In Limbo: The Saga of Yanks Abroad
|by Tim Froh|
American players abroad can never seem to get things right, and the fans are even worse. Who would've thought, two years ago, that Bobby Convey would be in the most ideal playing situation of any American player in late 2006? At the time, Reading was a good, but certainly not great, club in the English First Division (soon to be renamed the Coca-Cola Championship), and Bobby couldn't even get off the bench. Fast forward one year later. Bobby is not only starting for Reading, but winning plaudits for his play on the left wing, and shockingly enough, scoring goals as well. Reading itself was tearing apart the Championship, winning game after game enroute to one of the greatest finishes in the history of modern first division football. Now Bobby is regularly playing in the English Premier League, and according to SkySports, was recently offered a deal with Hamburg, a Champions League club in the German Bundesliga.
Now compare Bobby's situation with DaMarcus Beasley's. When Beasley left for PSV Eindhoven some two years ago, the situation seemed ideal. DaMarcus would be playing for a club that was world renowned for its ability to develop young stars. He would be playing in the Champions League under one of the world's greatest tacticians, Guus Hiddink. Unlike Convey, Beasley began his PSV tenure brightly, scoring more goals in his first season than he ever scored in MLS, including several in the Champions League. On one special night, he terrorized Jap Staam, Holland and AC Milan's famed central defender. But then something went horribly wrong.
In his second season with PSV, DaMarcus was plagued by problems both on the field and off. He struggled to assert himself into Hiddink's plans, being confined to a substitute's role. With his confidence sinking, Beasley's behavior off the pitch suffered. In January, 2006, Beasley was arrested for drunk driving, and in April, was prosecuted for a DUI. Meanwhile, his on-the-pitch woes continued at the worst time possible. Not only was Hiddink leaving PSV at the end of the season, but the World Cup was only two months away.
That World Cup performance and its aftermath cannot be pinned solely on DaMarcus. He was only one of many of our European and MLS based players that simply did not show up to play in Germany. Head Coach Bruce Arena did little to help DaMarcus' waning confidence, first starting him out of position (on the right side of midfield) against the Czech Republic, then singling him out for criticism after the game. Arena continued to play Beasley out of position (now in central midfield) against both Italy (as a substitute) and against Ghana. What should have been his moment of vindication, a game-winning late goal against Italy, was reversed by Brian McBride's obstruction of Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
It's no surprise then that Beasley, in the dog house with both club and country, would want a change of scenery. In August, PSV agreed to send him on loan to Manchester City of the English Premier League. Still nursing a hamstring injury, Beasley is yet to start for the club. Yet what is most troubling is that Beasley has left one trying situation, only to find himself in another. City is currently fighting what will doubtless become a fierce relegation battle, and recently lost to Championship cellar dwellers Colcester City in the Carling Cup. The adversity that Beasley will face this season may make or break his confidence and indeed, his career.
Most remarkable though, is how systematic Beasley's story is of the problems facing many American players abroad. Few have enjoyed the success of a Bobby Convey or a Jay DeMerit (or early in their careers, Kasey Keller and Claudio Reyna). Both Bobby and Jay had something to prove in England, whereas coddled players like Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley have struggled when things got tough. To his credit, DaMarcus has stuck it out and wants desperately to turn his European career around. Landon infamously fled back to the safe confines of MLS. Either way, Europe is a dangerous place for American players, and only those with the strongest wills survive. It's heartening to see a player like Tim Howard fight it out at Manchester United and when things didn't work out, he secured a loan to Everton.
Now more than ever are many of America's most talented young players choosing to play abroad. Benny Feilhaber and Preston Zimmerman are fighting for first team time with Hamburg, and Benny recently was placed on Hamburg's Champions League roster as a reward for his consistently good second-team play. These two, along with young men like Michael Bradley, Johann Smith, and Jonathan Spector, fight it out in the reserves for their chance with the first team. Like Bobby, they know that if they keep fighting and keep working hard, their time will come. While we're always impatient for results as fans, maybe just maybe we can be patient and trust that these kids know what they're doing. Lord knows they deserve it.