Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Soccer Moves - Onyewu to Newcastle, Ronaldo to AC Milan. Gooch finds himself an English team where he can play a major role. The Magpies are trying to restore their glory days. Onyewu will help anchor their defense. Right now it's just a loan until the end of the season, but Gooch hopes to convince Newcastle to sign him to a new contract.

Onyewu is riding the crest of a wave in U.S. soccer, which has a number of players skipping right over MLS to try and catch on with the more competitive and better-paying European leagues. There's a fine piece by Jeff Carlisle at ESPN's site, on what Carlisle sees as a growing problem for MLS -- with the best young American talent striking out for Europe. ESPNnet article. Last year's crop of coveted Americans signing to play with top-flight squads in Europe was led by the speedy Lee Nguyen, along with Benny Feilhaber, who was so impressive in training for the World Cup. This year's notables include U.Md. standout Robbie Rodgers, Notre Dame midfielder Greg Dalby and BC striker Charlie Davis.

Carlisle fears a future in which the U.S. national team consists mostly of Americans playing abroad. I'm not sure why this is something to fear. Last week, Claudio Reyna signed to play his first professional games in the MLS. In large measure, he was the first American to succeed in Europe, paving the way for the younger class of players like Onyewu. I suspect Reyna will also be a pioneer in showing the way for future veterans of European competition to return to American shores and raise the level of our game, after they've had a chance to develop at the highest levels.

This development would be good for the MLS, in the long run. It would surely be a boon to the national team, which likely would be better able to compete on the world stage. I think the MLS would reap the rewards from any improvement in the fortunes if the U.S. national team. Nothing will create greater interest in the sport here, than to see Americans succeed against the world's elite.

There is also an interesting AP piece on the New York Times website about Ronaldo's signing with AC Milan. AC Milan Acquires Soccer Great Ronaldo. As the article notes, this marks the final breakup of the 'Galacticos' -- the arsenal of world-class stars that signed with Real Madrid before and, especially, after the 2002 World Cup. It was expected that Real Madrid would need a whole new trophy case to house all the hardware this galaxy of stars was expected to win. It didn't happen that way. Although the early 'Galacticos' enjoyed success, winning a European Cup and two La Liga championships, Madrid's last trophy of any kind was in 2003 -- that might not seem so long ago, but it is the longest drought in over fifty years for the club.

The first to sign was Luis Figo in 2000; Zinedine Zidane signed, the next year; Ronaldo, joined Madrid, following the '02 Cup; then, David Beckham signed in 2003; finally, Madrid added Michael Owen, the following year. Now, with Beckham having signed to play in Los Angeles, Ronaldo's move to Italy marks the official end of the original Galacticos. The Reuters story echoes the same theme of "bringing down the curtain on the Galactico era."

Of course, the AP and Reuters articles overstate the case a bit. There is a new cast of stars in Madrid, almost as talented, if not as famous as the original Galacticos. With Robinho, Ruud van Nistleroy, Fabio Cannivaro (FIFA Player of the Year) and Emerson, Madrid has plenty of talent and future star-power. I think the nickname may stick for a little while longer, even if it better describes the assemblage of superstars on Chelsea's roster -- in fact, Chelsea's current roster is probably a little more impressive than Madrid's ever was, even if the players may not be as widely recognized as were Madrid's Galacticos.

A final note on a story that ran in today's Washington Post - The Post covered the new routine for Ricky Schramm, trying to win a spot with D.C. United. Schramm was drafted out of Georgetown by United in the recent SuperDraft. I mention him because he grew up in Eastchester, N.Y. -- right next door to my hometown of Scarsdale -- in Westchester County (the county that the next President of the United States, Hillary Clinton, now calls home). Here's a link to the story on Schramm: Schramm Puts Best Foot Forward, Tries to Make United's Roster.

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