(This intro written just about one year ago.)
The first time I met Brian Scriaretta was at the USA-Chile Camp Cupcake closer match in January 2011.
I had the pleasure of sitting next to the guy in the press box and our opposite roots of reaching that press box came out in our first conversation.
Brian, “So are you on this Twitter thing? I just started man.”
Matt, “Yeah, it’s really good at finding out half-truths, ridiculous commentary and having clichés RT’d.”
Brian, “Whoa, you have like (some number in the 2000s) followers! I’ve got like 200.”
Matt, “There are folks with like 80,000. Most of mine are stunningly beautiful women who have zero followers and offer work-at-home kits anyway and want me to click on links.”
After out technology chat, Brian proceeded to regal me with the tales of US players abroad that I had never heard of. Jonathan Brooks, Sean Cunningham and more.
To be honest, I felt like trying to sneak a few keystrokes into the Googlilator when he was talking so I didn’t sound like I worked at Bleacher Report.
At the time, Brian was going on about this guy, Tim Something …. Timmy Chandler–for those that don’t know Brian got the first interview with the now somewhat famous US Men’s (half) National Teamer.
I learned about a few other players in Germany whose names sounded like serial killers and questioning whether Teal Bunbury, fresh off his exciting play in South Africa and January Camp, had filed his one-time switch.
Brian has a virtual encyclopedia of knowledge of young US players in his head and at his fingers and he goes about providing info and interviews of players who will become popular two years from now. If I’m ESPN, I would hire the guy just because he’d hockey stick my SEO (search engine optimization.)
Brian is so good at tracking down US players (the nether reaches of Peru) that TSG coined the nickname “The Hitman” for him because, well, “he’ll find you.”
Now… Part I of II, TSG’s finally sits down with American soccer media’s Hitman. We’ve been trying to put this back-and-forth together for a year, but Brian’s been busy tracking down the next American Soccer Yeti and I, well, haven’t.
TSG: In your opinion, who are the top 5 players abroad that US fans should be excited about in terms of solid club play and contributions to the national team?
The Hitman: The first and foremost is Fabian Johnson. I honestly believe that this guy will be an enormous boost to the US team for years to come. He has a great attitude and is all business when he’s on the field. Just look at how he played last season. Up through the winter break he was in the midfield and was second in the Bundesliga in assists. Then he moved to left back and was one of the best left backs in the Bundesliga. I think for the national team his future will be in the midfield.
I also think a lot of Americans really need to be keeping a close eye on Sonderjyske midfielder Conor O’Brien who is playing very well in the Danish Superliga. His plays as a central midfielder that sits deep but makes plays. He also is solid defensively as well. With Jose Torres still very inconsistent for the US national team, Conor O’Brien may be a player flying under the radar.
In terms of up and coming players we will talk more about Brooks and Gatt shortly but they are the top two on my list of up and coming American players.As far as teenagers who I think is how you define up and coming, I rate the Liverpool duo of Villyan Bijev and Marc Pelosi highly. In the United States I also think Luis Gil and Jose Villarreal are looking good. Jerome Kiesewetter just signed an impressive professional contract.
TSG: So your top five….
The Hitman: So in terms of top 5 teenage American prospects here is my top five:
John Anthony Brooks
Honorable mention: Cody Cropper, Jerome Kiesewetter, Villyan Bijev, Ventura Alvarado, Adam Henely (if he plays for the US), Jose Villareal, Sean Cunningham,
In terms of those in their early 20’s, Jose Villarreal, Kelyn Rowe, Josh Gatt, Andrew Wenger, and Nick DeLeon are all playing well right now.
TSG: A player like a John Anthony Brooks or Josh Gatt….is it reasonable to hype them so much when their development could stall before they are at an elite level? How soon can either contribute to the national team?
The Hitman: There is no stopping the hype but I think both are at a level where they can handle it. They play in professional environments in Europe where there is always a lot of pressure. A few press clippings all the way back in the States isn’t going to affect them too much. I think the hype does more harm than good for players who are still in the USA – like Freddy Adu when he was a teenager, or Jozy Altidore before he left for Spain.
I think both Brooks and Gatt along with Joe Gyau, Will Packwood, Marc Pelosi, Jerome Kiesewetter, Villyan Bijev, Ventura Alvarado, Julian Green, and Cody Cropper are all the best young pro prospects playing outside of MLS.
Will all of them make it? No. But the more good prospects you have, the better.
Brooks I think could be the top prospect out of all them. He’s such an imposing force with his 6’5 size. He struggled a bit last year since he was still growing and lost a little coordination, but his upside is huge. For such a big guy, he can pass very well. There is a reason why Bayern Munich offered him a three-year big pro contract last year. He ended up signing a four-year deal with Hertha because it offered a better chance at playing time. But Brooks is a top prospect, no question about it. He may in fact be the best young American CB prospect I’ve ever seen.
Gatt will probably get capped before Brooks. He’s older and has more first team experience. His elite speed on the wings is more of a need to the US national team at the moment. Brooks has guys like Ream, Cameron, Goodson, Bocanegra, Omar Gonzalez, Michael Parkhurst, George John and a struggling Gooch ahead of him now.
TSG: Who are the top two or three players that could play for the US national team but will likely choose not too? Are you aware of the US efforts in reaching out to them? And if so, why do you think they failed?
The Hitman: There are a bunch of very good American citizens who likely won’t play for the US national team. Miguel Ponce is way up there and he will play for Mexico. Stuttgart left back Gotoku Sakai is the cream of the crop and has the likely chance of being another Rossi, Subotic, or Hangeland but the US never really had a chance.. He was born in New York but will play for Japan.
Thomas Delaney will likely stay with Denmark but US Soccer has spoken with him.
He has been a standout with FC Copenhagen and has played in the Champions League. He appreciated speaking with Caleb Porter about playing for the US U23 team but declined.
There are some interesting cases that the US can win.
They are well aware of Mainz and German U-19 forward Shawn Parker and have spoken with him. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him play for the US in the years ahead. The same goes for Fabian Hurzeler who is still affiliated with Germany even if he played in a US U20 camp in January of 2011.
Players like Ventura Alvarado of Club America and Julian Green at Bayern Munich’s U-19 team I think will play for the US if asked.
The most interesting case is Blackburn’s right back Adam Henley who I think would be a huge pickup for the US team. He has actively been involved with Wales his whole career but the US has spoken with him. He now considers himself to be undecided. His mom recently wrote me after I wrote an article on him and she said that Adam is keeping everyone in suspense – including her!
I saw him play for Blackburn last year as the youngest player in the EPL and he went a full 90 in a win over Manchester United at Old Trafford. He is very impressive.
TSG: You’re a big proponent of Seb Hines — however he’s really never played above the Championship level in England and–though the US lacks depth at centerback–is it wise to try to get every potential American player into the system or should only select ones be focused on?
The Hitman: The thing with Hines is that you have to understand his past. As a teenager with England’s youth national teams, he was a top prospect. It was widely reported that he was wanted by Chelsea when he was 19. His problem was that around that time he kept getting injured and could never settle down his career. In the second half of last season, he was healthy for an extended time and was beginning to show people why he was considered so talented as a young player.
He’s still young at 24.
He’s younger than Ream, Cameron, John, and every other US national team central defender other than Omar.
But I don’t think that Klinsmann should be done looking at central defenders right now. Bocanegra is still solid but he’s getting older. Gooch is struggling. Ream, Gonzalez, and Cameron are generally expected to be the next in line but they aren’t really proven. Hines’ resume stacks up and he certainly should be in the mix. The US can’t really pass on anyone right now in central defense.
TSG: You are one of the best reporters–if not the best–in terms of gaining information German-American that can or may play for the States. In fact, most people don’t know that it was likely your find of Timothy Chandler that the led to the US outreach. Why and how can you keep such good tabs?
The Hitman: It’s fascinating to see the reaches of American players across the globe. So many of them have such great personal stories. It’s not that I single out German-Americans but it just so happens that there are so many of them. I try to track down all American professional players whether they are born and raised in the United States or if they never even been the USA, like Danny Williams.
Generally I find out just by reading press clippings and going through team rosters all the way through the youth levels. When you look at how many of these types of players are on the US national team, the US U-23 team, and the US U-20 team, it deserves attention. They have had a big impact on US soccer. What’s interesting is that most of them are extremely proud to play for the United States. When you speak to them, it’s obvious they aren’t just saying it, they mean it.
TSG: What do you think happens with Timothy Chandler. Explain to folks why he is keeping his options open.
The Hitman: I think Chandler will stick with the United States. Unlike most people, I don’t believe he’s holding out for Germany. I just think that he’s not all that into international soccer at this stage in his career.
I also think he needs to get some maturity and just be honest. You’re either on the team or you aren’t. Look at the dedication from Steve Cherundolo who is 10 years older than Chandler. Cherundolo will fly anywhere for the US team and he also has to deal with the rigors of the Bundesliga.
Chandler has now walked out on the team twice ahead of meaningful games. I think his motivation is that Nurnberg convinced him to take a break in the off-seasons. I would like to believe Klinsmann has told Chandler that it’s a team sport and his US national teammates need to know they can count on Chandler to show up. There could be locker room issues with Chandler if others don’t think he shares everyone else’s commitment.
But if I were to guess, I think Chandler is going to be worked back into the US team but it won’t be easy. He’s probably not the most popular guy among other players or the fans.
I still think he is exceptionally talented. His level of athleticism is very rare even among Bundesliga players.
TSG: And continuing…. what type of reputation does USSF, Klinsmann have in Germany. Is it “eh,” “leery” or just plain negative? Or none of the above?
The Hitman: I will go with “eh.” He still has a lot of respect as a World Cup champion and former head coach of the national team but that only goes so far with clubs. In the end of the day, the German Federation and German clubs are going to do what is in their best interest. Klinsmann and his charisma aren’t ever going to change that.
TSG: What about agents of players — given that Klinsmann is doing a lot of the placing and calling around in Europe (Brek Shea to Arsenal for training, Beckerman to Kaiserslautern) is there any conflict with the agents of these players.
The Hitman: Agents have a huge influence and so does Klinsmann, but generally I think both want what is best for the players. I don’t think Klinsmann is going to work against what a player or his agent don’t want.
In Part II, TSG fields YOUR questions below and we’ll submit them to Brian this week for review next week.