As Youri Djorkaeff, Major League Soccer's biggest offseason acquisition, gets ready to make his first appearance with the MetroStars at Giants Stadium this weekend against the Kansas City Wizards, the only question remaining is where head coach Bob Bradley will use him on the field.
Bradley could slot the French World Cup winner next to John Wolyniec at forward, or he could move him into the midfield space created when Eddie Gaven went on the injured list following hand surgery. Either way, Djorkaeff is almost certain to be a key component of an offense in need of a spark.
"He's very good with the ball, and he finds good spots on the field. He's not a pure striker, and he's not a pure midfielder. He's an attacker," Bradley said of Djorkaeff.
There can be no doubt that Djorkaeff is an attacker, as his amazing numbers can attest: 28 goals for the French national team. Twenty-five goals in 35 league games for Strasbourg in France. Sixty goals and a French league scoring title with Monaco. Thirty goals for Inter Milan in Serie A. And 185 total goals in league play.
But Djorkaeff sees his role as much as a set-up man as a finisher.
"I play close to the striker, because my best area is close to the goal where I can play the right ball for another player," Djorkaeff said. "What I can be sure is that I will be more an offensive player than a defensive one."
Following a month-long layoff following a leg injury, Djorkaeff is eager to make his MLS debut with the MetroStars.
"After weeks of running and not touching the ball, I am very happy to be back on the field with all the players," Djorkaeff said after a full training session at the Meadowlands on Thursday. "My hope is that Saturday, if I start the game, I will have some fun, and make a contribution to help win the game."
Other big-name players have come and gone from the MetroStars, some with resumes that rival Djorkaeff's in prestige, but none have been able to recapture the glory that made them famous. Although aware that he will be compared to those before him, he is nonplussed by the attention.
"No, I don't feel the pressure (to be better than past foreign imports), because to come here was my wish. And when you arrive with this kind of mentality, you want to give everything to the club," said Djorkaeff. "I'm ready for that. I'm here to do the best job I can possibly do. I'm not feeling that I must be better than anybody else, I'm just here to win games."
Making the transition from the English Premier League to MLS can be a jarring experience, both in terms of culture and the play on the field, but Djorkaeff looks forward to the task of bringing his darting, penetrating style of play to the U.S.
"I'm not here just to play a role, I'm here to play my game, and my game is the game I used to play in Italy, France and England. I'm not changing my game here," Djorkaeff said.
About the competitive level of play in MLS, Djorkaeff was equally complimentary: "I feel that there is no one big team or one small team in MLS right now. Anything can happen in a game. In Italy, when a big team plays a small team, you know who will win. Here it's different. The game is open, and the whole time you play anyone can win. Here the game is more attractive, maybe even more than some times in Europe."
And from the little Djorkaeff has seen of the training practices in MLS, he still has no trouble favorably comparing the league to some of the better known leagues in Europe.
"The fitness preparation, the hours we work everyday, this is like we prepare in Europe. Everything we've done is like I experienced in Italy or France or England," he said.
Where Djorkaeff lines up Saturday, and whether he starts or comes off the bench is up to Bradley. But the latest import to take the field for the MetroStars is ready for the challenge of life in Major League Soccer, and eager to lend his attacking nature to help the team win some games.
Rich Schneider is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.