With the World Cup approaching, Juergen Klinsmann has stressed the importance of first-team playing time for anyone wanting to board the flight to Brazil on June 8. In a dreamy perfect world, they would all go 90 minutes every weekend for clubs in the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga or Serie A. That, of course, is not a realistic expectation, not in this decade anyway. So Americans must go where they are wanted.
Without minutes, the hope of making the 23-man squad shrivels. In a World Cup year, it’s better to play regularly in a lesser league than play irregularly in a top circuit.
So as the European transfer window closes this week, many of Klinsmann’s charges have docked in places where they believe they have enhanced their samba chances.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones has spent almost his entire career in the Bundesliga, but after falling out of favor with Schalke and the deadline nearing, he is moving to Besiktas in Turkey. Is the Super Lig on par with the Bundesliga? No. But he will play for a quality club at a quality level.
Even if Jones had remained at Schalke, he would have stayed very much in Klinsmann’s plans. He is Klinsi’s bulldog, at times an overaggressive bulldog, and diminished playing time this spring would not have disqualified him from the World Cup roster. It would have, however, weakened his case for a starting role against Ghana in the June 16 opener in Natal.
Jones had dipped a toe in MLS waters this winter, but the price tag was too high for domestic clubs.
Other Americans — and their agents — took Klinsmann’s message to heart:
*Defender Michael Parkhurst, on the bubble for a World Cup slot, got out of a bad situation at Augsburg and landed in Columbus. He exchanged league status for playing time.
*Midfielder Maurice Edu, forgotten at Stoke City and fading from Brazil consideration, moved to Philadelphia. Again, league status in exchange for playing time.
*Defender Oguchi Onyewu, inactive at Queens Park Rangers and a longshot for Klinsmann’s roster, switched to Sheffield Wednesday. English second-tier promotion contender to English second-tier relegation contender … but regular playing time.
*Midfielder Brek Shea, sporadic assignments at Stoke City, dropped down a division by going on loan to Barnsley in order to play regularly and remain in Klinsmann’s mix. His one-month loan was extended this week to April 3. Like the others, he has improved his Cup odds.
*By moving to Toronto FC from Roma, midfielder Michael Bradley has also guaranteed himself more playing time (albeit off-Broadway). This case was different from the others, however, because of the truck loads of money TFC delivered and the opportunity to return to this part of the world after eight years in Europe.
Will his pre-Cup form suffer playing in MLS instead of Serie A? Unlikely. Bradley will lift players around him, and with a short window between the MLS opener in March and U.S. camp in May, don’t expect to see his national team influence wain.
*Fabian Johnson may also be on the move: Both Moenchengladbach and Crystal Palace have taken interest in the Hoffenheim winger. Johnson is not in desperate need of pre-Cup minutes, but because he is out of contract this summer, the Bundesliga club is looking to sell him.
*Midfielder Joe Corona (just 10 Liga MX appearances since August) would probably benefit from a move out of Tijuana.
One other notable American (without World Cup hopes) may find a new home: Freddy Adu. Sky Sports reports he is on trial at Blackpool in England’s second tier. Sources close to the 24-year-old attacker confirmed the workouts and said they expect a decision concerning a contract offer by the end of next week. With a thin national team portfolio, would Adu be able to secure a British work permit? “Wouldn’t be easy,” one source acknowledged, but the arbitrary process might make it possible. Adu is a free agent after Brazil’s Bahia, his ninth club in 10 years, declined to extend his contract last month.