Connolly: Cold days, hot topics

Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley - do their thing for their new club teams in Europe.

Even though both players sat on the substitutes bench at the start of the match and did not come on until after halftime, the events that transpired yesterday should not be lost on anyone. We have seen U.S. players take part in Champions League matches before. Claudio Reyna has played in more than a dozen of these, and others such as Tim Howard, Frankie Hejduk, Jovan Kirovski, John O'Brien and Tony Sanneh have taken part in recent years. O'Brien even played in the quarterfinal stage with Ajax back in 2003. And Kirovski has a Champions League medal from 1997 when he was with Borussia Dortmund, although he did not see time in the later stages of the tournament.

This was different. Donovan and Beasley are both only 22 years old. To be able to put the Champions League mention on your resumé at that age to go with a World Cup quarterfinal showing is in line with the top players in the world. The fact that both are less than eight months removed from playing in MLS might even be a bigger story. For a league that is quickly establishing a reputation around the world, this had to be one of its proudest moments to date.

Now that Donovan and Beasley have found a home overseas, the challenge for MLS is to find new poster boys, which leads us to ...

Topic No. 2: EJ

If MLS were to use one highlight to show how one of its young players is developing, it would have to show Eddie Johnson's header against Trinidad & Tobago two weeks ago.

He made a perfectly-timed run that was angled correctly to open up space for himself before launching his frame several feet into the air to strike a Steve Cherundolo serve with pace and with the accuracy of a marksman into the corner of the net.

That's it, right there. No other highlights are needed to show what type of scorer EJ is developing into. Scoring goalscorer's goals like that to add to his lightning speed and ability to hold off physical defenders is the type of thing that gets noticed all around the world, which is happening, by the way.

At a time when MLS needs the next generation of twentysomethings to capture the imagination of the soccer public now that Donovan, Beasley and Tim Howard are gone, EJ is the perfect medicine.

Topic No. 3: Youri

I knew that Youri Djorkaeff would likely come to MLS for about two months, but was unable to write about it. It happens now and then, and is part of being a journalist. Some things you spill. Others you don't. I tell you this because I've had a long time to analyze what he'll mean to the MetroStars. And, I must say, at no time did I think about some of the criticism I've heard and read over the past week.

For starters, there's the age question. Yeah, there's no getting around the fact that Djorkaeff will be 37 during the upcoming season. If the league was giving the Frenchman Freddy Adu money or bringing him in as the poster boy for the league for name recognition, it'd be one thing. But that's hardly the case. In reality, he's coming into a situation where his team is in desperate need of veteran leadership and a stabilizing figure.

Age wasn't a factor with Lothar Matthaus, who signed with the league at the age of 39. There haven't been as many physical specimens to grace the world of soccer like Matthaus. That was the case when he was in New York, as well. Even pushing 40, the German libero was in perfect shape with miniscule traces of body fat. Unfortunately, he also had miniscule traces of respect for the league, his team, and the players around him. That was the problem. Not his age.

When it comes to age, you have to go by position. The last thing you want is an outside midfielder in his late 30s. You wouldn't want your marking backs pushing middle age either. But for a guy like Djorkaeff, it doesn't matter as much. Think Preki and Valderrama for a minute. It was more about their unique set of skills and ability to change the match with a knifing ball through to a forward or, in Preki's case, a swerving shot with his left foot than it was their ability to cover ground and run stride for stride with men nearly half their age.

That'll be the case with Djorkaeff. He'll be playing a midfield that has two attacking midfielders with two holding players behind. It won't be the case of he and Amado Guevara getting in each other's way or having to sacrifice for the good of the team, as I've read in other publications.

What Djorkaeff's presence will do is allow Guevara to play in a more holding role as the link between the offense and the defense next to Gilberto Flores rather than beside him as a dual attacker. That role will be played by Gaven. In reality, Guevara's natural position is in a deeper-lying place in the midfield rather than behind the strikers. With Djorkaeff in town, he'll be able to play there without watching the offense suffer, which would have been the case last season if he played there full time.

Those in Chicago might be able to figure out what Bob Bradley is trying to do with this signing. In essence, he's looking for a combination like he had with Jerzy Podbrozny and Peter Nowak and then later with Nowak and Dema Kovalenko.

Djorkaeff will be coming in with a salary far less than what Daryl Powell and Hong Myung-Bo received in recent years. And far less than what Sergio Galvan Rey is receiving. Without getting into numbers, Djorkaeff will be compensated along the same lines as a Steve Ralston, a Jeff Cunningham and a Dema Kovalenko.

Not bad for a proven winner.

Let's see what type of juice he has left before anyone else pulls out the roll call for some of the league's big-name signings gone bad in years past.

Marc Connolly writes for ESPN.com and several other publications. This column runs each Wednesday on MLSnet.com and Marc can be reached at marc@oakwoodsoccer.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs


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