The summer transfer window in the year before a World Cup is always a tricky one, with players considering not only their club future, but their international future as well.
Realizing that an ill-fated move could potentially cost them a place on a World Cup roster, every player must intently analyze any possible transfer.
With that being said, here are the five most intriguing summer transfer storylines for United States men’s national team players as the summer window approaches.
Omar Gonzalez, the 6’5” L.A. Galaxy and USMNT center-back, has had a whirlwind two years.
After winning MLS Defender of the Year honors in 2011, Gonzalez earned a call-up to the USMNT’s annual January camp. However, before that camp even began, Gonzalez withdrew from the roster to go on loan to Nurnberg in the Bundesliga.
That loan stint didn’t last very long as Gonzalez injured his knee in his first training session in a collision with fellow USMNT defender and Nurnberg player Timmy Chandler.
Out for several months after surgery to repair his ACL, the Galaxy struggled, only winning three of their first 13 games. Gonzalez, however, made a relatively quick comeback, returning to the team in July and helping to lead the Galaxy on an 11-4-3 run and eventually the MLS Cup. In the 2012 MLS Cup final, Gonzalez scored the game-tying goal, starting the Galaxy’s comeback, and was named the MVP of the game.
Since then, Gonzalez has continued to get call-ups for the USMNT and played particularly well in the team’s March World Cup qualifiers.
With his contract with the Galaxy expiring at the end of the season and his value never higher, the Galaxy and Gonzalez have difficult choices lying ahead.
There has been talk of the Galaxy signing Gonzalez to a designated player contract to keep him in MLS, but he may also desire another move abroad. He is only 24 years old and is about to enter the prime of his career. The Galaxy will have to decide whether or not Gonzalez is worth DP money (he is) and Gonzalez himself will have to decide whether he wants to stay in MLS.
From a USMNT fan's perspective, one must wonder how much Gonzalez, if at all, will continue to grow as a player in MLS. However, the past is littered with the careers of American players who made the move abroad and were never able to find consistent playing time—Gonzalez is virtually guaranteed to be a starter if he stays with the Galaxy.
In 2008, Jozy Altidore was sold by Major League Soccer to Spanish side Villarreal for a fee believed to be between $8 to $10 million.
The move never worked out for Altidore as he was loaned out to Xerex, Hull City and Bursaspor before finally being sold outright to AZ Alkmaar in 2011. With Alkmaar, however, Altidore has shone, scoring 19 goals in all competitions in the 2011-12 season and a whopping 30 goals so far in the 2012-13 season.
That goal total has renewed speculation that Altidore will leave for a bigger club in Spain, Germany or England this summer for a speculated fee of around $4 to $5 million.
Altidore’s contract runs through 2015, however, and he may not be so keen to make another move after jumping around Europe for the past five years.
Altidore recently stated in an interview on The Best Soccer Show:
I'm comfortable here (at AZ Alkmaar). I'm happy here. I have a great life here. My family loves it here when they come visit. I'm in no rush to take off from Holland, I'm really enjoying it here. In terms of offers, if that does happen, it just has to be somewhere where it fits and somewhere I can develop and get better. I’m in no rush to jump into something that’s unsure. I think I still have time to keep improving as a player before I have to rush into any transfer. I'm not 18 anymore. I'm not going to just jump at something -- I have experience now I know what I'm looking for in a club, I know what I'm looking for in an environment. If that doesn't feel right, I'm not going to make (a move). I'm not high maintenance; I just want to put myself in the best position, like any other player. I'm going to take my time and not rush into it.
While many American soccer fans would no doubt like to see Altidore playing back in the biggest leagues in Europe, the trade off is that Altidore will once again have to start fresh with a new manager and a new team.
Depending on how big of a move he makes, that could also mean Altidore ends up sacrificing playing time if he can’t match the level of play at a bigger club. At Alkmaar, Altidore is settled, gets regular starts and is in good form. Any potential move throws all of that back up in the air again.
After Rangers' disastrous bankruptcy situation that developed at the end of the 2011-12 season, Carlos Bocanegra had a very difficult decision to make. He could stay with Rangers, but that would mean playing in the fourth division in Scotland and likely mean the end of his USMNT career.
The other option would be to make a move, which Bocanegra did in going to Racing Santander in Spain’s second division on deadline day in August 2012.
With Santander, Bocanegra has not had the easiest time. He has struggled with injuries and occasionally been relegated to the bench for long periods of time. Santander is also in trouble and faces the possibility of dropping down to Spain’s third division due to their poor form.
Bocanegra’s national team career has also faltered, being dropped from the starting XI against Honduras and dropped from the roster completely for the games against Costa Rica and Mexico.
Bocanegra has indicated that he would like to return to Rangers next year, where he would play in Scotland’s third division. That will likely mean the end of his national team career and USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has advised Bocanegra not to take that step.
cont.. After that, I am really looking forward to coming home and playing in front of the Ibrox faithful next season.— Carlos Bocanegra (@BocaBoca3) April 9, 2013
A move back to MLS might be the best option for Bocanegra at this point if he wants to revive his international career. In MLS, Bocanegra would likely get regular starts and be in a highly visible environment for both Klinsmann and U.S. fans.
Since several YouTube videos of Josh Gatt emerged last year, the speedy U.S. winger has been all the rage of U.S. fans eager for some young blood on the U.S. squad.
However, the hype has not exactly matched the reality as Gatt’s two performances with the USMNT were up and down. He clearly possesses world-class speed, but has also shown a tendency to make poor decisions on the ball. The upside for Gatt is that he is still only 21 years old and clearly has plenty of time to take his game to the next level.
Gatt’s club team, Molde, won the Norwegian Tippeligaen in 2012, but is off to a horrendous start in 2013, only earning one point from six games so far. One bonus, however, of playing for Molde is that Gatt is being coach by former Manchester United legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
A move to a bigger league in Europe could be just what Gatt needs to take his career to the next level after three years at Molde, but it could also mean a lack of playing time at a critical time in his career.
With Hoffenheim struggling in a relegation battle in the Bundesliga (they are currently three points from safety with three games to go), both Danny Williams and Fabian Johnson could have some tough decisions to make this summer should Hoffenheim go down.
Johnson has been consistently impressive with the club and would no doubt be snatched up by another team. His versatility to play as a left-back, a left-winger or even as an attacking midfielder makes him a valuable commodity.
Williams’ situation, however, is not so clear.
While Williams was a consistent starter early in the 2012-13 season, he has fallen to the bench or even been dropped from the roster entirely over the past two months. Williams will have to decide whether he can benefit from a year of playing in Bundesliga 2 should Hoffenheim go down. Or, if they stay up, Williams will have to determine whether or not he can work his way back into the starting XI.
Johnson has proved his worth for the USMNT as well and, by general consensus, is considered the best option for the U.S. at left-back. Williams, however, has had a few shaky performances with the U.S. and also faces a wealth of competition as a holding midfielder—the deepest position on the U.S. roster.
If Williams is not getting consistent playing time in the 2013-14 club season, he would be an unlikely choice for the 2014 World Cup roster.
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