There were enough players leaving their comfort zones and logging new experiences this week that it could have been produced by the Travel Channel. The end of January was all about players going places—both literally and figuratively—and charting new territory.
Two US national team stars squared off against a third in the FA Cup, a young American made the counterintuitive choice of Bolton over Tahiti and an MLS-heavy US "B" team traveled to Panama for the first international friendly between the two sides ever held in that nation.
There were also a number of foreign players from unexpected places headed toward MLS, and even the All-Star Game was on the move, bound for a new city in 2012.
Update your passports for a quick trek back through it all.
America Day in the FA Cup
You may have—just maybe—read about it on MLSsoccer.com last week, but LA Galaxy attacker Landon Donovan and former New England Revolution midfielder Clint Dempsey met in a fourth-round FA Cup match at Goodison Park this past Friday.
It was the first time they’d played against each other since 2006, and the matchup was so hotly anticipated that former MetroStars goalkeeper Tim Howard’s presence in the game was mentioned as an afterthought, when it was mentioned at all.
As it happened, Donovan turned both Dempsey and Howard into afterthoughts with a man-of-the-match performance. The 29-year-old winger set up both of Everton’s goals in a 2-1 win, and nearly added one of his own with a thumping 25-yard strike that tested Fulham 'keeper David Stockdale.
(American defenders Jonathan Spector and Zak Whitbread also advanced to the fifth round of the tournament, with Birmingham and Norwich, respectively.)
While established US national team players made headlines abroad for the second consecutive week, some less experienced players took another shot at jumpstarting their US careers during a friendly in Panama City last Wednesday.
But after a solid opening 20 minutes—and Sporting Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi’s first international goal—the young Yanks lost their way and had to lean heavily on Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando to maintain their 1-0 lead at halftime.
When defender Geoff Cameron was shown a debatable straight red after contact with Panama striker Blas Pérez at the top of the box in the 51st minute, the US faced a real test: Could they hold onto their slim advantage playing a man down for 39 minutes in Central America?
The answer, it turned out, was yes, as coach Jurgen Klinsmann made some adjustments and the players focused on possession to see out a 1-0 victory. It wasn’t pretty, but it served as a useful lesson for CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, which starts in June.
New Faces, New Places
After the final whistle blew on Wednesday, three Panamanians trailed the US team back to North America as Pérez, midfielder Gabriel Gómez and defender Carlos Rodríguez, all of whom recently signed with MLS, got set to join their new teams.
Pérez and Rodríguez were both bound for FC Dallas, while Gómez headed off to the Philadelphia Union.
While those teams opened the spigot on Panamanian talent, San Jose turned to a country that has never been represented in MLS before. The Quakes signed 31-year-old striker Sercan Güvenisik of Turkey, who said he hoped his signing would “put more Turkish eyes” on MLS.
Colombia is a nation with many eyes on MLS, thanks to the recent influx of Cafeteros in the league. But one of the recent imports hit a snag this week as Portland’s 20-year-old striker and young Designated Player, José Adolfo Valencia, was held out of training for a fifth consecutive day with an unspecified medical issue. Stay tuned to that development.
Bolting to Bolton
MLS and US fans will also want to tune in for the next phase of former Red Bull defender Tim Ream’s career. The 24-year-old St. Louis native signed a contract with Premier League side Bolton Wanderers, postponing his honeymoon to Tahiti to join the club and continue a remarkable ascent from his status as an unheralded second-round draft pick in 2010. (His wife’s reaction to the change of plans? Decidedly mixed.)
Bolton nearly snatched up another MLS talent this past week, bringing Philadelphia attacker Sébastien Le Toux over for a weeklong trial. But according to a report on UK site sportinglife.com last Friday, the French striker did not do enough to earn an offer.
Party at PPL
If Le Toux does return to Philadelphia, he’ll have an opportunity to play in the MLS All-Star Game in his home stadium. On Tuesday, the league announced that its 2012 midseason showcase would take place at the Union’s PPL Park on July 25 against a yet-to-be-determined international opponent.
The announcement came at a City Hall ceremony attended by MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz and Michael Nutter, who, despite his surname, is not a charter member of the Sons of Ben, but the mayor of Philadelphia.