MLS talent ripe for picking by European teams
Losing players to Europe is nothing new to Major League Soccer, but at a time when the league is expending and in need of more talent than ever, the losses become more painful.
That's what is making this winter potentially one of the worst in league history in terms of the loss of quality players abroad. The combination of more players choosing to let their MLS contracts expire in order to have the chance at big European paydays, coupled with growing interest among European clubs for top young players in MLS, has suddenly made the upcoming January transfer window a dangerous one for a league desperate to keep as much talent as possible.
Here is a look at the 10 MLS players expected to draw the most interest from European clubs when the transfer window opens on New Year's Day:
Already set to go on a short loan spell with Bayern Munich in January, Donovan will have a chance to impress the German champions enough to facilitate a sale. If Donovan plays well enough, Bayern could be motivated to make the necessary offer to pry away the MLS goal-scoring leader, especially given his repeated statements that he wants to make a permanent move to Europe.
One of the most popular MLS transfer targets last summer, Cooper responded to all the attention from European clubs by finishing off a stellar season as MLS' second-leading scorer. Now he stands poised to be swept up this winter, with German Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt already revealed as a serious suitor. Will FC Dallas sell Cooper during the winter, or will the Hoops give Cooper a well-deserved raise and wait until the summer for larger bids to come rolling in? If teams like Eintracht are ready to bid $4 million or more, MLS will be hard-pressed to hold on to the big striker.
When New England failed to secure a transfer sale of Parkhurst a year ago, it became pretty clear that 2008 would be his last season in MLS. Now out of contract, the 2007 MLS defender of the year has been linked to a move to Denmark, with FC Nordsjaelland identified as a likely destination. The move would make Parkhurst the latest player to leave New England for Europe, joining Clint Dempsey, Pat Noonan and Andy Dorman.
No player picked a better time to have a career year than Marshall, who was dominant this year in leading Columbus to an MLS Cup title and earning himself an MLS Defender of the Year award. Concussions cost him a large part of the 2007 season, but also led to him playing out his contract. Now a free agent, Marshall is weighing offers from Scandinavian and German clubs and looks like a safe bet to follow the likes of past MLS defenders of the year Carlos Bocanegra and Ryan Nelsen to Europe.
While his MLS play was solid this year, Kljestan saw his stock rise in 2008 thanks to his performances in the Olympics and with the U.S. senior national team. His creativity, nose for goal, and improving defensive effort make him the type of well-rounded midfielder that clubs such as Dutch side FC Twente are looking for. Whether the same interest that existed after the Olympics this summer will return this winter remains to be seen, but Kljestan is looking like a good bed to fetch a tidy transfer sum for MLS this January.
Like Kljestan, Wynne impressed scouts at the Olympics, showing off his improved ball-handling along with his world-class speed and athleticism. Regarded as a raw prospect whose technical ability would need to improve when he first entered MLS three seasons ago, Wynne made great strides technically and emerged as one of the best full backs in MLS. The same scouts Wynne wowed in China last summer are expected to come back in January and make bids.
No player has seen his stock go on a roller-coaster ride like Boswell, who went from 2006 MLS defender of the year to D.C. United benchwarmer to anchor of the league's best defense in Houston. Boswell, whose contract expired at the end of the season, was the Dynamo's iron man this year, playing in 29 of the team's 30 games and recapturing the form that helped him be named the league's best defender two seasons earlier. According to sources, Boswell is weighing some offers from Germany, but returning to MLS is a possibility.
Foreign interest in American goalkeepers shouldn't come as a surprise, but the way Cannon wound up on this list surely is. San Jose failed to pick up the option year on his contract and planned on proposing a longer-term deal at considerably less money per year. The only problem was the maneuver left Cannon a free agent on the world market. It didn't take long for teams to take notice and now Cannon has offers to consider from Scandinavian clubs and just might leave MLS for Europe for the second time in his career.
Few players in MLS showed as much improvement from 2007 to 2008 as Soumare, who went from unpolished rookie to one of the league's best defenders. His combination of size, strength and impressive ball skills at a young age (23) alone would be enough to have European scouts interested, but Soumare's status as a holder of a French passport boosts his stock that much more. The Chicago Fire has no interest in losing Soumare this winter, but if a big enough offer comes in, the Fire will have a hard time keeping MLS from accepting it.
For all the attention given to Landon Donovan and David Beckham and their impending European loan deals, there is yet another Galaxy attacking player who could be on a transfer move this winter. Buddle enjoyed a career year in 2008, finishing with 15 goals, third best in MLS. He played well enough to draw interest from clubs such as Norwegian club Rosenborg, which sources say made a $1 million offer last summer. Will the offers return in January, or will the Galaxy insist on holding on to Buddle considering the possibility that Donovan might end up moving to Bayern Munich permanently.
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.