The image made many an American soccer fan proud. DaMarcus Beasley, sporting the stripes of PSV Eindhoven, ran circles around the defense of vaunted Italian club AC Milan in a Champions League match last November. It was the latest in a series of memorable moments that made Beasley a serious contender to Landon Donovan's title as the best field player in American soccer.
Moments like those also made it seem as if Beasley would succeed where Donovan failed, in Europe, where only the strong survive and the best flourish. It is moments like those that made it shocking to hear news that Beasley, just 24, is considering a return to Major League Soccer.
Newspaper reports linked Beasley with a potential move from PSV Eindhoven to MLS club Real Salt Lake, which seemed ridiculous until Beasley confirmed his interest in returning to MLS just two years after leaving the Chicago Fire.
"I would definitely be willing to come back at this point," Beasley told Sports Illustrated. "I've had two good years in Holland. Anybody who plays in a different country always dreams of coming home one day and playing in front of his family and friends, and I'm the same way. It just happened maybe a little bit sooner than most people would think. Not myself, but other people.
"I'd definitely be willing to come back and show that I'm still a player that can get results and do things for the team I'm playing for."
Though recent reports suggest that Beasley is more likely to stay in Holland now, the mere thought that one of U.S. Soccer's best young talents was ready to give up a promising career in one of Europe's top-flight leagues should concern U.S. fans.
He has nothing left to prove in MLS. When he left two years ago, Beasley was already the league's best wing midfielder, a speedy two-way player who dominated the left flank with ease. He has improved considerably at PSV, honing his scoring touch and developing his game at other positions. If he returned to MLS he would come back to a league where he would struggle to find an opponent to really test him.
Maybe that is what Beasley wants. His battle for playing time at PSV Eindhoven, which he is currently losing, could have him yearning for the days where he never worried about a starting role. Beasley always seemed like a player who thrived under pressure, but a return to MLS would certainly not help that reputation.
Does he feel a need to prove himself after a disappointing performance at the World Cup? He shouldn't feel that way because, despite what some critics suggest, Beasley's World Cup was not nearly as awful as some suggest. He struggled badly in the 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic, but who didn't? He was matched up with AC Milan fullback Marek Jankulovski, one of the world's best fullbacks, and Beasley came up short. There is no crime in that.
Beasley followed that up with a solid showing as a substitute in the 1-1 tie versus Italy, which included nearly scoring the game-winner only to have his goal disallowed due to Brian McBride's interference with Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Beasley capped his World Cup with a respectable effort in the 2-1 loss to Ghana; his steal and beautiful pass to Clint Dempsey led to the U.S. team's only goal of the World Cup (remember, the goal against Italy was an own-goal by an Italian defender).
It seems clear that Beasley needs to leave PSV Eindhoven, but MLS is not the answer, no matter how much cash Real Salt Lake might be ready to splash on him. Word around the league is that RSL owner Dave Checketts is eager to add a bona fide American star to his roster, someone who can be the face of marketing campaigns as the club heads toward the construction of its new stadium. The presence of RSL coach John Ellinger, who coached Beasley on the U.S. Under-17 national team, would make a move there somewhat understandable, but no less suicidal to his professional career.
There has also been some speculation in U.S. Soccer circles that personal problems have Beasley pondering a return home. If this is the case, it would be hard to argue with Beasley wanting to be back in the United States, but that is a story that has not been told. It has certainly been a trying year for Beasley, who was arrested for drunk driving in Holland and also dealt with a series of injuries that limited his playing time with PSV last year. These events, coupled with a disappointing World Cup, might just have Beasley eager to make a brief return to the United States for a chance to regroup.
What we do know is that Beasley is one of this country's best talents, and he has already shown the capability of flourishing at the game's highest levels. His career in Europe should be about to peak, not about to end. As much as it would be nice for fans to be able to watch him run circles around his MLS counterparts, it is in Europe -- where the world's best offer the game's best challenge -- that Beasley can make his biggest mark and where he will provide the best memories.
Clint Déjà vu?
Stop me if you have heard this story before. An American World Cup star named Clint returns to the league only to find that MLS isn't willing to sell him to Europe. He sulks, lets his form free-fall and eventually leaves MLS on a free transfer.
That was the story of Clint Mathis, who was so upset when MLS didn't sell him to Bayern Munich in 2002 that he sleepwalked through the rest of the 2002 season with the MetroStars, capping the year by famously stepping on an opponent and getting a red card, prompting then-MetroStars coach Octavio Zambrano to suggest that Mathis needed psychiatric help.
What Mathis needed was to go to Europe, and the same goes for Clint Dempsey, who has gone from World Cup standout to MLS bad boy in recent months. Since returning from Germany, Dempsey has managed to earn a pair of suspensions, his second and third of the season. It is clear he is frustrated and his game is being affected. He has stated publicly that he is desperate to go to Europe, pleas that have been ignored by a league that still feels it has not received a worthy offer for Dempsey.
The complaint by MLS officials regarding the Mathis debacle was that Bayern Munich and other clubs were offering what they considering embarrassingly low transfer fees for Mathis. While that may have been the case with Mathis, the offers it has fielded for Eddie Johnson and Dempsey have been far from embarrassing. The fact that deals have not been struck make you wonder whether the league's negotiators are capable of reaching reasonable deals or really have no clue what they're doing.
While it is probably true that European clubs set lower values on American players, the fact remains that the market determines the price. Solid negotiating can sweeten a deal, but MLS might want to ask itself some questions if its player valuations are nowhere near the offers they are actually receiving.
MLS officials should consider what has happened with two of its more high-profile players after the league turned down offers in recent years. Mathis left MLS after the 2003 season, when his contract expired, and MLS received nothing when he signed with German club Hannover 96. Johnson, the U.S. national team forward, once drew a $5 million offer from Portuguese club Benfica, the highest offer ever for an MLS player, and the league turned it down.
After a long layoff due to an injury last year and a recent uneventful showing at the World Cup, Johnson's most recent transfer bid was $2 million from English club West Bromwich Albion. Johnston has done little since returning from the World Cup, and his transfer value is sliding so fast that the jewelry he wore at the World Cup may soon be worth more than what the league can recoup for his services.
It is clear that the league doesn't want to give the impression that it is giving away its best players, but even worse than that is the image of the disgruntled player going through the motions as he waits for his contract to expire. Dempsey's star value increased considerably after the World Cup, but following two suspensions -- one for an altercation with an opponent, another for elbowing U.S. teammate Jimmy Conrad in the face during an MLS match -- his World Cup luster is fading. That isn't exactly ideal for a player you are trying to market and sell for a sizeable transfer fee.
The league needs to let Dempsey go. Sell him before history repeats itself and we are left with another Clint who left the league on bad terms and watched his career suffer because of it.
Just when I thought the dream of a .500 prediction record was feasible, I deliver a donut. Nothing says "give up" quite like an 0-5 week. On the bright side, if you take the 0-5 and combine it with last week's 5-1, that's a 5-6 mark, which is good for an Eastern Conference playoff spot. The 39-53 mark? Not so much.
Real Salt Lake kept up its winning ways, and the winning should continue against a fading Red Bulls squad. It is amazing to think that John Ellinger might not even be around in Utah anymore if not for a pair of late penalty kicks that helped RSL upset D.C. United for the first of its four straight wins. Now Ellinger and RSL are storming toward West playoff contenders Colorado and Chivas USA, and you have to like their chances of catching one of those clubs.
Which game is the most intriguing this week? D.C. United attempting to end the Galaxy's faint playoff hopes is certainly an interesting one. Here is the lineup:
Saturday, Aug. 26
Los Angeles Galaxy at D.C. United
Santino Quaranta surely has this one circled on his calendar. The former D.C. forward has been a revelation for the Galaxy since being acquired from United earlier in the month, and he will look to punish his former team for trading him. D.C. is simply trying to find its way back to the win column after a string of ties. Look for D.C. to put a serious dent in the Galaxy's playoff hopes.
D.C. United 2, Galaxy 0
Real Salt Lake at New York Red Bulls
RSL is on a roll and faces a Red Bulls team that is starting to show its age. The Red Bulls played a tiring U.S. Open Cup match against D.C. United and won't have enough to hold back a Salt Lake attack that has been unstoppable lately.
Real Salt Lake 2, Red Bulls 0
Colorado Rapids at Chicago Fire
Two teams heading in opposite directions, as the struggling Rapids, who look to avoid being caught by RSL in the standings, face a Fire team that is finding its form. With Andy Herron scoring goals in bunches, the Fire should cruise.
Fire 3, Rapids 1.
Houston Dynamo at Chivas USA
The Dynamo are coming off a midweek Open Cup match and have to travel to California to face a rested Chivas USA team that is desperate not to fall out of playoff position. The Goats are unbeaten in six matches, but five of those have been ties. They need three points to hold off Real Salt Lake, and they'll find a way to get them courtesy of Ante Razov.
Chivas USA 2, Dynamo 0
Sunday, Aug. 27
Columbus Crew at New England Revolution
The Crew snapped their three-month winless slide last week but won't be as lucky this week against a Revolution team that will be eager to erase the memory of last week's bitter losses to Chicago.
Revolution 3, Crew 0
FC Dallas at Kansas City Wizards
Calling an August match a must-win seems like a stretch, but the Wizards must find a way to get the three points against a struggling FC Dallas squad that hasn't scored in three straight matches (including a U.S. Open Cup loss on Wednesday). If the Wizards can't take advantage of facing a tired opponent at home, they could fall out of the East playoff race permanently. We say they won't do it.
FC Dallas 1, Wizards 0
Last week: 0-5
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPN.com and is a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.). He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.