Adu and Johnson try to revive careers in Greece
Tucked away by the northwestern corner of the Aegean Sea, Thessaloniki is a Greek port city that wouldn't be on most people's lists of top places to restart a soccer career, but for Freddy Adu and Eddie Johnson, Thessaloniki is exactly where they will be hoping to revive theirs.
Johnson and Adu are joining Greek club Aris FC in a pair of winter deals that are likely to either help them resurrect once-promising careers or move them one step closer to a return to MLS. The moves also are motivated by the desire of each player to push his way back into the U.S. team picture in a World Cup year.
"What is most important is that I get to play," Johnson told the English media of his loan to Aris. "I need games so I can put myself back on the radar to try to make the national team for the World Cup."
The same applies for Adu, whose move to Aris has yet to be formally announced but has been widely reported in the Greek media. Adu is coming off a pair of unsuccessful loan moves to Monaco and Belenenses after failing to secure a regular role with Benfica following his transfer there from MLS two years ago. Now he looks set to transfer to the midtable Greek club led by well-respected Argentine manager Hector Cuper.
While the Greek league isn't the English Premier League, it still is a competitive and physical league in which both Johnson and Adu will be tested.
"It's a physical league, but I think Eddie Johnson has the pace and he's going to do well," said Chicago Fire technical director Frank Klopas, a veteran of the Greek league. "Freddy fits in well also. It's a good team and an exciting place to play, and if they stay focused, I think they can do well there.
"It won't be easy; there's a lot of pressure to perform there, but they have been in big leagues, so if they can handle that pressure, I think they can do well."
Given all the moves both players already have made in their careers, it is easy to forget Johnson (25) and Adu (20) are still young. But even with their ages, it is safe to say both will have run out of European options if they fail to make impressions with Aris.
Having played for a combined five clubs in two years before the moves to Aris, Adu and Johnson have become the newest poster children for the premise that making the jump from MLS to Europe isn't always the best move.
"A lot of guys have the dream of making it, but when you look at it, so many guys want to leave before they're actually prepared for it," said one MLS coach who preferred to remain anonymous. "You can have your cake and eat it too if you stay here [in MLS] and hone your skills. For some of the younger guys, they're in such a hurry to make the jump that they go before they're ready."
With the transfer window now open, several other Americans are ready to join Johnson and Adu in making moves to Europe. Here is a look at some other MLS-based Americans who are set for loans and transfer moves this winter:
Having just signed a four-year, $9 million contract with the L.A. Galaxy, Donovan isn't going to be staying with Everton beyond his short-term loan, but if he has a strong showing during his 10 weeks and he couples that with a strong World Cup, he could set himself up for a major transfer this summer. Future transfer or not, Donovan will head to England looking to erase the memories of his disappointing stints in Germany. "He's a more mature player now, and I really think he could play in any league in the world," one MLS coach said. "You're going to see more teams wanting to buy him after this loan."
The Houston Dynamo midfielder is out of contract, and his U.K. passport will allow him the freedom to sign anywhere he wants in Europe. Holden has been linked to clubs ranging from Rangers to Blackburn, and most recently has been set for a brief trial with EPL side Burnley. That trial could be in limbo, though, as Burnley's manager, Owen Coyle, appears set to take over as Bolton manager.
"It may be a little bit early for a guy like him to make the move to England," one MLS general manager said. "He's a very good player, but it depends on what a team is willing to invest in him. He's better off staying here if a team isn't going to give him the time to develop."
The U.S. team midfielder also is out of contract and already has let it be known that he has no intent of returning to MLS. He has been linked to clubs in Serie A and the Premier League but has yet to sign a deal.
"He's been in the league for a number of years and he's played for the national team so I think it's a great time for him to make that leap forward," one MLS coach said. "He's mature and his game has developed well so I'd say he's ready."
The New England Revolution midfielder currently is in camp with the U.S. team but is expected to test the waters in Europe after playing out his MLS contract. Scandinavia has been mentioned as a potential destination.
A one-time U.S. team prospect, Rolfe finished out his contract with the Chicago Fire and is set to join Danish club Aalborg BK on a free transfer. Rolfe, who turns 27 later this month, will join fellow American Marcus Tracy on the recent UEFA Champions League participant.
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.