So, I started examining players in the MLS who were both over the age of 26 and had little or no overseas experience. I came up with a list of my top ten American MLS players who I think SHOULD have played overseas but never tried or were never allowed to. In my humble opinion, not only could this list (below) of players have done very well overseas in Holland, England, Germany, France etc., they would have also benefited tremendously by getting some good experience by testing their mettle, building on their skills and improving the overall quality of their play. Had some of them made the move, if only for a few years, to competitive leagues in Europe, perhaps more of them would have a chance at not only making the 2010 USMNT, but also getting a starting position and perhaps even a captaincy.
While some may say that American players can stay in the MLS and reach their full potential. I say that anyone who has played sports on any level knows: you can only get the best out of yourself by playing against the very best. You rise to level of your opponent if you're a real competitor.
So let's see the guys I'm talking about:
1. Steve Ralston
Not only could this Revs player have played in Europe, he could have started regularly for most of the clubs in the bottom half of the table in England or Germany. Unfortunately, the offers never came. One has to wonder about what the Euro scouts were thinking. Though he has had his injury issues, for over a decade, Ralston has been one of the most competent midfielders/defenders in the MLS. He could have been even more. One has to think that Ralston's 35th cap will be his last.
2. Ante Jazic
Yes, I know he actually did play very briefly for 2nd Division Spanish team Racing de Ferrol. But it was too brief to count as non-domestic play--barely half a season. And in that half a season, the now 34 year old Jazic scored 6 goals in only 19 appearances. Is their any doubt that Jazic could have gone on to play for a myriad of European clubs from Holland to Germany to England? Even if it were only a couple of years before heading back to the MLS, I believe pushing the envelope would have benefited Jazic, and the USMNT. Unfortunately, he never went back to meet the challenge-and he's not really a consideration for the men's team, even though he's had 25 caps to date.
3. Taylor Twellman
Again, Twellman may have started his career with 1860 Munich-but he never played! Not once. Even if most of the teams that wanted Twellman later on were Championship teams in England, I still think Taylor would have benefited from the bounce up in intensity. Perhaps he could have even played his way into a lower level Premier league club. But poor Twellman never got that chance because the MLS refused two very good offers-the last being from Preston North End for $3.5 million. Now, its just simply too late for any European experience to matter-and Twellman realized some time ago the only way to get back on the future plans of the USMNT was to score goals in Europe. Well, we're two years removed and beyond the point of return.
4. Pablo Mastroeni
Again, while Pablo has made some good contributions to the USMNT over the years, its hard to say how much better he would have been if he hadn't waited until he was 31 to contemplate finally playing overseas. A tough and ambitious player, he might have added some skill to his resume and took a step up.
5. Brian Ching
Same as Pablo.
6. Jimmy Conrad
I cannot count the 8 games that Conrad played in the Polish league with Lech Poznan as true European experience. Poland is certainly not one of the top 10 leagues in Europe and he was there and gone in an instant. A couple years in Holland or France would have done wonders with improving his foot skills. Conrad never really tried to go back to Europe again, and at 31, while he is likely to make the 2010 team, he is not likely to play barring injuries to Onyewu and Bocanegra.
7. Ben Olsen
Ben Olsen's latest injuries look to be career ending. But the 31 year old player, if healthy, has always been on the verge of becoming a top player. His time at DC United has been impressive, and his half a season in the Championship with Nottingham Forrest in 2000-2001 was pretty impressive as well. 18 appearances and 2 goals from the fullback spot. Word was that Forest wanted to keep him and tried hard to broker a deal for a permanent move, but the MLS wanted $2M plus and Forest just didn't have that kind of extra cash lying around at the time. Olsen, on the other hand was just as interested in staying with DC United, who had a shot at making the Club World Cup that year and playing Real Madrid, something Nottingham Forest was no where near doing. But a longer stay at Forest might have attracted attention from Premier League squads-and who knows what kind of player Olsen might have become...
8. Chris Albright
Now 30, Albright once looked to have a promising future with the USMNT. Capped 21 times, Albright seemed to hit a wall in his development in his mid twenties. That would have been a sign to some that a bigger challenge was needed to continue getting better-but Albright has been content to stay in the MLS.
9. Jeff Cunningham
At age 32, Jeff Cunningham's career in the MLS has been all about one thing: scoring goals-a lot of them. While having tremendous speed, and a nose for the goal, Cunningham was only capped 10 times by the USMNT because he lacked one attribute that he could have polished overseas: foot skills. Fancy dribbling and passing were never Cunningham's strong point-but then again, it has never really hurt him in the MLS, so he hasn't been forced to improve that much. Unlike Eddie Johnson, Cunningham never lacked in confidence and probably would have done good to find a team in Europe that would give him a chance. So what was once a player with a possible future with the USMNT, became a 32 year old veteran and a regular journeyman of the MLS.
10. Brad Davis
A rock solid player from the Houston Dynamo who could handle the pressures and work rate necessary to make it in Europe, Brad Davis has had a fine MLS career. He still has time to go at 27, but I wouldn't count on it. Brad will probably get a few more caps here and there with the USMNT, but it looks as though he will never be more than just a solid, dependable, player.
Honorable mentions: Nick Garcia (SJ), Pat Noonan (Revs)--Pat went too late, Todd Dunivant (LA), Brian Mullan (Houston)