Home, sweet home: 5 Americans abroad who should pursue MLS moves
While many players in the U.S. men’s national team pool could benefit from a jump to Europe in order to push themselves to another level, there are players, too, who would benefit from a move to MLS.
For some, it’s a matter of consistent minutes. For others, it’s about taking on a leadership role that might elevate them in the eyes of national team coach Bruce Arena. Just two years out from the 2018 World Cup, players are looking for ways to break into the U.S. pool so they have a shot to be on the plane to Russia (provided the Americans qualify, of course).
Here’s a look at five players that might benefit from a move to MLS:
Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough); No. 20 on our USMNT Top 50
It’s a foregone conclusion that Guzan is headed back stateside to Atlanta United. The deal has been widely reported, including here at FourFourTwo. But it’d be silly to make this list without mentioning Guzan, who likely has the most to gain by leaving England and returning to MLS.
The goalkeeper has struggled to find consistent playing time this season with Middlesbrough, and it’s a bad time to be on the outs with his club. Tim Howard is out with an adductor injury that required surgery, leaving his status in doubt for World Cup qualifiers in March. Guzan would be the natural replacement, and this could also be seen as a window for him to grab hold of the No. 1 spot with the United States. But without steady playing time, Bruce Arena may look elsewhere in the player pool for a new goalkeeper.
Guzan will have to take a decent pay cut to return to the U.S., but he’s doing so because he knows it will give him the best chance to start in the World Cup in 2018.
Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest); No. 35 on our USMNT Top 50
The past three and a half seasons have looked like this for Lichaj, a left back with Chicago roots: 1883 minutes, 3260 minutes, 3857 minutes, 1676 minutes. The defender wouldn’t be returning stateside due to lack of playing time for Nottingham Forest in the English Championship.
Rather, despite those consistent minutes for Forest, Lichaj has somehow remained on the outside looking in at one of the biggest need positions for the U.S. men’s national team. It doesn’t make much sense. Lichaj is still on the right side of 30, and he’s proven capable of holding down a starting job in one of the more physical leagues in the world. But a move home might be the thing that gets him back on the radar with his national team, for which he’s played just 54 minutes since 2011.
Why would it necessitate a move to MLS, a league some might argue is at the same level as the Championship? Lichaj no doubt would become one of the top fullbacks in the league, and that day-in, day-out steadiness at home might catch Arena’s eye more than his grind in England. Lichaj would be a costly addition for any MLS team, but it could be a move that jump-starts his international career.
Tim Ream (Fulham); No. 44 on our USMNT Top 50
There are few center backs in the U.S. pool who like to play with the ball at their feet as much as Ream, who nonetheless has fallen down the depth chart at a position of strength for the U.S. national team.
Ream has played steady minutes in the English Championship over the past six seasons, including 10 games for Fulham this year, but a move to MLS might elevate his standing in a pool that also includes Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Matt Besler, Steve Birnbaum and Omar Gonzalez.
Ream, 29, who has been rumored to have an interest in returning to the U.S., would likely be thrust into a leadership role if he returned to MLS. He would also be seen consistently by U.S. fans and coaches, something that just doesn’t happen toiling in the English Championship. With two years to go before the World Cup, Ream has very little time to break through a crowded pool of players. Coming home and establishing himself as one of the top defenders in MLS may be enough to elevate him above others in the pecking order.
Matt Miazga (Chelsea/Vitesse); No. 48 on our USMNT Top 50
Miazga was sold to Chelsea in a move that was surrounded by shadiness, a fact reinforced by recent reports in England about the practices of the agent who represented him. It hasn’t been the best jump for the New York Red Bulls’ homegrown product.
The 21-year-old Miazga made two appearances with Chelsea in 2015-16 before being shipped to Vitesse on loan this season. He’s managed seven league appearances with the Dutch side and recently scored his first goal in a cup competition, but Miazga has also made four appearances with Vitesse II in the third division.
Miazga needs consistent minutes. Whether that comes with another loan move in Europe or a return to the U.S., where he would undoubtedly plug and play for any team in MLS, doesn’t matter. He’s at a key point in his development as a defender, and toiling on the bench or in the Netherlands won’t help push him forward as a pro.
Emerson Hyndman (Bournemouth); No. 49 on our USMNT Top 50
The Dallas-born Hyndman, grandson of former SMU and FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman, has spent the entirety of his professional career in England.
The problem for the 20-year-old midfielder, however, is that his third professional season has been a bust. Hyndman was a steady presence in midfield for Fulham in the English Championship the past two seasons, playing in 16 games last season. But he left Fulham for Premier League-bound Bournemouth this year, and he’s failed to see the field this season for the Cherries.
Hyndman’s last playing time on the club level was a 31-minute appearance in a League Cup game in September. He has failed to even make the bench for the Premier League side this season. It’s not a sustainable path to development for Hyndman, who needs consistent playing time at such a young age, especially if he wants to break through with the national team. Jurgen Klinsmann hinted as much in his final months as U.S. coach, and a move to MLS might be the spark that gets Hyndman back on the field – even if it’s just a loan spell to get him minutes.
Paul Tenorio is a reporter for FourFourTwo. He works as a freelance reporter on Fire home TV broadcasts. Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulTenorio.