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MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER

December 9, 2016
MLS INFORMER
Safe to return?

By Brian Trusdell
Soccer News Net Contributor

Beating hasty retreat?
With Jurgen Klinsmann no longer making player selections for the U.S. national team, maybe Brad Guzan feels it’s safe to return to Major League Soccer. One report quoting anonymous sources said the backup U.S. national team goalkeeper is “exploring a potential return.”

He certainly wouldn’t be the first player, or even the first goalkeeper. Tim Howard moved from Everton to the Colorado Rapids in July after 13 years in the English Premier League, and Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley came back after six years or more each in Europe. And they’re just a few of the latest group of high-profile Americans to return.

But after Altidore, Dempsey and Bradley showed up in MLS, Klinsmann let it be publicly known he was not pleased, saying (not insinuating) that Europe was far superior to MLS.

Of course, Altidore was struggling for playing time at Sunderland; Bradley likewise wasn’t getting much playing time at Roma; and Howard – who before the 2014 World Cup discounted a return to MLS -- had lost his starting job at Everton.

Guzan is in the same spot now as Howard was nearing a year ago. He has only played in two Premier League games this season since his summer transfer to Middlesbrough.

But a repatriation will have to go through Atlanta. The 32-year-old Guzan, who played for ill-fated Chivas USA for four years before moving to Aston Villa in 2008, will have to go through MLS’ allocation process. As one of two expansion clubs, Atlanta will sit atop the allocation order with Minnesota second.

Other reports have Atlanta looking to acquire goalkeeper Sean Johnson from Chicago. And the anonymous source says Guzan would be a “non-designated player deal”. At least with Bruce Arena in charge he won’t have to hear about the necessity to remain in Europe.

Crowded space
If Guzan does come back to MLS, it seems unlikely Atlanta would pass up on a high-profile U.S. national team member, if for trade purposes only. But it would leave him in a crowded locker room.

Besides trading with Chicago for the seven-year veteran Sean Johnson, 27, which reports say is a done deal and only waiting until the trading window opens on Sunday, Atlanta already has 24-year-old Greek goalkeeper Alexander Tambakis. He was the first player signed by Atlanta nearly 11 months ago.

Tambakis played this past season on loan with Charleston Battery and, among those who played in at least half of his team’s games, finished with the fifth-best goals-against per game average (1.05) and the fifth-best saves percentage.

Tower (Club) of Babel
What makes Guzan a seemingly unlikely pick for Atlanta is the club’s penchant for foreign or “international” figures. Besides Argentine manager Gerardo Martino and Tambakis, the club already has signed forwards Kenwyne Jones of Trinidad and Jeffrey Otoo of Ghana and midfielders Chris McCann of Ireland, Junior Burgos of El Salvador and Hector Villalba of Argentina.

This week the club added Paraguayan midfielder Miguel Almiron as a “young designated player” (as is Villalba). U.S. U-19 national team (and former U.S. U-17) forward Brandon Vasquez was acquired from Tijuana last week.

Of the 10 players on the Atlanta roster, seven are foreign-born. It fits with club owner Arthur Blank’s stated intention “to have a winning team from the get-go” and club president Darren Eales and technical director Carlos Bocanegra’s method of achieving that by having a squad “built around the eight international slots MLS teams start with”, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution in July.

Besides the 18-year-old Vasquez, Atlanta’s other U.S. players are 16-year-olds Chris Goslin and Andrew Carleton.

Apparently, you can build a winning team “from the get-go” around domestic talent.

Encouraging wins
At least Carleton is making his case for the Americans. The native from Powder Springs, Ga., about a half hour northwest from central Atlanta, scored four goals over three games to help the U.S. U-17s to a trio of wins and the Nike International Friendlies crown in Lakewood Ranch, Fla.
The United States beat Portugal, Turkey and Brazil over five days last week for the crown. Carleton had four goals and an assist, Toronto FC’s Ayo Akinola had four goals and three assists and Josh Sargent, who plays for youth amateur club Scott Gallagher Missouri, had four goals and two assists.

Too many to pick from
North American Soccer League clubs Tampa Bay and Carolina may be dropping down to the United Soccer League next season, but that doesn’t mean they intend to stay there. Both clubs joined the MLS expansion lottery this week.

Tampa Bay unveiled a plan that would renovate the 7,500-seat Al Lang Stadium in downtown St. Petersburg with seaside views. Steve Malik, the owner of the Railhawks -- renamed (rebranded in marketing-speak) North Carolina FC, said he would build a 20,000-capacity stadium in or near Raleigh.

That brings to at least 12 cities over the last two years where groups have expressed interest in being awarded an expansion team in MLS’ 25-28 growth spurt.

That doesn’t include Minnesota and Atlanta that will join the league next year, or LAFC – which is scheduled to start in 2018, or even Miami, which still hasn’t been officially awarded the 24th expansion slot. It also doesn’t include the long-ago aborted Cleveland franchise of Bert Wolstein – he of Cleveland Force indoor fame -- or the Las Vegas bid which MLS shot down a few years ago.

It does include (in no particular order): Sacramento, St. Louis, Detroit, Cincinnati, San Antonio, Nashville, Charlotte, San Diego, Louisville, Oklahoma City as well as newcomers Tampa (St. Petersburg) and Raleigh (Carolina FC).

   
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