MLS: Yanks (Training) Abroad: Players Spending Their Offseasons in Europe
Every year, the complaints come pouring in that the MLS season needs to be longer. MLS players spend almost two months more idle than their European counterparts.
However, a recent trend has seen more and more MLS-bsed Americans heading to Europe to train during the offseason.
Some, like Landon Donovan and David Beckham in recent years, have gone out on loan, but these players are going for experience and to give European scouts a look at their skills.
American fans should neither worry too much that all our best players are going to be scooped up, nor should we get our hopes up that these training stints will turn Brek Shea into Arsenal's new wunderkind.
Instead, there is a more measured approach: MLS-based Yanks are only going to get better the broader and more intense their experiences are. Some might go on to more European pastures, but most will return with new eating habits and an extra step over.
Here is a list of MLS-based Americans training in Europe during the offseason.
Brek Shea: Arsenal FC
Over the last year, Brek Shea has quickly turned into the new "Next Big Thing." He failed to impress during his first USMNT outing, but since tearing through Major League Soccer, he has turned quite a few heads, including European scouts.
Shea is an odd duck and not just because he looks like a Fraggle (a reminder that I would like every American fan to start referring to him by the new nickname "Fraggle Rock"). Rather, Shea is a young, pacey left-winger who looks like a centre-back.
In fact, FC Dallas manager Schellas Hyndman tried Shea, who is 6'3", at centre-back a few times this year only to realize that he is a young, pacey left-winger who only looks like a centre-back.
Shea has gone to train with Arsenal FC in London. Arsenal, you might have heard, will probably use this opportunity to flirt with signing Shea. However, while sitting in seventh place in the English Premiership, they will not likely want to spend the cash on an American prospect.
Instead, Shea will benefit from the chance at training with some of the most technically gifted players in England such as Robin van Persie, Gervinho and Jack Wilshire.
Teal Bunbury: Bloton Wanderers FC
Keep telling yourself: Teal Bunbury is still young. That mantra might serve American fans well when considering most of these players, but Bunbury showed this year that he is a player with good streaks and bad streak. As he matures, fans will just want to see more good streaks.
Bunbury has shipped off to Bolton Wanderers FC in the EPL to iron out those streaks. He'll likely run into another American who has (when he's healthy) found his feet at Bolton. Stuart Holden moved from Houston Dynamo to Bolton last season and, before he was injured, raised some eyebrows.
Bunbury could use some of the magic that Owen Coyle has pulled out of Holden as well as another young striker who impressed while on loan at Bolton: Daniel Sturridge.
Bunbury is far too young to make the jump successfully to the EPL, but this Bolton stint will definitely improve his play in the MLS.
Juan Agudelo: VfB Stuttgart
No American prospect sparks fans' imagination more than Juan Agudelo. In part, it's because he's a striker, and boy, could we use a striker. It's also because he's young (he just turned 19).
Mostly, it's because he has a technical ability and creative spark that we rarely see in our players. Sure, Dempsey is a fantastic player, but he fits more in the American stereotype of gritty rather than beautiful.
With that expectation, Agudelo ships off to VfB Stuttgart: a perennially good, but not brilliant team in the German Bundesliga (Stuttgart currently lies seventh in the table).
One can assume that USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann had something to do with the amount of Americans training in the Bundesliga and he obviously thinks Agudelo can learn something from coach Bruno Labbadia.
In addition, Agudelo can pick up some tips from Stuttgart's Austrian goal machine, Martin Harnik.
With Agudelo's youth, it is unlikely that Europeans will want to splash the kind of cash that MLS would want for a prospect as bright as his.
Kyle Beckerman: FC Kaiserslautern
At 29, Kyle Beckerman isn't exactly a young prospect. However, his steady MLS performances have caught the attention of Jurgen Klinsmann, who obviously wants to toughen up the Yanks' spine in midfield.
With that in mind, we can safely say that Klinsmann thinks Beckerman could use some Bundesliga seasoning. Kaiserslautern lie just above the relegation zone and could use Beckerman's tough tackling.
However, with Beckerman's contract with MLS running through 2013, it is highly unlikely that this training will turn into anything more than a learning experience and trip through the German countryside.
Bill Hamid: West Bromwich Albion FC
Jurgen Klinsmann has made himself clear: He wants players who are getting time on the pitch. With that criterion, he says, Brad Guzan loses his spot as Tim Howard's backup. And in steps Bill Hamid.
At 21, Hamid is still young for an international goalkeeper, but he has impressed for DC United between the sticks.
Earlier this month, Hamid went on trial with West Brom in England and extended this trial into a longer training stint.
Hamid's contract with MLS ends in 2012 and West Brom may be looking for a new No. 2 since their current backup, Marton Fulop, sees his contract run out this coming summer. Is Roy Hodgson planning a free transfer down the line?
If so, Hamid may no longer get the same amount of playing time he will see at DC United, but he will join the long line of American keepers who prove to the rest of the world that Americans catch things better than anyone else.
Perry Kitchen: SC Freiburg
Perry Kitchen already had a chance at Europe. Belgian club Anderlecht offered him a trial before he accepted the chance to go into the MLS SuperDraft (where he was chosen third).
Kitchen slotted right into his new role for DC United, making 16 appearances. However, during his time off, Kitchen will make the trip to Europe that he passed on previously.
Kitchen heads to SC Freiburg in the Bundesliga, a team in 19th place. At 19, Kitchen has yet to get much attention from Jurgen Klinsmann. However, Kitchen currently plays with the U20 American team.
Robbie Rogers: FC Kaiserslautern
Robbie Rogers certainly divides American fans, not because he is controversial or even a bad player. Rather, he is a player who promises a lot and has yet to live up to that promise.
Klinsmann, who after retirement played with Rogers at the USL PDL team Orange County Blue Stars, has given Rogers a few call-ups where Rogers scored a goal, but failed to impress on the whole.
Taking a break from Columbus, Ohio, Rogers heads to FC Kaiserslautern, where he will join Kyle Beckerman.
Unlike his fellow American, though, Rogers is under contract only until this December. That means if Rogers impresses during his stint in Germany, he could certainly turn this training session into a more permanent move.
Sean Johnson: Manchester United FC
A year ago, Sean Johnson looked like the "Next Big Thing" of American goalkeeping. And then people realized that he is human and they were thus disappointed.
Johnson had a roller-coaster year that one would expect from a debut season with the Chicago Fire (he certainly could have used a better back line defending in front of him).
But Johnson can put his first full season behind him as he heads to a little club you might have heard: Manchester United.
Manchester United isn't exactly desperate for new keepers with David de Gea impressing and Ben Amos and Tomasz Kuszczak waiting in the wings. However, training with one of the greatest teams in Europe and learning from arguably the greatest manager in recent footballing history certainly can't hurt, can it?
Omar Salgado: Fulham FC
In his first year with MLS, Omar Salgado certainly didn't light up the scoreboards very often. With one goal in 14 appearances, Salgado may need some time to get adjusted to the professional level, but at the age 18, he has plenty of time to learn.
Heading to Fulham in the English Premiership will certainly offer a chance for just that. Salgado joins the squad that is no stranger to Americans: Clint Dempsey currently plays for the club and in recent years both Kacey Keller and Brian McBride played there as well.
Salgado spent last summer training with Everton FC, but this year joins an English side having recently secured dual Spanish and American citizenship. This means that should Martin Jol's Cottagers want to pick up the American prospect, they wouldn't have to worry about a visa.
Zach Pfeffer: TSG 1899 Hoffenheim
At only the age of 16, Zach Pfeffer made his debut for Philadelphia Union in the midfield. Since then, he has impressed many fans with his agility and ability to maintain possession.
This offseason, he returns to Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga, where he trained last year. Union boss Peter Nowak seems to think this helped mature the young player last year and the Union are eager to groom Pfeffer for more regular play.
Jeff Larentowicz: Bolton Wanderers FC
I remember a certain ginger-haired manager getting quite a bit of stick from fans of Bolton Wanderers. How, then, will they receive a red-haired player training with their team? They won't care, I'm sure.
Larentowicz has been continually impressing in the midfield for the Colorado Rapids, earning a few calls from Jurgen Klinsmann for his efforts.
Larentowicz can thank Klinsmann for his current offseason training stint with Bolton Wanderers. The USMNT manager set up Larentowicz's stint abroad in an effort to groom his midfield options.