well. With a few more national team appearances, which he'll no doubt be rewarded with over the summer, the Missouri native may be ready for the jump.

There are other guys likely to show up on the radar of European teams in the next few years - Josmer Altidore, Jon Bornstein and Marvell Wynne to name a few - but they all need at least a couple more years of seasoning before we start thinking about where they might be headed.
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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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