FC Dallas Defender George John Set for Move to Blackburn

He played four years of college soccer (at the University of Washington), he never played for a U.S. youth national team, and he’s been called in to just one camp with the senior national team, without being capped, yet FC Dallas defender George John is headed to Blackburn of the English Premier League.

The rangy centerback is making the move for an undisclosed transfer fee, and all terms are expected to be finalized by the end of the week. What ever the circumstances, though, this says a lot for the player and for Major League Soccer—that it has made an EPL–worthy defender out of John, who entered the North American league with a relatively humble pedigree.

In addition to his one U.S. invitation, and the EPL interest, John’s MLS performances attracted the attention of the Greek national team, which invited him to a camp it held in New York this past spring. John, who was born in Shoreline, Washington, but has Greek grandparents, is eligible to play for both Greece and the U.S. He has not committed to either nation as of now.

He closes his MLS career on a pretty good note: John’s last game with FC Dallas was their historic CONCACAF Champions League win over Pumas in Mexico City, the first win by an MLS side in an official competition in Mexico in 26 attempts.

MLS Loses Its First and Only Gaston: Puerari Transferred to Club Atlas

We haven’t checked the alltime MLS player registry, but we’d be willing to bet the league had never had a “Gaston” in its ranks before the Chicago Fire acquired Uruguayan striker Gaston Puerari this past offseason.

Today, MLS has reverted to its former Gaston-less state, and we are all the poorer for it.

The Fire transferred the mercurial 25-year-old forward to Mexican Primera Division side Club Atlas for an undisclosed fee.

Puerari appeared in 14 matches for Chicago, starting 10 and producing one goal and two assists.

Early in the season, he and countryman Diego Chaves formed what looked like a potent, dynamic strike force, but the coaching staff apparently did not see it that way. Puerari eventually dropped out of the starting XI, and the team acquired Ghanaian forward Dominic Oduro from Houston and signed 20-year-old striker Cristian Nazarit from Colombia as potential partners for Chaves.

“Club Atlas was very keen on Gaston and we made the decision to accept the offer based on the best interest of building our club,” Fire Technical Director and Interim Head Coach Frank Klopas told the team website.

“This move provides us with additional flexibility to find a player who will help us achieve our goal of making the MLS Cup Playoffs. We wish Gaston nothing but the best with his new club.”

Adios, Gaston.

Soccer America Incorrectly Lumps Altidore in with Adu, EJ

In an editorial titled “Flops Hurt U.S. Export Market,” Soccer America editor Paul Kennedy claims that the European careers of Freddy Adu, Eddie Johnson, and Jozy Altidore have hurt the United States’ reputation “in Europe as a producer of attacking talent.”

We say: file this one under “three makes it a trend.”

Kennedy needed a third U.S.-bred “bust” in Europe to legitimize his premise, so he stuffed the square peg Altidore into the round hole of his argument, made after all three players were loaned at the close of the winter transfer window.

It’s indisputable that Adu has been a bust in Europe (even though he’s still only 21), and fast becoming so regarding Johnson, who’s now 26.

But Altidore? We beg to differ.

He moved to Villareal from Red Bull New York in the fall of 2008 for an MLS-record $10 million transfer fee. In his first season there, he made nine appearances and scored a goal (against Atletico Bilbao) to become just the second American ever to score in La Liga.

The Yellow Submarine loaned him to second division Spanish side Xerex in 2009, a move that went off the rails for two reasons: 1. Xerex was winning the second division at the time, and were in very much of a ‘if it ain’t broke’ mode regarding their lineup. 2. Altidore got hurt and missed more than a month of the season.

Last season, he was loaned out to Hull, and though his stat line of two goals in 30 appearances was meager (and his stint there ended ignominiously), he was effective in other ways. He was always a handful for opponents’ backlines, he drew multiple penalties and fouls in dangerous areas, and he set up his teammates. His finishing needed work, for sure, but his time at Hull looks much worse on paper than it did on the field for the Yorkshire club.

Now, at this point—after two underwhelming loan spells—a player who was proving to be a bust in Europe might also fall out of his country’s national-team picture. The opposite has been true for Altidore, and his international career has some parallels to his time at Hull in particular.

Altidore appeared in every game for the U.S. at the 2010 World Cup, got the assist on Michael Bradley‘s critical game-tying goal against Slovenia, and made the centering pass that resulted in Landon Donovan’s iconic goal against Algeria. He also hit the bar after an overpowering run against England in the opening game, a play that missed winning the match for the U.S. by about three inches.

Many dismissed him as ineffective in South Africa because he didn’t score a goal in the tournament. The truth is he made a significant impact in all three of the U.S.’s group-stage games, and was consistently problematic for opposing defenses.

When he returned to Villareal for this season, Altidore scored two goals in the Copa del Rey, but only made two La Liga appearances. The reason? He was stuck behind Villareal’s other American-born striker, Giuseppe Rossi, who’s having the season of his life with 20 goals in 32 appearances (in all competitions).

It’s never a straightforward proposition trying to integrate yourself into a new culture and a new team, especially a successful one. It might even be harder, we submit—and Clint Dempsey backs us up*—if you’re American.

In any event, Altidore is still over there, slugging it out, and in a decidedly different category than Adu and Johnson.

Now he goes to Bursaspor, the defending Turkish champions who are just two points off the pace this season. They’re gunning for another title, they’re in a good position to clinch a Champions League berth, and they want Altidore (flew him to Turkey on a private jet, according to Kennedy). He’s in a great position to boost his career.

All that, and Villareal—the third place team in La Liga—retains his rights.

Altidore’s CV may not constitute a rousing success, we admit, but it’s also far—very far—from being a bust. Let’s see how he does at Bursaspor.

*In late 2009, Dempsey told ESPN’s Luke Cyphers: “Being an American in Europe, you can’t just be as good as another player. You have to be better.”

Bradley Completes Move to Villa; Busiest Transfer Window Ever for U.S. Players?

As expected, U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley finalized a loan Monday from relegation-threatened Borussia Moenchengladbach of the Bundesliga to Aston Villa of the Premier League.

He watched as the Villans’ two-game winning streak came to a halt today against Manchester United, but he could debut for the Birmingham club on Saturday against Fulham and fellow American Clint Dempsey.

Bradley’s move led the way, but there was plenty of activity involving Americans during this transfer window. Take a look:

Jozy Altidore from Villareal to Bursaspor (loan). Bursaspor is the defending Turkish champion, and currently sits second in the Süper Lig at 12-2-5.

Oguchi Onyewu from AC Milan to FC Twente (loan). Much-needed move for Gooch, who couldn’t get a game for the Serie A leaders. He’s played three already for his new Dutch club.

Jermaine Jones from Schalke 04 to Blackburn (loan). He’d fallen out of favor with management at Schalke and needed a change of scenery. Named Man of the Match in his debut for Blackburn.

Eddie Johnson from Fulham to Preston North End (loan). Johnson started just one EPL game this year; now he goes to the club whose fans fondly remember previous Yanks Brian McBride and Eddie Lewis. If only they weren’t sitting dead last in the Championship (second level in England).

Freddy Adu from Greek side Aris (by way of Benfica, and several other clubs) to Rizespor of the Turkish second flight. Sigh.

Brad Guzan from Aston Villa to Hull City (loan). Brad Friedel’s apprentice at Villa was languishing on the bench while the ageless Friedel continued to shine between the pipes for the Villans (including today, when he stood on his head to keep it 1-3 vs Man U). Guzan is starting for Hull, which is in 13th place in the English second flight.

Robbie Findley from Real Salt Lake to Nottingham Forest (transfer). Forest is vying for promotion to the Premier League. Findley wasn’t a starter at RSL last season; how will he stack up in the Championship?

Clarence Goodson from Norwegian first-division club IK Start to Brondby of the Danish top flight. Lanky defender sealed this deal in November; it took effect in January.

Other moves of note:

Jonathan Bornstein from Chivas USA to Tigres of the Mexican top flight. Bornstein committed to this transfer a while ago, and joined his new team for preseason training in December.

Diego Restrepo, undersized but highly skilled former UVA goalkeeper, signed with America de Cali in the Colombian first division, while former St. John’s University midfielder Eric Opsahl signed with Reading in the English second flight.

Opsahl, 18, made just three appearances for St. John’s during his freshman season this past fall, but did enough in a two-week trial to earn a contract with Reading, former home of Bobby Convey and Marcus Hahnemann. Who says college soccer is no good?

For more on Opsahl’s interesting route to Reading, see here. And it may be worth asking why DC United, where Opsahl was an academy player, didn’t snap him up.

Finally, two American players came home this winter, as striker Kenny Cooper transferred from 1860 Munich of the Bundesliga 2 to MLS expansion side Portland Timbers, and defender Hunter Freeman departed IK Start of the Norwegian top flight to join the Houston Dynamo.

Cooper joins No. 2 draft pick Darlington Nagbe and Colombian speedster Jorge Perlaza in what could be a potent strike force in Portland.

What Will it Take to Get Freddy Adu to Return to MLS?

Yesterday’s news that U.S. midfielder Freddy Adu is set to go on loan to second-division Turkish side Rizespor is the latest chapter in the former prodigy’s not-so-excellent European adventure.

As we noted here, since Benfica purchased him in 2007, Adu has had trials in Switzerland (with Sion), Denmark (Randers FC) and Germany (Ingolstadt), and gone on loan to France (Monaco), Greece (Aris) and now Turkey.

That’s six teams in three and a half years. Not what he pictured happening when he signed with the famous Portugese club, which holds his rights through 2012.

Before we continue, let’s take a look at where all the Adu hype came from in the first place. How did he get to be U.S. soccer’s Golden Child, the player signed by DC United in 2003 at the age of 14?

Here’s one example, from the 2003 U-17 World Cup (Adu was 14 at the time):

And several more, from the 2007 U-20 World Cup (after which Benfica paid MLS $2 million for the 17-year-old Adu):

Clearly, the hype didn’t materialize out of thin air; Adu was legit—and not too long ago.

So what happened?

We wish we knew, but of the multiple players on display in that Poland clip, the ones who shine brightest—Adu, Danny Szetela, and Sal Zizzo—have seen their careers plateau for various reasons, while others (Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Colorado Rapids left back Anthony Wallace) have found varying degrees of success.

Szetela battled problems in his personal life and is out of the game altogether.

Zizzo was snapped up by Bundesliga side Hannover 96 after that U-20 championship, but suffered an ACL injury in 2009 and eventually returned to the U.S., joining Chivas USA late last season. This year will be a big one for him.

As for Adu, our theory is threefold: 1. As suggested by the way he bristled under the strong leadership of DC coach Peter Nowak in his early MLS days, Adu may not have the head to succeed at the highest levels. 2. His speed and quickness, which were deadly at the youth level, have leveled off and are no longer assets among senior players. 3. His strength—well, see No. 2.

The good news is that Adu, like Altidore—who’s currently fighting for playing time at Spanish side Villareal—is only 21.

It just seems like he’s older, because he started in MLS nearly eight years ago.

We say it’s time for him to return to the U.S. domestic league in a last-ditch effort to salvage his career.

It’ll never happen—his asking price and the league’s would be miles apart, and his pride (this is a player who said his goal is to be “the best ever”) would not tolerate such a tail-between-the-legs development (returning, for less money, to the scene of his heavily hyped start).

But it would be the best thing for him.

MLS is better than when he left it, and it’s certainly a bona fide proving ground for players with top-flight aspirations. Clint Dempsey, Stuart Holden, Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, and Brad Friedel are just a few of the many players who cut their teeth in MLS and went on to European success.

Beyond that, it’s better than the Turkish second division.

These elements, along with the prospect of regular playing time in his home country under the frequent gaze of U.S. coach Bob Bradley, should be enough to lure the onetime savior of U.S. soccer back to his home country.

Of course, they won’t be.

If his track record is any indication, Adu will explore his options in Azerbaijan, Luxembourg, Faroe Islands, and San Marino before returning Stateside.

Bradley on Verge of Villa Loan Deal

Aston Villa, a Premier League club with American ownership (Randy Lerner) and three American players on its books (Brad Friedel, Brad Guzan and Eric Lichaj), is poised to add a third Yank, Michael Bradley, who has been a starter at Bundesliga club Borussia Moenchengladbach since 2008.

Bradley is of course the son of U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley, who was rumored to be joining the Villans himself—as head coach—just last summer.

That story turned out to be more rumor than fact, but the reports involving 23-year-old Michael have the ring of truth. ESPN and others have reported that the young Bradley is in Birmingham, taking a physical in advance of processing the paperwork to make the loan official.

The deal will last until the end of the current Premier League season, when it could evolve into a permanent contract, depending on how well the U.S. workhorse does.

With the recent arrival of Jermaine Jones at Blackburn, we could see both of the U.S.’s first-choice central midfielders starting in the Premier League in the coming weeks, along with other U.S. midfielders Stuart Holden and Clint Dempsey.

But Bradley will have competition for a starting spot at Villa, which recently added Cameroonian Jean Makoun to a midfield corps that includes Englishman Nigel Reo Coker and Stiliyan Petrov of Bulgaria, the Villans’ captain.

Altidore On the Move to Turkey?

Numerous reports are suggesting that U.S. striker Jozy Altidore is set to sign a multi-year deal with Turkish club Besiktas.

If Altidore makes the move, Besiktas will be the fourth club he has played for since leaving Red Bull New York in 2008 on an MLS-record $10 million transfer to Villareal.

In the second half of the 2008-09 season, El Submarino Amarillo loaned him out to second-division Spanish side Xerex (which inexplicably benched the player, despite requesting him on loan).

Then came a loan for 2009-10 to then-Premier League Side Hull City.

Now, it appears that Villareal will sell, not loan, the 21-year-old forward to Besiktas, winners of the Turkish league (and league cup) two years ago. 

The Turkish league is a step down from Serie A and the Premier League, obviously, but Altidore needs regular, first-team playing time, so the move would make sense from that perspective.