There are plenty of promising players in Major League Soccer, and many of proven quality too. Despite Europe’s negative perception of the United States’ flagship football league there is a good deal of talent currently plying its trade Stateside.
Many players have played on both sides of the Atlantic already. Juan Pablo Angel moved to New York Red Bulls from Aston Villa, David Beckham to Los Angeles Galaxy from Real Madrid (and back to Europe to play for AC Milan) and Darren Huckerby left England to have a crack at MLS with San Jose Earthquakes. Terry Cooke’s been in the USA for a while, and the British trio of Danny Dichio, Rohan Ricketts and Carl Robinson play in Major League Soccer’s Canadian outpost, Toronto.
Americans have had an impact in Europe, too. Kasey Keller starred in the Premier League and now plays in goal for Seattle. Brian McBride was a proven Premier League striker before returning to Illinois to lead the line for Chicago Fire. Bobby Convey plays for the Quakes with Huckerby and spent time in England with Reading. Others, including Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Freddy Adu, are currently flying the Stars and Stripes in Europe.
A predictable clutch of MLS players look capable of playing in Europe, Landon Donovan and Rapids goal machine Conor Casey being the obvious current candidates. But who else is playing in America and perhaps sneaking under the European radar? This is by no means a comprehensive list, and there are many omissions.
The players listed are not all Premier League quality or even of Premier League potential. Some would fit in better in other English leagues, others elsewhere on the continent. But I think they all have the potential to cross the Atlantic, earn a little more money – because that’s what football is about these days – and make a success of it.
The most defensive man on this list is a player who has the attributes to make an excellent holding midfielder. For my money, Major League Soccer’s goalkeepers are still generally lacking composure, dominance and the nous to effectively apply their agility and athleticism. But despite my sweeping generalisation there are one or two promising stoppers in MLS currently and the USA’s traditionally successful export of goalkeepers is unlikely to be at its end. There are good defenders too, but this is a position in which players will struggle to make an earth shattering impact.
As Week 12 gets underway, here are five surprising players who’ve caught the eye this season (and aren’t too old to make the move):
1. Macoumba Kandji (New York Red Bulls)
Despite the Red Bulls’ lumbering start, 23-year-old Mac Kandji has been bang in form. The big forward has only scored twice this term but has contributed three assists and forged a promising partnership with RBNY hitman Juan Pablo Angel.
Kandji’s physique would be ideal for the Premier League and he uses it well. He’s 6’4″, a wirey athlete with deceptive pace, great touch and decent vision, and he’s brimming with confidence. He’s definitely one to watch. If Kandji were to cross the pond, the Premier League is definitely the league for him, perhaps via France. His physicality and speed of thought would be an ideal asset for clubs in Europe’s more robust leagues.
2. Fredy Montero (Seattle Sounders)
Colombian forward Fredy Montero took Major League Soccer by storm in the early weeks of the season as Seattle got off to a roaring start in their first season in the league. Montero’s stylish South American swagger makes him an ideal candidate to play his home continent’s traditional number ten role, a creative pivot sorely lacking in certain European leagues.
Montero has so far racked up four goals from nine outings for the Sounders, including an ambitious strike from distance which found the net against Real Salt Lake at the end of March. As well as an eye for goal, Montero has plenty of pace and a good range of passing. With his off the pitch travails behind him and his first MLS red card out of the way, all eyes at Qwest Field are on Montero as the Sounders hunt for a playoff berth.
Fredy’s football brain and number ten style make him the perfect candidate to bring a little trequartista entertainment to Serie A. Perhaps clubs in mid-table which now play one striker and one withdrawn striker on the peninsula would get the best out of the Colombian youngster and with Napoli soon to be without Ezequiel Lavezzi, Naples could be his perfect destination.
3. Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake)
Real’s former Colorado Rapids midfielder might be a choice slightly out of left field, but the dreadlocked skipper deserves recognition. The 27-year-old has been capped by the United States and is, to my mind, a little under-rated.
Beckerman holds together RSL’s midfield, providing protection for the defence and the occasional blockbusting shot at goal. He has boundless energy and that wonderful ability to be in the right place at the right time and play simple. Beckerman’s attributes could be well suited to England, perhaps in the middle of the Premier League, but arguably he could also thrive in the Bundesliga.
4. Chris Pontius (DC United)
“Party Boy” was acquired by United in the 2009 SuperDraft and has made a huge impact at RFK in just 12 matches of his rookie year. Quickly becoming one of DCU’s key players, Pontius’ versatility enables him to be effective as a striker, just behind or – at a push – on either wing. He has already netted three league goals for his new club including a lovely late strike to trigger a blistering last few minutes at home to Toronto and a stoppage time winner in New York. In fact he’s already something of a Red Bulls killer, having struck twice in DC’s Open Cup win between the two – from defensive midfield.
Pontius has bundles of energy and has a little bit of everything to his game: an accurate shot, aerial ability, skill and a decent cross. While I’m tipping him now for a possible move to Europe, the truth is he probably needs to settle into a more regular position for a couple of years first. Right now, the fact that he is more than proficient in such a variety of roles is doing United the world of good.
5. Gerson Mayen (Chivas USA)
20-year-old Gerson Mayen debuted in MLS this season after progressing from Chivas USA’s developmental squad to the first team squad in 2008. In fairness his inclusion here is something of an ambitious one, as he has only seven appearances under his belt, but I think this is a talented young player. He’s a midfielder with stacks of ability and one thing he possibly has to his advantage over Pontius is a ruthless eye for the killer pass. Four assists have been chalked up by Mayen, the highlight being a perfect through ball for Eduardo Lillingston in Chivas’ 2-0 win at Dallas in March.
While Mayen’s selection will likely come as a surprise to any American readers, he is one player I’d like to see a lot more of. It’s possible he’ll develop into a more attacking midfielder than he is currently and adding a few goals to his repertoire would be a huge step forward – midfielders who can score and create are worth their weight in gold. That said, it’s too early to identify a European destination for Mayen. But he’s definitely one to keep an eye on.
Of course, this is all a matter of opinion. Who else is currently playing in Major League Soccer and has caught your eye? Who are the league’s best players, and should its homegrown players be getting a chance for the USMNT?