Gooch and Milan: A Bad Deal?

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Standard Liege, the former club of Oguchi Onyewu gave an English club a hard time for the third time in two seasons yesterday in a 3-2 loss to Arsenal. Meanwhile, Gooch didn’t even make the match squad for his new team, AC Milan in a 2-1 victory Tuesday over Marseille.

Despite my initial excitement about Gooch’s move, it’s now become obvious that his current lack of playing time could affect his USMNT form. Furthermore, in a World Cup year, can the US really afford to see Gooch without substantial playing time?

Onyewu was the bedrock of Liege’s title winning Belgian side a year ago. With the new UEFA rule change, the champions of the Belgian league automatically qualify for the group stage of the Champions League.

Thus has Gooch stayed in Belgium for another year he would have been placed at the pinnacle of a team competing in the group stages of the Champions League and taking on a leadership role on a side looking to defend a domestic title. By moving to Milan, he has once again exposed American football supporters to the ugly side of the game across the pond.

While I have argued that the top line talent of the US player pool has declined sharply in the last ten years, a glass ceiling that prevents American advancement seems like a more likely cause of Gooch’s troubles.

AC Milan is now led by none other than Leonardo, the same man who viciously almost ended Tab Ramos career in World Cup 1994. Brazilian managers and European directors of football have been far from kind to Americans through the years. Some speculation in American football circles centers around cultural differences between the foreign mindset and the American one as a reason our imports do not get the benefit of the doubt with big European clubs.

Does a bias against American football exist in Europe and Latin America? It’s hard to argue otherwise given the statements of some including Uli Hoeness of Bayern Munich and many in the press such as the highly regarded and well read Martin Samuel. (who didn’t even the most basic research on Major League Soccer before writing an ill advised, utter rubbish column attacking the league and the LA Galaxy) This bias accounts for, at least publicly the reason the USSF continues to employ coaches that “understand the American player.” Hiring a foreign coach would work in the right circumstances, but the USSF doesn’t seem to entertain the thought of doing such.

American footballers suffer from a bias in Europe not unlike what previous emerging football nations from Africa and Asia have gone through in the past. If an American plays a key role at a major club, particularly in England, Germany or Italy the propensity of local supporters or the press to blame a side’s failure on perceived shortcomings of that individual becomes a regular drumbeat.

One must assume that Leonardo, pre disposed to not think much of football in America, and fighting a skeptical press and the whims of Silvio Berlusconi has opted to forget the American, Onyewu for the time being.

It’s a shame that Gooch has been once again faced with such discrimination and hardship in his football career. But this is a man who has overcome racial taunting to become his nation’s best defender in a decade.

But the question must persist whether Gooch was better off staying at Standard Liege at least through this season. Then perhaps, a strong World Cup campaign could have placed the player in a situation where fighting for playing time had less of an adverse affect on the US program.

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