Jake Spann picks out his top five young players from MLS who Premier League clubs should consider.
The climate is cooling down but the season is heating up in Europe, with all cup competitions under way the teams of the European leagues are looking toward January to bolster their attack and defense, balance their accounts, or just add a new element of security that comes with greater depth at crucial positions.
With the MLS season done we see all the rumors coming out over who will go East to go to and challenge themselves and bolster their personal pedigree with the purpose of helping their chances of receiving the wonderful call to represent their home country on the international stage of play.
Roger Espinoza of Sporting Kansas City and the Honduran international team, is supposed to join Wigan Athletic this coming transfer window, surely a great get if it goes through, the question now that must be asked is, "Which young players in MLS should be targets for Top Flight European teams?"
In order to make sense of the plethora of players available in MLS we must set up some criteria for what we are looking for in players.
1) Players must be under 25, so that they have 10 logical years of play left.
2) Players must be actively healthy
3) Players are currently signed to a team
TOP 5 Young Men of MLS:
5) Will Bruin Age: 23, Houston Dynamo: Striker
"The Dancing Bear" as he is called has been a regular starter for the Orange Crush since he joined the team in 2011. During his first year he managed to score 5 goals in 29 appearances and showed he was a rookie to fear. In his sophomore season Bruin stepped up his game and managed to knock in 16 goals across all competitions, with 4 of those goals being in the MLS Cup playoffs (when it matters). Bruin has size being he is 6ft 2in tall, has solid finishing efforts, and decent head skills. While he has proven to be a solid goal scorer and doesn't disappear in the important games, Bruin has spent the past 2 seasons being served by Brad Davis, who is a man on par with David Beckham in terms of crossing balls into the box, and serving up set pieces, so the question of Bruin remains whether his results are due to his prowess or the result of the excellent services of his #10.
4) Nick Deleon Age: 22, D.C. United: Left-Winger/Midfielder
If you looked at the MLS 2012 combine you would have questioned why Deleon was even there. He showed up with a gut and head of hair that rivaled Marouane Fellaini. However, his touch and playmaking abilities showed up enough to land him a job with D.C. a job he was lucky to receive. After training camp and preseason, he looked strong and was in noticeably better condition. He teamed up well with MLS legend Dwayne De Rosario, and eventually helped lead the team fairly well when De Rosario was injured at the end of the season. This kid also scored 8 goals (2 in the playoffs) and notched 4 assists. He has been learning from master DeRo on how to be a real playmaker, how to rip long shots and take players on confidently. When a player is able to shine after such a weird draft combine, you know this kid is special. If it wasn't for the fact that Brek Shea, and Graham Zuzi are currently the apples of Jurgen Klinsmann's plans I would see Deleon getting some USMNT call ups in the future.
Very rarely can you look at a 22 year-old kid and say this guy is a real playmaker, a guy who the offense lives and dies by his presence. However, Felipe is one of those players. Montreal while they didn't make the playoffs this season, they were able to put together a team with great talent (mainly on defense). They struggled to get things going early but that is most likely due to lack of chemistry between the players being at times there were 7 different nations fielded by Montreal. Felipe always managed to shine, with his great speed, ball control and ability to pick out his teammates in the box, he was the shining achievement of Montreal (other than Marco Di Vaio). Felipe did get hurt before the end of the season but is expected to be ready for the preseason games. Felipe has been a professional since 2008, and has a long soccer career ahead of him. He notched 4 goals and 10 assists during the 2012 campaign and I expect his number to only increase this next season.
2) Jack McInerney Age: 20, Philadelphia Union: Striker
Just so we are on the same page, the Union stunk this season. They made all the wrong trades, left a foolish coach in way too long and basically forfeited any real chance to succeed in the 2012 season, by throwing their best talent to other teams. However, Jack Mc arose this season as a bright light in the city of Brotherly Love. The young man who made few starting appearances before this season managed to get some real minutes and his efforts saved the team from being a noticeable embarrassment during 2012 season. He scored 9 goals across all competition while with a team that had a lazy ball hog (Freddy Adu) and no real playmaker at all. What does this show, it shows that Jack Mc scores when he get the chance. Sure he is still learning and has a long career to grow his skills to make his finishing rate higher on his shots, but I believe that he would be a 15-20 goals a year scorer easily if he was being serviced the ball by someone with adequate talent in Europe. Jack Mc, is one to watch because he can score even when he is on a failing team.
1) Omar Gonzalez Age: 24, Los Angeles Galaxy: Center Back
The 2009 Rookie of the Year, the 2011 Defender of the Year, and the 2012 MLS Cup MVP is the only player worthy of such an honor as being the most sought after and desirable young talent from the MLS. What can't you love about him; he's 6'5, he quick, he heads the ball better than Tim Cahill and rarely makes any gaffs. This is a man everyone should be drooling over in Europe. Yes he was hurt really bad before the 2012 season started but he came back and helped the Galaxy win back-to-back titles. He's so well valued by LA that there has been talk of giving him a designated player salary (big money outside the salary cap). Gonzo is the American Sergio Ramos. This season he even started joining the attack by coming up at times and playing almost a midfield role during long builds, and showing that he is very competent with the ball at his feet. While regular national team call appearances have eluded him so far in his career, after his performance in the Cup Final last weekend, there is no doubt in my mind that Gonzo will have to be called up by Jurgen Klinsmann, for his own good. Last season Bolton Wanderers flocked to grab Tim Ream, this was truly a silly choice over Omar, because Gonzo is more of a two way player than Ream, or really any other defender in the US player pool. After all what team in the EPL or Europe for that matter wouldn't want to bring in a handsome tall defender that can come up and get in on the attack, that just adds more options to an already hard to defend situation. However, if you want Gonzo you better be willing to pay, because LA will do whatever they can to keep Gonzo happy on the West Coast.
Sure there are players I snubbed like Mattocks, but understand I'm looking at players who appear to have the skill set to travel over to Europe and start cracking skull immediately upon arrival and not have to be coached countless hours by the top clubs just to be a decent rotation player that gets played five times for more than 15 minutes a season. The players I have listed I believe could go to most European clubs and almost instantly work themselves into either a key role or a spot in the rotation, because after all, if that option isn't available, why would they even transfer, because sure it would be fun to be paid by Manchester United, but players want to play and not sit in the stands over and over rooting on their teammates in practice.
The Big Question:
The bigger question for the MLS isn't which players they can sell to the European giants for big bucks, but what they can do to fight off the $$ of Europe in order to keep their homegrown talent so that the league as a whole can grow. When the young talent travels elsewhere and the retirees join the league, it makes the world continue to see the league as a place to snatch talent from during the transfer windows instead of a solid market in which the game is growing into a league system with a promising future that can become on par with the great leagues of Europe. Until MLS is able to keep players such as those mentioned in this article and others like them, MLS will not reach the next level in the world of football.