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Gooch and Milan: A Bad Deal?


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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  1. Andrew

    September 29, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    Unless you’re one of the best, you can’t have both as an American. Either you get to play regularly for your lower level club and get to play in the world cup. Or you ride the bench with the best team in the world and miss out on the world cup. It’s the player’s choice. As a coach of a national team, you have to do what’s best for the team. If that means cutting dead weight (players with no playing time), then so be it. Practice does not equal games. They are not the same thing. Congrats to Gooch for getting on AC Milan, but you knew that it would mean his international career might take a hit.

  2. Frank

    September 18, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Where is the proof that there is discrimination against US players?

    Players get benched for openly voicing their displeasure with the coach all the time. We don’t know how they perform in practices and their attitudes.

    The other thing you need to consider are the rules regarding the number of non-EU players allowed on the pitch.

  3. Ata Dizdar

    September 18, 2009 at 10:09 am

    When he signed for AC Milan, I was happy, if only for the fact that a guy from my local area has made onto a huge club (Onyewu is from Olney, MD, I’m from Gaithersburg, about 20 minutes away). But it seems as though he’s not getting any playing time. Onyewu would have to work harder to get a starting spot. Frankly, if he’s good enough to get signed, he should be busting his buns to gain a starting spot.

  4. Leon

    September 18, 2009 at 7:57 am

    Can you give him 5 minutes to get situated with the club, get the coach on his side, and then get a starting shot? This is a top 10 European club that plenty of national team centre-backs would not automatically start for. And I get tired of reading how someone won’t be sharp for the WC because he isn’t starting every game. Which is better, getting some looks in Serie A and training every single day with phenomenal players, or playing in Belgium and facing a second-tier test with regular match duties? As in, would you rather develop someone as the 10th man on the Lakers, or have him play every day in the NBDL.

  5. Glubber

    September 18, 2009 at 2:32 am

    I think it’s a non-traditional football playing country bias, not speficially an American bias. Gooch would not be in a different position if he were from, say, Canada or Thailand.

  6. ELAC

    September 18, 2009 at 12:14 am

    Gooch needs to step up his mental game and be a student. I don’t know about a US player stereotype, but I do know that Gooch needs a lot of work. His play is improving, but he really still needs more development. His form will be alright. He’s no slouch, but is he a hard worker?

    Serie A is legit league. Gooch has to be legit, too if he is to justify his place for Milan.

  7. BC

    September 17, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    Can someone here tell me why there is ZERO mention of the Crew’s back to back wins over Houston in a match that basically decided the Supporters’ Shield and then a CONCACAF CL win IN SAPRISSA??? Where no American team had ever won before!! Am I missing something here?

    It’s all well and good to talk about MLS’s failures in the CL and abroad and beat them to death… but one has to think whether this site’s anti-MLS reputation is somewhat justified when the flagship bearer of the league can’t even get a single breath on “MLS” Talk for this huge win in Saprissa, let alone winning the most important game in the MLS’s regular season thus far.

    For these two games to not even be mentioned in a quality column is a shame for this site.

  8. Seybold

    September 17, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    The issue of Americans playing in Europe reminds me of how us Americans reacted to foreign basketball players in the NBA. There was this Argentinian guy who signed for Seattle when we used to have a team. Barely played, released after a year, no one missed him–no one could figure out why they’d signed him in the first place.

    Next month I see him playing for Argentina in the world basketball championships as part of an Argentina team that beat the USA. Turns out he could play, a lot better than most of his former Seattle teammates. He never really got the chance.

    These days if an NBA team signs an Argentinian player, he’ll be taken seriously from the get-go.

  9. kyle

    September 17, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    Oh the Wizards do get alot more then 200 people? thanks for telling me that I did not know that. I am not calling Donovan out and saying he is not a good player. Clearly he has talent and is probably the best player on the US team. I am saying that to me personally I find it dissapointing that Donovan has settled for the MLS.

  10. Vnice

    September 17, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    Landon has grown a pair, and he shreds of the pitch this year internationally. And I don’t care for the Wizards, but they get a hell of a lot more than 200 people.

    Dempsey, meanwhile, runs around the pitch like an aloof pretty boy, and almost flubs games for us. The only reason he’s still there is…gee, Landon set him up there, didn’t he. That header was from Landon’s foot. Dempsey is a liability waiting to happen.

    By the way, I would pay a lot of money to see you say that to the guy’s face.

  11. kyle

    September 17, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    Will people stop saying that landycakes is a top 50 or top whatever player. Landycakes is a scared little bitch with a huge ego. Guess what Landycakes you have fun scoring goals against the Kansas City Wizards infront of 200 people. Meanwhile players like Gooch and Dempsey are willing to grow a pair and fight to play in Europe. Landycakes if only you had half the heart of a Dempsey of an Onyewu.

    • Kartik

      September 18, 2009 at 9:12 am

      It can be strongly argued that if you consider simply national team form, not club selection, etc, that Donovan is one of the handful of top players in the world. This will be discussed on a future MLS Talk post.

      • kyle

        September 19, 2009 at 8:50 pm

        Ok but by that logic then is David Healy world class?

  12. Brian

    September 17, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    It’s not the “ugly side” of the game. It’s the reality of life at a big club. You get better only if you’re pushed. That’s why top players can only develop so much in MLS. And if Milan’s coaches didn’t “like or trust” Gooch, they wouldn’t have signed him!

    Yes, he needs to play. But he’s not being treated any differently than any other defender of the same caliber at Milan.

  13. KD

    September 17, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    I think the anti-American bent of European coaches and fans makes it very tough for our guys. While Kartik may claim Serbia has better players, it is because they are not American and European that they get to the big clubs. As we proved in the Confed Cup, we have top 5 talent, and Gooch, Howard and Donovan have to be considered top 50 worldwide players right now.

    But Euro coaches don’t like or trust Americans. Any move for an American is a risk- look at that jerk coach in Germany with Michael Bradley. Look at their roster- Bradley is easily the best player, yet they have benched him.

  14. Joe in Indianapolis

    September 17, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    With Arsenal’s two late goals coming from set pieces, you have to think Gooch’s defensive presence in the box might have changed the outcome.

  15. Pat

    September 17, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    My primary concern with this move was the fact there was no transfer fee. So you’ve got an American defender, that you paid nothing for, hoping to see some playing time? You have to think the guys ahead of him are going to have to be absolutely awful to lose their spots to him. And even if he does get in, one or two mistakes, and the coach won’t think twice to bury him on the bench.

    It’s like putting a walk-on in the game ahead of a scholarship player. If the walk-on doesn’t shine far, far brighter than the scholarship guy, it’s hard to justify putting him out there.

  16. Hal

    September 17, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    It’s really simple as to why Gooch hasn’t seen time there. He doesn’t have his AARP card yet, like the rest of Milan’s defenders. 🙂

  17. Jason

    September 17, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    I can imagine most of us saw this coming at least on some level. Even if he does ultimately get on the field and regain/maintain form heading into the WC, it will clearly have a negative impact in the short term on the rest of qualifying.

    While long term this move still may work, the timing (just one year before the WC) made it a high risk proposition for the USMNT. Granted the impact on the USMNT had to be of minimal concern to Gooch and his representatives. This is not a negative comment, it is just the nature of the football business.

    To speak to the impact of an outside mindset changing the perception of American Soccer to the rest of the world, the USSF should look no further than USA Basketball. When the US struggled on the world stage, USA Basketball broke the mold of hiring an NBA coach, and dug into the college ranks to hire the “right” coach, in Coach K. While some may say this isn’t a big leap, because he is also American, I would argue that the difference in basketball playing style and mindset between the NBA and college basketball is equal to the difference in soccer playing style and mindset among countries across the world. Clearly the change in philosophy worked for USA Basketball, and I think we all believe it would work for the USSF as well.

  18. peter osgood

    September 17, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    A great an important piece KK. In England, this would appear in the Guardian or Times of London or Independent or Telegraph or Daily Mail etc.

    Thank Christ for this blog, the Kartik report and the others who bring incisive points of debate for the American football populace to dissect.

    If you hate this blog and it drives you nuts with it’s alleged negativity, then, um, IT’S WORKING.

  19. Will

    September 17, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Gooch isn’t playing because at this moment he is not good enough to break into the Starting XI.He joined the team late in their season preparations and as long as he puts in the work in training he will get his shot.

    • mdb

      September 17, 2009 at 5:48 pm

      Having just rewatched Milan’s Champion’s League debut, you’re mostly right. But, Milan’s center backs looked slow and a bit overwhelmed by the speed and power of Marseilles. Nesta had a couple really shaky moments. They held out, but it certainly wasn’t pretty. As long as Leo can put aside his ‘hatred of America’ and Gooch works his ass off, he’ll get his shot sooner rather than later.

  20. jean-guy pepper

    September 17, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    maybe it’s as simple as beasley, onyewu and adu playing in leagues that have talent above their abilities? maybe they aren’t as good as supporters claim they are.

  21. soccer goals

    September 17, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    It is a hard sterotype to break. But, that same perception will allow clubs to acquire players at a more reasonable price.

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