What's up with all the star players going to China? How excited should U.S. fans be about Christian Pulisic? Grant Wahl answers your questions in his latest mailbag.
There is plenty going on in Planet Fútbol these days. You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers.
Let’s open the ‘Bag:
How does new competition from China and Qatar/UAE for end-of/past prime European-based players impact team-building in MLS?
Well, the big news right now is that Chinese teams are spending crazy money to buy in-their-prime players from European clubs.
Gervinho, Jackson Martínez, Fredy Guarin, Ramires and Fredy Montero are just a few of the names who’ve moved to Chinese teams in this transfer window, and the reason is pretty simple: China is willing to pay way above market value for these players—a degree of magnitude more than MLS paid above-market prices for the likes of Sebastian Giovinco, Giovani Dos Santos, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey.
Is China’s spending spree a problem for MLS? I’m not so sure. It’s not like MLS teams were in the market for any of the four players above who signed in China. That said, it is a bummer when a player like Xavi chooses to sign in Qatar over NYCFC, and there likely will be more cases like that going forward.
I’m intrigued to see where the Chinese clubs go from here. Do they continue breaking the bank? Bigger domestic TV money and super wealthy owners are causing more Chinese teams than ever to spend, and not just the teams that you’ve heard of before like Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai Shenhua. I can’t say I thought much about Jiangsu Suning before, but when you sign Ramires from Chelsea I’ll pay some attention.
Who is the best MLS player (any country) who has never been capped?
Good question, Mike. On the face of it, you’d think the profile for such a player would require that he be from one of the world’s big soccer countries and simply never got a crack at a cap. And you’d be right! My choice would be Salt Lake’s Javier Morales of Argentina, who’s No. 12 all-time in MLS for career assists with 77. His countryman Fabián Espíndola of D.C. United would be No. 2 for me, followed by Salt Lake’s Jámison Olave of Colombia and Frenchman Sebastién Le Toux of Philadelphia. Four players who’ve been terrific in MLS without ever getting a national team cap. (And by the way, three of them were first signed in MLS by Jason Kreis and Garth Lagerwey when they were at Salt Lake.)
One thing that’s kind of surprising to me: Brazil, the world’s greatest exporter of soccer talent, doesn’t have a player in my top four here. Brazilians just haven’t had a big impact in MLS over the years. The best performance by a Brazilian in MLS is probably by Luciano Emilio, who was the league MVP with D.C. United in 2007, but he tailed off after scoring 20 goals in ’07.
How excited should Americans be about Christian Pulisic potentially getting time at Dortmund?
What differences do you see between Pulisic and past "future saviors" that should make us more optimistic about his future?
We all know the U.S. has a history of over-hyping promising young soccer players, but it’s still noteworthy that Pulisic, 17, became the eighth-youngest player in the history of the Bundesliga when he made his debut for Dortmund last Saturday. I sat down with Pulisic in Dortmund this week for this week’s Planet Fútbol podcast, and he’s an impressive, focused young man who seems to have things in perspective. Dortmund certainly thinks he’s promising. He’s playing wide midfield right now, but Pulisic is capable of playing in any of the three attacking midfield spots in a 4-2-3-1.
Language-wise, I think we’re better off never using the term "savior" to describe any American soccer player. For starters, U.S. soccer doesn’t need saving, and if you understand the game you know that success will never rest on the shoulders of one person. Is Pulisic’s rise at Dortmund a story? Yes, of course. He’s off to a promising start, and it’ll be fun to watch his development. But he’s still just 17, and he knows he has a long way to go.
How big of an impact do you think Pep Guardiola’s arrival to the Premier League is?
It’s enormous. I took a tour of the sprawling Manchester City training ground and academy last week, and the closest thing I’ve seen to it in soccer is the Aspire academy in Qatar. But it’s one thing to have the infrastructure in place, which City does, and another to have the human software. And Guardiola is the best human software available in the sport when it comes to managers.
From an entertainment perspective, the Premier League has recently added some of the world’s best coaches (including Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp), and I can’t wait to see what they bring to the league once they have the players they want. For Man City, hiring Pep is taking the next step—which is to say, now it’s about winning not just the Premier League but the Champions League.
Do we see a Lee Nguyen-Darlington Nagbe pairing on Friday against Canada? Who gets the start if not? Nagbe or Nguyen?
I doubt we’ll see both Nguyen and Nagbe in the starting lineup together, even after both had promising performances against Iceland. My guess is Nagbe would have a better chance to start on Friday if he hadn’t arrived to camp a bit later than his teammates after his wife had recently given birth. But I expect that Nguyen will get another start from Jurgen Klinsmann. My only hope is that we get a good game. U.S. friendlies against Canada have been pretty uninspiring over the years.
Do you think Heather O'Reilly can/has a good chance to make the Olympic roster?
O'Reilly was left off the U.S. squad for the Olympic qualifying tournament that starts next week. Can O’Reilly get back on the team for the Olympics? Sure. But it won’t be easy, not least because there are only 18 spots on the Olympic roster.
My sense is O’Reilly will have to completely tear it up in the NWSL and/or have some spots open up on the U.S. roster due to injuries. Knowing O’Reilly’s work ethic, you can be certain that she’ll do everything she can to make the choice hard for coach Jill Ellis.