Movers and shakers

January, 16, 2008
OK, I've literally just gotten home from Miami, but since there's so much going on right now, I figure I'd dive right in with some thoughts:

1. Benny Feilhaber -- Given the lack of impact players available in this year's MLS SuperDraft (more on that later), the biggest news is the potential return of U.S. international Feilhaber to the States to play in MLS for the first time. Clearly out of favor at Derby, the Rams have admitted they are keen to sell Feilhaber. I'm not convinced a move to MLS would be Feilhaber's actual preference (and I'd like to see him go somewhere like Holland). However, at this point, it seems that Derby would prefer to sell to MLS since it can reap a higher transfer fee from an American club, as opposed to the lukewarm interest Feilhaber is getting around Europe. As for a move to MLS, it makes perfect sense for Feilhaber's national team aspirations. He'll play more, and he'll be highly visible here for Bob Bradley to monitor his progress. Why did Feilhaber fail in England? It's hard to say, but for whatever reason he never managed to gain the trust of either of his managers in England (Billy Davies and Paul Jewell). Also, on the one occasion where he was starting to receive some meaningful playing time (in particular the second half of the 2-1 loss against Liverpool on Dec. 26), fingers were pointed at him for his failure to hustle on a midfield challenge which led to a late winning goal for Liverpool. Also, with Derby's recent midfield acquisitions of Robbie Savage and Laurent Robert, Feilhaber has become surplus to requirements.

2. Eddie Johnson to the EPL -- As has been reported all over the internet soccer blog sphere, Eddie Johnson is in deep negotiations with Club USA, otherwise known as Fulham. The deal is about 99 percent done by all accounts, with the only negotiations remaining concerning escalator and incentive clauses. Is this a good move for Johnson? It is from the standpoint that Fulham and its fan base obviously view American players favorably, he doesn't have a lot of competition for the starting striker spot and Johnson's especially tight with Fulham star Clint Dempsey. Add in the London lifestyle and increased earnings and it's a no-brainer for Johnson. Will he succeed? I'm not entirely convinced. Unless he becomes more well-rounded, I doubt he'll be a prolific scorer in the EPL although initially he may score a few before defenders figure out his one-dimensional game. The key for Johnson will be his work rate and whether he dedicates himself to improving technically, as opposed to coasting by on his natural ability which is what he's done for a large part of his career in MLS. English fans won't accept a lazy striker, especially a streaky one like Johnson who's prone to long goal droughts.

3. Carlos Ruiz to the Galaxy -- It's becoming clear that the Galaxy's new business model is predicated on the old Real Madrid galactico policy of "Zidanes and Pavons." That is to say, sign a few superstars and then surround them with a bunch of cheap young players. Given that both Landon Donovan and Carlos Ruiz are grandfathered designated players, the Galaxy can actually still add another DP (Luis Figo?) to go along with Beckham and company. Can this policy work in MLS where it didn't succeed in Europe? Yep I think so and here's why: The drop-off from a typical blue-collar MLS starter (e.g. Peter Vagenas) to say your average SuperDraft pick fresh out of college (e.g. Josh Tudela) is minimal and right now the Galaxy has three match-winner types, while most MLS teams are lucky if they even have one.

4. Wizards get the No. 1 overall pick -- You have to hand it to Wizards who basically fleeced the Quakes by giving up only defender Nick Garcia, an average-at-best player. The logical step, assuming that Eddie Johnson is headed to England, is for the Wizards to take Virginia Tech forward Patrick Nyarko as a direct replacement. That's if you are sold on Nyarko -- I'm not, I'd actually take either Andy Iro (assuming he's willing to sign) or Julius James since both are defensive upgrades over Garcia. Either way the Wizards are in a win-win situation. As for the Quakes, I'm not sure what they were thinking here -- granted there wasn't a sure-fire stud prospect, but by sitting tight and taking say Iro (who definitely would sign for a Californian team), they'd still have been better off.
Jen Chang is the U.S. Soccer editor for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes regularly and is a contributer to Soccernet podcasts. He joined ESPN Studio Production in 2004 and earned a Sports Emmy award, before making the move to in 2005.



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