Last summer, U.S. star DaMarcus Beasley brought his game to PSV Eindhoven and proceeded to grow it like a true member of the Farmers. His rookie season went so well, regular pinches may have been required to make sure he was really awake. Things change with a new day, however; if 2004/2005 was a dream, then the Eredivisie rooster is getting ready to have his night-shattering say.
When De Boeren reach the dawn of a new campaign by playing title rivals Ajax for the Johan Cruijff Shield, Beasley should have no problem getting his eyes wide open. As so often happens with wildly successful (and somewhat surprising) clubs in any professional sport, keeping the special group together for another run proves a virtual impossibility.
Last season's team was an intuitive, fearless unit that relied on a more responsible version of the renowned Dutch totale voetbal system and a special chemistry in the clubhouse. PSV bench maestro Guus Hiddink brilliantly integrated eight new players (including Beasley), melded youthful spirit with veteran maturity and steered the club to a runaway league championship.
As for Beasley, he pitched in a team third-best 12 goals and a bushel of assists in 44 matches. He scored four times in the Champions League, including a famous winner against fellow Yank Robbie Russell and Rosenborg. He proved that he was more than a midfield pest by showing that he actually could cross, finish calmly and serve restarts for teammates to bury. He played at Highbury and San Siro, battled the champions of seven European countries. He learned a few hard lessons along the way, but generally silenced the critics at home.
What's more, he posed no problems when confronted with a substitute role for portions of the season, and did it all with his usual air of affable grace. The villain may draw a crowd, but only the hero will force hundreds of Americans to wake up at 4:30 AM on a Sunday to follow PSV matches on a soccer message board. Beasley made his new club an instant focus for stateside soccer fans, who scrambled just to get highlight clips of one of their favorite exports. Some of them will certainly grumble a bit when the mediocre results begin, but the object of their affection seems in for a good ol' rude awakening.
In less than two months since raising the Amstel Cup, PSV have already endured an exodus of experienced talent that provided the cool, workmanlike backbone of the last year's squad. Do-it-all captain Mark van Bommel signed with Barcelona, steady midfield presence Johann Vogel left for AC Milan, sparkplug winger Park-Ji Sung made a glamour Manchester United move and versatile defender André Ooijer recently uprooted to promoted Italian club Genoa.
Before anyone starts to panicking, they would do well to realize that the humbling subtractions may continue. Left back revelation Young-Pyo Lee appears headed for England or France before the first competitive kickoff. Even more distressing for PSV supporters is the news that Hiddink has held discussions with Football Federation Australia over their national team post, although it is unclear how soon (or if) the coach would resign his club post with World Cup 2006 just around the corner.
One doesn't need to look very hard to see that the mean machine of last season is falling apart all over. That stunningly efficient side won the domestic double with a fair amount of ease and came to within a whisker of the Champions League final. No offense towards Hiddink's replacement signings (Heerenveen transplant Mika Väyrynen, in particular, seems suited for a successful Philips Stadion career), but to cop from Oklahoma author S.E. Hinton: that was then and this is now.
Belgium international Timmy Simons and Väyrynen are nice midfield laborers for Beasley mentor Philip Cocu to guide, but the transition (no pun intended) game is bound to struggle some – and the record along with it.
The changeover would certainly go smoother if Feyenoord dazzler Salomon Kalou gets his wish of a PSV transfer… then again, the midfield-deficient Rotterdam side barely finished fourth even with the attacker forming a dynamic duo with striker Dirk Kuijt. Should he remain at De Kuip, Cory Gibbs and company get another shot to come good under new coach Erwin Koeman.
Elsewhere, Ajax have all but kept together the group that closed last season with eight consecutive Eredivisie wins and sudden contenders AZ Alkmaar have somehow managed to avoid much of the glory aftermath defection that has put PSV's title defense chances in peril. Factoring in that the holders will draw the ceremonial best effort out of every team they face, it has become reasonably clear that no printing of "REPEAT!" tee shirts will be necessary in Eindhoven.
While Beasley may suffer from a team perspective, the new task is not necessarily all bad for the budding 23-year old. Barring injury, he is a great bet to get more than the 25 starting nods he received during his freshman term. He will have more opportunity to impress, and presumably, more demands of production from management.
Beasley likes to think of himself as a competitor who thrives under pressure, so I say the forecast for continued improvement looks mostly sunny. He can now also watch someone else carry his bags on road trips, so clearly this is no tornado on the plains-sized disaster scenario.
More to the point, this could be the season we find out how truly good Beasley can become. The debate started not long after the speedster was awarded Silver Ball honors at the 1999 Under-17 World Championships. The conversation intensified when he said a rude World Cup hello to Portugal in 2002.
With more of the load to haul, the Indiana native can now learn more ways to exert his influence on a game instead of letting it come to him, he can try to become a go-to guy in the high stakes world of European soccer.
Last year, PSV virtually wrested the title from Ajax by sweeping the home-and-away series by a combined score of 6-0. Hiddink must reassemble nearly half a lineup, while the hungry Amsterdammers have embraced their role as underdogs and carry a chip on their collective shoulder. Needless to say, a reversal of fortune when preseason silver goes up for grabs on August 5th is far from out of the question.
The champs nearly won it all last year by capitalizing on every intangible, but unfortunately another bumper harvest seems unlikely in Eindhoven when many of those intangibles have traded the red-and-white stripes for a new shirt. Such is the cycle of modern team sports... but into each sprouting life a little rain must fall.
Get ready for a new kind of growth, DaMarcus. If 2004/2005 was a dream season, the wake-up crow is on your horizon.