Editorial: American internationals who should consider coming to MLS

USMNT Fabian Johnson MLS
MÖNCHENGLADBACH, GERMANY — AUGUST 17: Fabian Johnson of Borussia Monchengladbach during the German Bundesliga match between Borussia Monchengladbach v Schalke 04 at the Borussia Park on August 17, 2019 in Monchengladbach Germany (Photo by Angelo Blankespoor/Soccrates/Getty Images).

Editorial — It takes hard work, dedication and plenty of great performances to be called into any national team. The basis of selection to represent your country shouldn’t be on past performances or name. Instead, programs are quickly realizing performances for club are just as important for success internationally. That goes for MLS and all levels.

The U.S. Men’s National Team has a lot of talent at home and abroad. There is usually an even mix when rosters are put together. During the days of Jürgen Klinsmann, athletes that were born to one American parent and one German parent were representing the U.S.

More and more players that have started their career in the United States are heading over to Europe, too.

Christian Pulisic left his home state of Pennsylvania to sign with Borussia Dortmund. DeAndre Yedlin boarded a plane to England in 2015. Tim Ream spent the first two seasons of his career in MLS and then headed to England to feature for Bolton and now Fulham.

The list goes on and on.

However, there are also some players that have relished in going overseas or out of the country, but have returned home. Omar Gonzalez signed with Toronto FC after spending time in Mexico with Pachuca and Atlas. USMNT goalkeeper Brad Guzan spent eight years in the Premier League with Aston Villa. Michael Bradley rounded out his European career in Italy with Roma.

In this column, we’ll take a look at three players who are currently featuring on teams in Europe who should consider a move to MLS.

1. Fabian Johnson

There was a time when Fabian Johnson was on top of the world in U.S. Soccer. The son of a German mother and American father, Johnson has spent his entire career in Europe. He got his start on the national team under Klinsmann, making him one of the first slew of players to transition from Germany to the U.S. — internationally.

His international career flourished with versatility. Johnson was originally listed as a midfielder. Then, depletion at the right back spot saw him in the role. He featured as the team’s starting right back in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Johnson has also featured as a left back, too.

He’s versatile for club, too.

Johnson saw his best Bundesliga season occur in 2015-16. He’s been with Borussia Mönchengladbach for the last five seasons, but his second season saw 26 appearances and six goals. He also scored twice in Champions League play. Johnson was primarily a starter. However, injuries have plagued the 31-year-old for some time now. He’s been in and out of Gladbach’s match day squad.

This season, Johnson has 19 appearances and only one goal. After featuring as a midfielder during his early days in Mönchengladbach, Marco Rose uses him on defense.

Johnson almost ended up in Cincinnati. The first-year MLS club attempted to sign Johnson while they were still in the USL. However, due to MLS rules, the move was not permitted. He has never commented on the possible move.

Turning 32 in just a few days, Johnson still has a lot left to give. When he’s injured, Gladbach loses out on a special player that can still make good runs and passes. He’s versatile on the pitch and can play multiple positions. Teams could use a veteran presence like Johnson, too, as he featured for some top Bundesliga clubs.

Possible MLS landing spots for Fabian Johnson
  • Seattle Sounders: With Brad Smith going back to Bournemouth, having Johnson fill in the left back role could be crucial. Right now, Seattle only has one veteran defender returning: right back Kelvin Leerdam. Having another veteran on the defense is key.
  • Toronto FC: Imagine having Johnson partner up with his former USMNT pals Gonzalez, Bradley and Jozy Altidore? Just think about how that midfield could work. It’s like a dream pairing.
  • Inter Miami: Johnson has talked about his love for Miami before. In an interview back in 2012, Johnson talked about taking family vacations to New York City and Miami. A new club needs leadership. Right now, Miami has a defense that includes A.J. DeLaGarza.

2. Bobby Wood

Another player that has spent his entire career in Germany, Bobby Wood took a hard fall from grace on the national team. His performances in the Bundesliga haven’t been up to pa and was part of the Hamburg team that dropped down to the 2. Bundesliga.

To avoid going down in Germany, Wood went on loan to Hannover 96.

However, the move didn’t help Wood. Instead, he scored only three goals in 20 matches. This season, back with Hamburg, Wood has not scored in his six appearances. It’s a lull that the former 1860 Munich player hasn’t found his way out of.

Wood would be the perfect candidate to come to MLS. He’s not an older guy, as he’s still in his mid-20s. Wood is a great attacking presence and has proven before that he can find the back of the net. For the national team, Wood compiled 13 goals in 45 matches. He’s another player that was recruited and brought in by Klinsmann.

A native of Honolulu, Hawaii, Wood was not called up to the national team in 2019. However, if he finds his groove with an MLS club, Gregg Berhalter would have no choice but to turn his eyes toward the 27-year-old. Wood is not a striker talent like Altidore or Clint Dempsey. He’s a smaller guy. When push comes to shove, Wood need a kick to get him back to greatness.

Possible MLS landing spots for Bobby Wood
  • LAFC: You might call me crazy on this one, but I have a theory. We all know that Carlos Vela can score, and keeping hold of Eduard Atuesta helps LAFC. However, all of the pressure can’t just be put on Vela. He needs some help. He didn’t get that with Christian Ramirez. But, Bobby Wood could be the partner Vela can find more success with. Also, Bob Bradley is an excellent coach and his trainings are intense. That’s exactly what Wood needs.
  • Orlando City SC: Let’s cut to the chase here. The Dom Dwyer experiment isn’t working out the way Orlando hoped for. Now, with a new head coach in Óscar Pareja, the team could benefit from having a few fresh faces around. Heck, you don’t even have to bench Dwyer. Use a 4-4-2 formation and have Wood and Dwyer hang out up top, feeding off each other.
  • FC Cincinnati: Wood isn’t going to be the savior in Cincinnati, but he can sure help improve the team. Darren Mattocks is a good striker, but he can’t do the work on his own. Newsflash to MLS teams — the lone striker formation doesn’t always work. Cincinnati needs to bolster their attack after taking last place in the East.

3. Aron Jóhannsson 

Take everything back that I wrote about Johnson’s injury troubles. Nobody has been cursed more with injuries than Aron Jóhannsson. This American striker isn’t a household name, but was on the 2014 World Cup team. He was primarily Altidore’s backup, and got minutes when the Haitian-American hurt his hamstring.

However, Jóhannsson hasn’t been so lucky with injuries either.

Raised in Iceland, Jóhannsson was born in Mobile, Alabama, where his parents met. He started his career in Iceland before making his way to Denmark in 2010. Jóhannsson moved once again to the Netherlands in 2012, featuring for AZ Alkmaar. He featured with Altidore in the Netherlands, too.

A page finally seemed to turn when he signed with Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga. However, due to more injuries, Jóhannsson only made 28 appearances and scored four goals during four seasons. Jóhannsson left Germany this past season and made his way to Sweden. He has 10 appearances for Hammarby IF, but has yet to find the back of the net.

Jóhannsson is another younger American. He’s 29-years-old and seems to have his injuries on track. With Jóhannsson it’s like spinning a wheel and seeing what you land on. When he is consistent, Jóhannsson is off the charts. However, he hasn’t been able to reach his full potential in the last few years because of injuries.

During his national team time, Jóhannsson scored four goals in 19 appearances. He’s also another player that was linked to MLS, specifically the Seattle Sounders.

Possible MLS landing spots for Aron Jóhannsson
  • Vancouver Whitecaps: Vancouver is a melting pot of international players. Ali Adnan is from Iraq, Theo Bair is from Canada and In-beom Hwang is from South Korea. That’s just a few players, but you should get the notion. Having Jóhannsson in the mix could give some depth in the attack. Jóhannsson isn’t a guy you have to start right away. Let him get in the mix and get comfortable, first.
  • San Jose Earthquakes: Settle down, settle down, Chris Wondolowski isn’t going anywhere. But, he’s another one of those players that can’t play Superman all the time and do everything on his own. “Wondo” could use a young guy like Jóhannsson to also get on the scoreboard or help create diversion.
  • Montreal Impact: Jóhannsson and Thierry Henry. Should we even say more? A former striker himself, Henry could just be what Jóhannsson needs to get back on the right page and get consistency under his belt.

 

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