Monday Postgame: The top five US stars who got away
The MLS trade season has started to percolate, but today’s Postgame turns to Europe, where a pair of players with strong US ties made interesting news this past weekend.
In the Russian Premier League, MLS alum Yura Movsisyan completed a $9.7 million move from FC Krasnodar to Spartak Moscow, while in the Bundesliga, former St. Louis University striker Vedad Ibisevic scored all three goals for Stuttgart in a 3-1 win over Schalke 04.
Movsisyan’s transfer fee is the second-highest total ever paid for an MLS alum (trailing only Jozy Altidore’s $10 million move to Villarreal in 2008), and Ibisevic’s hat-trick lifted the former Billiken forward into a tie for the Bundesliga goalscoring lead (while also moving Stuttgart to fifth place in the league).
Both of these players could have played for the US had the naturalization process been a little less cumbersome (Movsisyan, despite marrying an American, is still more than a year from citizenship, while Ibisevic remains years away). So where do they rank on the Postgame’s list of players who got away?
Here are the ones that hurt US fans the most:
5. Andy Najar, 19, defender-midfielder, D.C. United
Opted to play for: Honduras
US connection: Najar moved from Choluteca, Honduras, to the US at age 13, and attended Edison High School in Alexandria, Va. He joined the D.C. United Academy in 2008, and was named to the USSF Development Academy Starting XI in 2009. After debuting for D.C.’s first team in March 2010, he sparkled in MLS, winning the 2010 Rookie of the Year award.
What happened? When he made his choice in April 2011, Najar suggested it was his intention from the start to play for his birth country. So maybe the US never had a chance to land him, no matter what they did. But then again…
Close-but-no-cigar sound bite: “We won’t say there was never a time when we didn’t think to explore the US option,” Najar’s agent, Chris Megaloudis, told ESPN in 2011. “But his heart was always in playing for Honduras. It’s the right fit.”
Pain chart: 5. Najar is a promising talent produced in part by an MLS youth program, but he never said he wanted to play for the US.
4. Yura Movsisyan, 25, striker, Spartak Moscow
Opted to play for: Armenia
US connection: Born to Armenian parents in Azerbaijan, Movsisyan landed in Southern California at age 12, and went on to star at Pasadena High School and Pasadena City College, where he was spotted by MLS scouts. He broke out for Real Salt Lake in the second half of ’07, scoring seven goals in the club’s final 11 games. Finished with eight goals and two assists in 19 starts during RSL’s 2009 championship season (right).
What happened? Movsisyan — who scored 23 goals in 50 appearances for Krasnodar — said he wanted to play for the US, but he moved to Europe before his citizenship process was complete. When the Armenian federation approached him in the summer of 2010, he accepted their invitation.
Close-but-no-cigar sound bite: Yovsisyan told ESPN Los Angeles that he hoped to “make the US national team. That’s my dream, that I can play for the US national team, go to the World Cup, and show my appreciation” for the country that accepted his family when they fled persecution in Azerbaijan in the 1990s.
Pain chart: 7. The US needs goalscorers. Movsisyan has blossomed into an international-caliber one — and he publicly stated a desire to wear the US shirt.
3. Giuseppe Rossi, 25, striker, Villarreal
Opted to play for: Italy
US connection: Born in Teaneck and raised in Clifton, N.J., Rossi attended one U.S. U-14 camp (alongside Freddy Adu and Michael Bradley). But that was on a return trip from Italy, where he had already moved to join Parma’s youth system.
What happened? Even though he was born in New Jersey — and even though his father attended both high school and college in the US, and coached at Clifton High School for 23 years — Rossi stated early on that his goal was to play for Italy. He turned down invites from both Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley.
Close-but-no-cigar sound bite: “How can I explain it?” Rossi said to Bob Bradley’s brother Jeff in 2010. “Off the field, I’ve always felt American. On the field, I’ve always felt Italian.”
Pain chart 8: Rossi was clear about his preference from the start, but he has the deepest US roots of anyone in the group. And, provided he can rally from a second ACL injury, he’s a damn good striker.
2. Neven Subotic, 23, defender, Borussia Dortmund
Opted to play for: Serbia
US connection: Spotted kicking a ball around in a park in Bradenton, Fla., Subotic was offered a tryout with the US U-17 national team, stationed nearby. He made the cut, and ended up appearing 12 times for the American U-17 and U-20 sides.
What happened?: In his most recent comments on the topic, Subotic cited a respect for his heritage as the main reason for his decision, but in 2007, he was undoubtedly miffed about being cut from the US U-20 World Cup team by Thomas Rongen. He announced his decision to play for Serbia at the senior level the following year.
Close-but-no-cigar soundbite: “I’ve worn the US crest. If you wear it once, you’re not going to wear another.”
Pain chart: 9. By all accounts, Subotic, a starting center back for two-time defending Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund, was thoroughly devoted to the US as a youth international. See quote above.
1. Vedad Ibisevic, 28, striker, VfB Stuttgart
Opted to play for: Bosnia and Herzegovina
US connection: Ibisevic went to Roosevelt High School in St. Louis and was a first-team All-American and Soccer America’s Freshman of the Year at St. Louis University in 2003, when he racked up 18 goals and four assists in 22 games. He played for the Chicago Fire’s PDL team in 2004 before signing a contract with Paris Saint-Germain. Still has family and friends in St. Louis, where he returns regularly.
What happened?: Apparently, the top freshman in the country, a first-team All-American who scored 18 goals in 2003, slipped through the cracks. He was not approached by a USSF official until 2007.
Close-but-no-cigar sound bite: “I never had people coming to me to ask. At the time, I would have considered it,” Ibisevic told The New York Times. “I really liked the whole situation with St. Louis, and probably if someone would have approached me I probably would have played for the US national team.”
The reality, though, is that the citizenship process post-9/11 is so lengthy, that even if he'd been approached back in 2003, there's a good chance he'd still be mired in red tape.
Pain chart: 9.5. He’s the co-leading scorer in the Bundesliga — which has three teams in the knockout round of this season’s Champions League — and there was a time when he would have committed to the US. Ouch.