ON HOT IRONS AND STRIKING
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...
The rumor mill is swirling as teams across Europe look to improve themselves while the January transfer window is open. Teams have a wide variety of agendas in January - there are teams looking for the spark necessary to stave off relegation, some chase promotion to a higher division, while others are making the big push for a spot in one of next season's European competitions.
Into this maelstrom of activity, the name of Josh Wolff has been dropped. Since the USMNT match with Scotland, the KC Wizards forward's name has been linked with a variety of clubs and moves. He has spoken of a desire to cast his lot overseas, and acknowledges that his window for such an adventure will start closing soon.
Is there a place for the speedy Wolff in Europe this year? With the January transfer period more than halfway over, the YA staff takes a break from the rumors to generate some of our own.
Josh Wolff must make the journey to Europe soon. Pushing 29 years old, its quite amazing that the US international hasn't made the journey across the Atlantic. Even Lannycakes took a chance (again) last year and gave it another shot (okay, some might debate “gave it a shot”).
Now that he seems to be doing his best to avoid injuries like they were going out of style, its time for the young man to come to Europe and show his stuff.
The Premiership might be a bit rich for him, unless he can convince some middle or bottom of the table team to fork out a lot of money for a player who might get to watch a lot of games from the bench.
And let's face it: the Premiership and the Championship in jolly old England are rough, physical leagues. Wolff is 5'8” and not much heavier than a Rottweiler (and he certainly doesn't have the disposition of a Dennis Wise). Considering his size, weight and his past history of spending time on the physio table, I suggest he stay out of England, except for vacations and visiting friends.
Having said that, Wolff would fit right into the Jupiler League. It's not the greatest league in the world, but it is competitive. Just ask Gooch Onyewu, and I'm sure he'll tell you that his weekly battles at the Schlessin and around Belgium are far from tiptoes through the tulips.
Furthermore, it's a league where Josh could succeed. I think that Wolff's agent should get on the phone and call FC Brussels and let him know that an American international wants to come to the capital of Europe to kick ass.
FC Brussels, which were close to being relegated last year, are currently sitting fairly pretty in 8th place. Although it would seem a long shot, a third place finish and a European place next season aren't completely out of the question.
Les Coalisés have thus far scored 23 goals, which is respectable, but have lost too many games by one and have had to share too many points due to the lack of crucial goals.
The KC Wizards front man could help sort this problem out for them. His ability to slide in the perfect pass for a teammate to bury or find the goal himself would really be a great fit for the Brussels outfit.
With two consecutive healthy seasons in MLS under his belt, Josh Wolff wants to move on to new challenges abroad. As with all players, you have to weigh the issues of style of play and where someone like him might really be needed.
Strikers are more vinegar than wine, so he will only have a few years to play in Europe. This leads me to believe that a country where English is easily accessible would be preferential. He will want to be in a top league, or the potential to be in one next year. That automatically limits him to the Netherlands or the UK.
Josh's style of play is a more perplexing to consider. I recall a time when, before some serious knee injuries, Wolff was looking like a forward with potential with the Fire. A few years later and he is still a quick player, good with the ball at his feet, but not a true goal scorer and certainly not great in the air. At the same time, he does distribute the ball well (see pass to Beasley in Scotland).
Given these factors, the UK would be a better fit than total voetball
Holland. In short, Josh needs a partner to score as much, if not more than him.
Josh has been estimated in the past to be worth a relatively inexpensive £600,000, but that kind of money might be too much for some Championship squads. Keep in mind that the most Reading have ever paid for a player was £1 million - and they have good financial backing. Now we are left with Premier Leagues.
An option would be the Scottish Premiership. Only three teams in Scotland should interest Wolff: Celtic, Hearts, or Rangers.
Celtic doesn't need him and can't afford the team they have. Hearts have the money, but are doing just fine. Rangers are working out deals to keep some of the strikers that they have taken on loan, so a deal this winter is unlikely... but if Wolff does well in Germany, who knows?
There are a lot of clubs in the English Premiership that could use Josh. Of the relegation strugglers, my top pick is injury plagued Birmingham.
Mikael Forrsell is just back after 16 months away, but now Emile Heskey might be out with a serious knee injury. Wolff would fit nicely with Forrsell or new signing Chris Sutton... the only problem is that I don't want Wolff going down with Birmingham.
This leaves me with middle-of-the-pack English teams that are looking to get into Europe, or just get away from relegation. Blackburn and Everton are my picks of that bunch and have at least one thing in common: a history of buying and playing Americans.
With a little bit of extra offense, Blackburn could suddenly be contending for a UEFA Cup spot. However, they need a player better in the air than Wolff.
So that leaves Everton, the easy choice. Everton have seen Wolff, they have the money and they desperately have the need. They failed to get Nicolas Anelka because he was too expensive, and other current targets are all on the same price level as Anelka.
They just sold Marcus Bent, another speedster, and only have a 17-year old, two weeks off knee surgery, to cover their needs. Wolff is well below their cost limit, and could easily be seen as an alternative to a true absence in their lineup. My vote has Josh leaving the winter camp early to join Everton.
Any fan of US Soccer would want to see a successful Josh Wolff scoring goals in a top European league the way Brian McBride is currently doing for Fulham.
But alas, sometimes it isn't meant to be.
I mean, who can forget his (in my humble opinion) breakout year in 2001 when he singlehandedly ran roughshod over the Mexican defense on the frozen tundra of Columbus? Hooking up with Clint Mathis to beat Campos for the first tally, then using superb skill to bedazzle three Mexican defenders to feed Earnie Stewart for the clinching second goal... ah, memories.
Then, the injuries started.
Ankle, knee, and rib injuries started to rob him of his spotlight chance. And though he provided the assist on McBride's first goal in the 2002 World Cup win over Mexico, the attention and admiration went to other heros such as Friedel, Reyna, Beasley... even Mathis (perhaps more for the mohawk).
Was the opportunity to challenge himself in against the best of Europe ever going to be? Lets face it, if anyone was in need of a YA Matchmaker, its Josh Wolff.
It is hard to see the Kansas City hitman catching on with a team in the top flight of European leagues (Spain, England, Italy, and Germany). Consider that Everton, struggling to score goals and near relegation in the EPL a month ago, passed on the chance to sign him.
So, where does that leave us? Well, there are three teams where Wolff could have a reasonable chance of landing. They are Heart of Midlothian (Scottish Premier), Norwich City (English Championship) and Southampton (also Championship). What does each offer?
Hearts are enjoying their most successful season in 25 years, and challenging the Old Firm (Glasgow Celtic & Rangers) in the SPL's most excting campaign in ages. Someone of Wolff's caliber could help when they travel to the hostile climes of Parkhead (Celtic) or Ibrox (Rangers), as the defenses for each squad are in very poor form at the moment.
However, it's hard to see Josh packing his bags for Edinburgh as The Romanovs seem to prefer bringing in cheaper options from eastern Europe, the bedrock of their success.
Norwich City, famous for TV chef and Norwich chairwoman Delia Smith's recent barrage at the fans for lack of support, could be an option for Wolff - especially as they are on the cusp of losing top striker Dean Ashton to West Ham in the January transfer window.
Wolff could provide a great strike partner for Darren Huckerby, baffling defenses with a mixture of skill and speed. However, Norwich haven't been the most adventurous club in the transfer market, so don't expect a jump to East Anglia for the Stone Mountain, Ga. product.
That leaves Southampton, and there are several factors that point to Wolff hooking up with the Saints before 2006 is done.
Chairman Rupert Lowe has recently installed a new management team, with former England rugby (yes, that Rugby) coach Clive Woodward serving as director of football, and George Burley (a victim of the Romanov's purge in Edinburgh) as manager, a setup designed to help the south coast club seek out hidden gems of talent.
Southampton has shown a willingness to shop US to strengthen its squad in the past. They were a player for DaMarcus Beasley before he signed for PSV Eindhoven, but Lowe was unwilling to go high enough on the transfer fee. Wolff would provide a more skillful option than Jamaican international Ricardo Fuller, who has been a disappointment since arriving at St. Marys at the beginning of the season.
I have to admit to not being the biggest Josh Wolff fan ever to walk this Earth. Don't get me wrong, I think he's a very good MLS player when he's healthy, but I'm not sure exactly how his skills will translate across the pond.
Wolff's speed has always been one of his major weapons, yet I'm not convinced that Josh is fast enough to be considered a legitimate threat in the Premiership - nor do I think speed by itself is enough to be a threat in that league.
Let's use Djibril Cissé of Liverpool as a benchmark - speed being is his primary attribute. I'm willing to bet that he's faster in a straight line and with the ball than Josh Wolff. Cissé used his speed and power to great effect in France, but so far it hasn't been sufficient to make a serious mark at the highest level in England.
In my mind, that eliminates Wolff from contention for a spot with a top half team in the Premiership as anything more than a squad player. This leaves the bottom half of the Premiership and the top half of the Championship as potential homes.
We can probably eliminate some bottom-half of the Premiership clubs that have at least one quality forward with some speed. On that criteria, let's eliminate Charlton (Darren Bent, Marcus Bent), Fulham (Collins John), Newcastle (Michael Owen, Shola Ameobi), Aston Villa (Milan Baros), Middlesbrough (Yakubu), and Pompey (LuaLua).
Let's then eliminate Sunderland because, well, why would anyone want to spend the next four months there? In the Premiership, that leaves (rumored landing spot) Everton and Birmingham.
To those squads, lets add Crystal Palace (who are likely to lose Andrew Johnson sooner or later), Sheffield United (who are short of strikers and whose most prolific striker is more of a target player), goal-starved Leeds and Watford, who seem to lack a speedy striker to compliment their target men King and Henderson.
Looking across that group, Everton have just opened up a spot for a player to compliment James Beattie/Duncan Ferguson by selling off Marcus Bent. I don't see Wolff as Bent's equal, but he might be brought in to fight it out with James McFadden opposite the target man. I'm a McFadden fan, so if I were Wolff, I wouldn't be too excited about this prospect.
Birmingham definitely has a need, but they seem close to signing Jason Euell (made available when Marcus Bent signed with Charlton). If Euell arrives at St. Andrews, Wolff would probably find it difficult to find playing time outside of cup competitions. Throw in the fact that Brum are in a relegation battle and it's probably best to stay away.
That leaves the four Championship clubs as optimal land spots for Josh. I admit that I have less information about these clubs, since we don't get a great deal of coverage of the Coca-Cola Championship here in the States. But from what I can gather, Sheffield United are pretty close to a lock for promotion, so they're probably looking to add players for next year.
Of the three remaining clubs, I think Leeds represents the best option. They (presumably) like what they've seen from fellow Yank Eddie Lewis and they need to try anything they can to get some goals to ensure that they not only remain in the promotion playoff race, but win it.
Watford would be my second choice for Wolff for similar reasons - they already employ American Jay DeMerit and their offense seems to resemble that of the USMNT (strong target striker Marlon King and exceptional, albeit slight, winger Ashley Young).
So there you have it - if Josh is headed towards England, he would be best served chatting up Leeds - followed by Watford - and hoping to gain entry into the Premiership next season via promotion.
That's right... I'm saying he should stay put for just a little while longer. Assuming he doesn't get a glove fit opportunity with Everton or an offer from intriguing UEFA Cup need cases like Bolton, Heerenveen and Hertha Berlin, the time is not yet nigh.
I'm pretty sure Josh's agent has some pots boiling over on the stove, but the player seems to have the right idea: focus on World Cup. The Kansas City buzzsaw can start by literally getting into midseason form at home, ensuring his place in Germany.
Wolff certainly doesn't seem a key guy for the 'Nats, but injuries and suspensions and form issues can arise, giving the sparkplug forward a chance to make more big plays on the biggest stage.
Now, some might stoop to suggesting that he is risking it all by gambling that he can stay fit another six months. Trends, schmends. Prone, schmone. Life happens in front of us, and Wolff never looks more alive than when he's chasing that ball down.
Ten high quality MLS games and a couple of noteworthy contributions at World Cup would certainly be enough to turn a mild winter bargain into a hot summer item.
But to where? I haven't the foggiest clue... how does Stuttgart sound?