More Emigration? Kljestan Attracting Attention from Europe

…and not just Bundesliga 2 clubs either.  A widely circulated rumor has Anderlecht, Bayern Leverkusen, Celtic, FC Twente, Heerenveen, Monaco, Olympiakos, Schalke, Wolfsburg, and Zenit St. Petersburg after the 23 year-old rising star.  Fresh off being named to the MLS First XI team and garnering more and more attention from USMNT boss Bob Bradley, the most photogenic man in MLS seems to have been able to translate his finer international moments into serious opportunities to advance his career, not to mention the cause of his bank account.

But would a move right now really be the best thing for his game?  Kljestan has the opportunity for a serious pay raise if he makes a move, but his play is not at the level it needs to be to start for, say, Celtic.  To me, Kljestan is still a player defined by his frustrating inconsistency: he mixes flashes of brilliance so often with disappearing acts that he fails to catch the eye for more than one game at a time.  Furthermore, he makes great runs, but often seems to lack a top-notch ability to make decisions in the final third.

Given his flaws, Kljestan may either play on a reserve team, or go out for a loan spell and end up with a lower division team, possibly playing at a lower competitive level than he currently is in MLS.  If he were to stay in Los Angeles, Kljestan could hone his game for a year or two before making the leap to a side where he could make a more immediate impact.  Playing in the Eredivisie may be his best shot at playing right away.

It does, however, seem to be in Sacha’s best interest to strike while the iron is hot.  A move overseas would mean a bigger paycheck, as well as entrance into the European scouting crucible, where he will be most certainly be evaluated by more clubs than he can be right now, even if he is playing second-tier football.

Of course, staying in the States benefits the league greatly, but especially Chivas USA, who could very well be in for a big shakeup soon, even after a second-place finish in the Western Conference last season.  The more talent that stays in the United States, the better for the league.  Adding European money to the MLS coffers cannot balance out losing a young talent like Kljestan whose ability and potential can continue to raise the standard for a league that needs to continue to set the bar higher for itself.

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Who is Zack Simmons?

Among the names not listed for January’s MLS Combine was Zack Simmons, UMass’s stellar 2007 Third-Team All-American keeper.  The committee that selects players for the combine still has time to correct their mistake–the list won’t be finalized for a few weeks, when Generation adidas, NAIA, and more NCAA players are added–but IFK believes in both education and justice.  Zack Simmons seems to stand for both of those principles, so darnit if we won’t do our part to support them as well.

Simmons began his UMass career as a true walk-on (not an invited one), but earned significant playing time by his sophomore year.  Over the course of his career, his Goals Allowed Average dropped from around 1.5 to just below .8 goals per game and his save percentage rose from 78% to 85% of shots saved.  Amazingly, his numbers improved from 2007–when he was awarded All-American honors as well as being named the Umbro National Player of the Year and a member of the College Cup All-Tournament team–to 2008.  His play was instrumental in UMass’s second straight Atlantic 10 Championship.

But Simmons isn’t just a star on the field.  In the classroom, he is an Economics and History double major who boasts an astonishing 3.99 GPA and was named ESPN The Magazine’s Top Academic All-American for all sports.

Simmons was named a Second-Team All-American by College Soccer News in 2008 and was selected as their top keeper for the 2008 MLS Superdraft.  At 6’2, he does not have outstanding size, but that is above average for a professional keeper and MLS Keeper of the Year Jon Busch is only 5’9.

If the MLS is serious about improving American soccer, they need to be serious about paying attention to the college game, their best source for homegrown talent.  My guess is that Simmons is going to make a solid if not spectacular keeper some day, and someone is going to question how they missed out on him.  Most likely, a team like Chicago that does an excellent job of scouting the college ranks will pick him up in the middle rounds of the draft.

So tell me again: why wasn’t Simmons one of the seven keepers chosen for the MLS Combine?

Boswell Sure to be Hot Commodity

2006 Cosmo Mr. Bachelor Virginia and occasional central defender Bobby Boswell will be a hot commodity this winter…for employers.  Boswell led the backline for Houston last season, but he is out of contract and with all of the league’s frontrunners in need of central defenders–Columbus, New England, Chicago, Chivas USA, and even Los Angeles all have holes to fill there–Boswell can basically go anywhere he wants.

He may have to fight for a spot in Columbus, as two of the three players the Crew rotated in that spot are definitely returning, with Chad Marshall the wildcard.  If Marshall resigns with the Canaries instead of heading for Europe, Boswell would have to look elsewhere.

In Chicago he would be playing in front of MLS Keeper of the Year Jon Busch, but would be stepping into a defensive unit that will suffer a few losses this offseason, and thus a hit to their chemistry.

New England lost Michael Parkhurst to Europe, but Boswell could team with Costa Rican import Gabriel Badilla to form a solid central duo in Boston.

Chivas USA would probably love to add Boswell to complement Shavar Thomas, but Thomas is not nearly the potential partner that Badilla would be and playing for Chivas may just be the least rewarding experience in the league.

Los Angeles is always in need of defenders and may be too much of a landmine to step into (the Galaxy probably don’t have the money to spend anyway), but Boswell would be on the league’s highest-profile team and having both Boswell and Franklin in defense could be the stabilizing force LA needs.

In the end, Boswell’s best option might be staying in Houston.  If the Dynamo can reload up front, they may have just as good a chance as anyone in the league of holding the 2009 MLS Cup after not making it to the finals for the first time in three years in 2008.

Regardless of where he goes, what will Boswell’s new team be getting?  According to Cosmo magazine:

“I am optimistic, work well under pressure, and am goofy.”

What does Boswell look for in a partner?:

“Confidence and enthusiasm are big for me. I like girls [or teams] who challenge themselves.”

The man has spoken MLS, now go show him what you’ve got.

Garey Should Be Wanted Man This Off-Season

Trivia time: I am a former MAC Hermann Trophy winner as the nation’s top college player.  In my rookie season, I led my club in scoring.  I have scored against both Aston Villa and West Ham, led my Reserve League squad in scoring, and tallied 3 goals this season (including a brace against then league-leading New England) despite only playing the equivalent of 1 1/3 ‘s matches.

Who am I?

I’m Jason Garey of the Columbus Crew, and I deserve some respect.

The Crew relied mostly on the frontline duo of Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Alejandro Moreno to lead them to their 2008 double, but like any team, they occasionally needed cover for their starters.  When they did, Head Coach Sigi Schmid mostly relied on rookie Steven Lenhart, a successful sub who never settled into the role of starter.  Lenhart has similar size to Garey, but isn’t blessed with the on-the-ball ability, finishing touch, or aerial ability that Garey has showed flashes of.  Production-wise, Lenhart had 4 goals in over two times the minutes that Garey needed to notch 3 scores.

Garey is a goal-scorer, plain and simple.  He led the Crew reserves in scoring, scores when he starts in friendlies for Columbus, and chipped in as a sub when he had meaningful minutes.  With Houston, Salt Lake, and Toronto all in the market for strikers and teams scaling back in anticipation of economic difficulties, Garey would seem to be a viable option as cheap depth, or even a starting strike partner for Toronto’s Chad Barrett.  The Crew have a lack of MLS Superdraft choices, and do not seem to value Garey as much as they did when they made him the third overall choice in 2006, so acquiring him would not be overly complicated.  Columbus is also in dire need of center back help if Chad Marshall does not return, and would probably welcome depth at that position in exchange for their fourth-choice striker.

As a three-year veteran and proven scorer and a player who, at 24, is nearing his prime, Garey would be a solid addition to any MLS squad.  If he doesn’t change clubs, all indications seem to be that he will mostly be seeing action in Columbus’s Champions League run.

DDR Back to the Great White North

A few days ago, Houston sent 30 year-old midfielder and face of the club Dwayne de Rosario back to his hometown, with Toronto FC surrendering young defender Julius James and cash.

The winner in the deal?  Who knows?  Toronto gets a three-time Canadian player of the year and someone who has won 4 MLS Cups.  However, de Rosario’s production slowed down considerably last season and he is on record saying that he does not like Toronto’s turf.  The veteran will sell jerseys and tickets, and returning to his hometown team has to be great for Dwayne, but if he doesn’t come out of his slump, this could be just another in a long line of failed high-profile moves by Toronto FC Manager Mo Johnston.

Houston, on the other hand, got some much needed cash and a young defender who spent most of his rookie season injured.  When he did play, James showed some offensive capability in the air, as well as potential in central defense and the right wing.  James ended the year as a bench player, so he may not be an immediate upgrade for Houston, but the T&T National and UCONN grad still has plenty of upside.

The Dynamo also received cash considerations.  In combination with offloading de Rosario’s salary, this will help the Orange out considerably as they seek to find a backup keeper, a replacement for DDR in the midfield and someone to fill departed Nate Jaqua’s shoes.  Houston will also need to find some immediate depth if they want to have any chance of extending their run in the Champions League.

Oh and they need to find a new face for their franchise.  Throughout Houston’s run at the top, de Rosario was one of Houston and MLS’s marketable players.

Sounds like a busy winter for the Dynamo.

Will He Stay or Will He Go Now?

chad-marshall2008 MLS Defender of the Year Chad Marshall is out of contract with Columbus and hunting around Europe for options to make a career move.  His first stab, however, seemed a little ambitious, as he went on trial with German second-tier front-runner Mainz 05.  According to a soccer365.com report, Marshall will most likely be riding the pine if he accepts any offer from the German club, not exactly a career-making move for the 24 year-old.

Marshall’s status is probably affected by both his history with concussions and the fact that he has not played with the US National Team since 2005.  Marshall has had several concussions over the course of career, meaning any more may put him at risk for permanent damage.  However, he was clearly the dominant force in the Crew’s double-winning 2008 backline, and is probably deserving of a chance at the USMNT, given the right opportunity.

The league would probably benefit from Marshall resigning with an MLS team.  Columbus has previously stated that they wanted to write up a new contract after his old one expired, but could not do so because of a lack of allocation money.  After receiving an undisclosed amount from Seattle for releasing Manager Sigi Schmid, Columbus may be able to pony up the cash necessary to keep their defensive star in the capital city.  If not, the Crew will be looking at a drastically thinned center with Danny O’Rourke and Andy Iro, and little depth with any significant experience.  Their lack of a first-round Superdraft choice hampers their ability to bring in cheap, quality depth (as does their spotty drafting record).

MLS Combine List Released

Wake Forest forward Marcus Tracy is considered one of the top prospects in this years draft

You can see the full 65-player list for January’s predfraft combine at Goal.com.

My go-to source for College Soccer info, Joe Mauceri of College Soccer News and his own Pro Player Pipeline blog, differs a bit from the committee who made the initial selections, as some of his picks as top prospects–notably UMass and Depaul keepers Zack Simmons and Brian Visser, Michigan defender Michael Holody, and midfielders Alejandro Bedoya of Boston College and Ohio State’s Danny Irizarry.  It is worth mentioning that this is only the initial list, and more players will be added from the Generation adidas pool, NAIA, and the NCAA ranks.  Still, there is definitely a lack of seriousness for some MLS teams regarding how they scout the country’s top talent.  There is quite a low rate of success for first-round picks compared to later draft selections, and some MLS teams reportedly do not scout any college games aside from the Combine matches.

If MLS wants to be a successful platform to develop soccer in the United States, its organizations need to be more serious about doing so.

Joe Mauceri’s top prospects for the MLS Draft can be found here, and his blog with incredibly detailed scouting reports can be accessed via the first link in the list on the right.