The January transfer window was relatively uneventful for Europe’s biggest clubs. Aside from Robinho’s loan deal to Santos, there were few moves that turned heads. The view from this side of the pond was not so dull. Several American players found themselves at new clubs – a prospect that should boost the US MNT’s hopes of getting out of Group C in South Africa.
Most notably, Landon Donovan was loaned to Everton and has made an immediate impact as the Toffees took ten points from four matches in January.
Having already faced Manchester City and Arsenal, Donovan will have the chance to further impress in February. Everton’s brutal fixture lineup features Liverpool, Chelsea, Sporting Lisbon (twice), Manchester United, and Tottenham. Even with Mikel Arteta’s return to fitness, Donovan should find that production yields more opportunity.
The US MNT’s midfield looks to be getting deeper and more experienced with Ricardo Clark heading to Eintracht Frankfurt and Stuart Holden signing with Bolton. While the departure of Clark and Holden dealt a crushing blow to the Houston Dynamo, both players should expect to see playing time at their new clubs.
Remember Freddy Adu? One of U.S. soccer’s biggest disappointments has been thrown a lifeline at Greek club Aris Thessaloniki. In his first appearance, Adu assisted fellow American Eddie Johnson’s (speaking of disappointments) stoppage-time goal, though it was too late to salvage the tie. Adu, 20, has struggled for playing time in his stints at Benfica, Monaco, and Belenenses. Johnson has languished at Fulham and Cardiff City since showing promise in MLS. Neither player is expected to make Bob Bradley’s final roster for South Africa, but a good run of form could change their fortunes.
Kenny Cooper is another long-shot for the World Cup. Cooper moved to 1860 Munich last August and will finish the season on loan at Plymouth after falling out with the manager. If there is one position in which the US MNT has a surplus it is in the “tall, slow striker who is only an aerial threat” role (think the American Luca Toni). In other words, Cooper has several mountains to climb.
The best news of the month – even better than Donovan – was that striker Charlie Davies is on track for a miraculous recovery. After the tragic accident that took two lives, Davies’ prognosis was mixed. He would likely be able to play soccer again, but recovery estimates were close to one year. Not four months since the accident, he is already jogging and hopes to return to his club FC Sochaux by April.
Oguchi Onyewu is also ahead of schedule. The center-back is aiming for a late-February return to AC Milan and should have plenty of time to find his form before June, assuming he gets some playing time.
Of course, the news wasn’t all good for the US MNT. Clint Dempsey’s knee injury sent another tremor through the already-rattled American nerves. His knee won’t require surgery, but will keep him out of action for several weeks. The Fulham midfielder was on track for his most productive season yet, but will now turn his focus to making a speedy and full recovery for club and country.
World Cup Expectations
The 3-1 loss to Honduras on January told us little about the US MNT. We knew the Americans have a problem with discipline. Thus, it was no surprise when Jimmy Conrad drew a second yellow card at seventeen-minute mark. Add to that the absence of nearly every player expected to start on June 12 and the loss is easy to dismiss.
With so many serious injuries to key players and numerous January moves, the US MNT’s prognosis for South Africa seems more uncertain than ever. Moreover, it seems unlikely we will be able to gauge a proper expectation before the first whistle. The Americans’ only remaining friendlies are against El Salvador on February 24 and Holland on March 3. Clubs may be required to release players for those matches, but don’t expect Bob Bradley to have anything resembling a first-choice squad. Dempsey, Onyewu and Davies won’t be healthy to feature. I would be surprised to see Donovan, Altidore, or any other key player.
The uncertainty may drive us to the edge, but Americans need to accept that we will not know what to expect until our starting eleven takes the pitch with the Three Lions on June 12.