Eastbound & Up: MLS Men That Could Thrive In Serie A

Eric Giardini takes a look at where some MLS players might fit in Serie A

Beckham, no surprise, leads the list...

With the end of the MLS playoffs and the beginning of the January transfer window upon us sooner than we realize, this seems as good a time as any to put together a list of current MLS players I think could play, and even flourish, with a move to Serie A. The summer window saw the move of ex-MLSer Michael Bradley and, while I don’t foresee any others following him in the winter, most of the fun of this time of year is prognosticating and making crazy claims in the event that one sticks.

The question was posed to me who I thought could play in Serie A and to be honest I never really had thought about it before. So I thought and thought (and thought) and these are some of the names I came up with. Please keep in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive list as my knowledge of MLS and its players is embarrassingly low – especially in comparison to others who write for TSG, both proper and in the comments.

I’ve divided players according to groups: The Shoo-ins (no brainers), The Potentials (could very well work), and The Wild Cards (have no idea but it’s fun to toss around in your head). For each player there will be a team and a brief description on why it could work.

The Shoo-ins

David Beckham, LA Galaxy to Inter Milan

Even the most ardent Beckham naysayer has to admit that he’s having far and away his best season in America. Bruce Arena seems to have finally found Beckham’s role in the side by giving Beckham the freedom to patrol the midfield basically as he pleases while a second center midfielder (usually in Juninho) provides defensive cover. His 13 assists show that his ability to distribute is still there – especially given the forwards, aside from Landon Donovan, he’s had to work with.

Inter are having a disastrous year. They’re currently languishing near the bottom of Serie A and are already on their second manager. Shockingly, Claudio Ranieri can’t seem figure out the combination in his lineup that will unlock the potential of the squad and continues to live up to his “Tinkerman” nickname. Inter are lacking that player in the midfield that can play distributor alongside Wesley Sneijder. Where Sneijder is able to work the field much in the same manner as a point guard in basketball, Beckham, even in his advanced age, can still hit the pinpoint 40 yard cross field pass which would bring a different wrinkle to the Inter attack. Additionally, by bringing Beckham to the black and blue half of Milan, he brings buzz back to the club. Nobody is discussing Inter in any sort of positive light these days and this move at least gets the club back into the world soccer conversation. Finally, Beckham is comfortable in the Milan. He had a relatively successful time at AC Milan before a freak Achilles injury in March 2010 ended the rest of his loan spell.

Del Piero...westbound...

TRADE: Thierry Henry, NY Red Bulls to Juventus in exchange for Alessandro Del Piero

Fun fact: Thierry Henry already played for the Turin club early in his career and it can best be labeled as a bit of a failure. Playing largely out of position on the wing, he only managed to score 3 goals in 16 appearances before moving to North London. The rest, as they say, is history. Now could be the perfect time for a second-go-round in Italy for Henry. His game has matured over the past 11 years and his best position on the field is more clearly defined now than it was in 1999. It also gives Henry one last chance to capture silverware in the only league that he has played in that he has yet to claim.

In October, Juventus went public and said that it would not be bringing back the face of the club, Alessandro Del Piero, next year when his contract expires. Club president Andrea Agnelli basically said the only reason they gave Del Piero a one-year contract last summer was purely ceremonial as they moved into the new Juventus Stadium. Even at 36, Del Piero still has life in those legs. With the Red Bulls having trouble selling tickets, why not bring one of the most beloved, if not the most, Italian players of this generation to New York/New Jersey. It is almost too perfect.

Landon Donovan, LA Galaxy to Fiorentina

Everton and Fiorentina are both surprisingly similar clubs. Both have a rich history (although their best days may have been behind them) and are looked at as second tier clubs within their respective leagues. Their similarities even go down to their finances with neither club being in a financially secure state. Everton seemingly hasn’t been able to purchase a player in the transfer market since January 2009. Fiorentina went into administration in 2002 and was relegated to Serie C and, for all intents and purposes, had to “form” a new club to exist. Since then the club has been a bit tighter with its money much in the same way that Everton has been in recent years.

As we all witnessed in January 2010, Landon Donovan was able to prove his critics wrong and show that he had what it took to play in Europe. As successful as he was at Everton, the potential is there for him to shine brighter in Florence. The talent of the squad at Fiorentina far surpasses that of what he was playing with at Everton. By playing alongside Italian internationals Alberto Gilardino and Riccardo Montolivo, in addition to one of the most exciting young players in Serie A in Stevan Jovetić, the cast around Donovan would allow him to play in more of a supporting role instead of being “The Guy” like Everton needed him to be. The current make up of the two leagues also allows Donovan a greater chance of testing his skills in Europe with Fiorentina than with Everton. Remember, it was only two years ago that Fiorentina won its Champions League group and was knocked out in the Round of 16 on away goals to eventual runners up Bayern Munich.

The Potentials

The new Cassano...makes sense...

Dwayne De Rosario, DC United to AC Milan:

No matter how you personally felt about De Rosario’s season where he forced his way into the MLS MVP race even if he did, somehow, play for three different clubs, the skill and knack for scoring goals is there. AC Milan may be in the market for a new attacker in January depending on the status of Antonio Cassano. Cassano suffered what is being officially diagnosed as ischemic-based cerebral damage, which left him unable to move or speak after the club’s flight back to Milan following their 3-2 victory over Roma. He underwent brain surgery and doctors are hopeful that he will be able to play in a few months. In the event that Cassano is unable to return as quickly as planned, and I’m hoping that he recovers fully from this, De Rosario could be a nice replacement player. Like Cassano, De Rosario will not have to be called on to play 90 minutes game-in and game-out but rather come off the bench to provide a creative spark. The attacking depth at Milan is loaded (Ibrahimović, Robinho, Pato, El Shaarawy) but often injured. There could be minutes in Milan for De Rosario to prove himself and become a useful piece to the attack.

Brek Shea, FC Dallas to Napoli:

This is potentially the move that I would be most excited about. Shea has the flair and swagger to make a go of it at Napoli (unlike, say, Michael Bradley who was rumored to be joining the Neapolitan club) and he also fits into their attack first formation. With Shea’s versatility, he could play along any of the lines in Napoli’s 3-4-3 formation, but I would see him employed in more of an attacking role. While I don’t see Shea pushing Cavani, Lavezzi, or Hamšík out of the Starting XI, I can see him challenging Goran Pandev and Giuseppe Mascara for minutes off of the bench.

Williams, a Roman?

Sheanon Williams, Philadelphia Union to Roma:

Roma needs a right back. Period. The right back-by-committee experiment in Rome does not seem to be working. Luis Enrique has employed a handful of players in that position, including players who have spent their entire, long careers as midfielders, and hasn’t found a viable solution.

Williams really asserted himself this season in his first season with the Union and helped the club reduce the numbers of goals allowed from 2010 from 49 down to 36. At 21 years old, Williams would be a work in progress at Roma. However, with the lack of any player stepping up and firmly cementing themselves as the long-term solution at the position, he would at least given an opportunity to prove himself.

The Wild Cards

Shalrie Joseph, New England Revolution to Parma:

Yes, Joseph is 33 years old, but this is Serie A so he’s got another five or six years ahead of him. As one of the best defensive midfielders that MLS has seen over his nine-year career, it may be time for the New England captain to make the jump abroad. New England as a club is in utter shambles so the timing is right to jump the sinking ship before he ends up going down with it.

Parma currently sits in 15th with their horrendous goals allowed figures to blame for their position. Through 10 matches, the club has conceded 18 goals – the second most in the league. The Daniele Galloppa and Stefano Morrone center midfield partnership does not appear to be providing any sort of protection for the back four. Joseph adds some grit to the middle of the field and will be a defensive upgrade to a side that can’t stop leaking goals.

Fabián Espíndola, Real Salt Lake to Palermo:

As a young-ish (26 years old) Argentine forward, Espíndola fits the MO of a Palermo signing. The joke around those that follow Serie A is that if you are a young Argentine player you will undoubtedly be linked to Palermo. His 10 goals this season for Real Salt Lake were enough to put him second on the team behind Alvaro Saborío’s 14.

Palermo is punching a bit above its weight and currently occupies the fifth, and last, European spot coming out of Italy. Espíndola would provide some depth for the 4-3-2-1 that Palermo likes to play – presumably in one of the winger roles supporting Abel Hernández.

Espindola…big moments


Andy Iro, Toronto FC to Novara

The old adage of “you can’t coach size” perfectly describes Toronto FC defender Andy Iro. At 6’ 5”, his size is his biggest asset. The one Italian club that can use his size in both defense and on set pieces is Novara. Novara has the worst defensive record in Serie A and has conceded 19 goals in their opening 10 matches. With the insertion of Iro, the backline sees an upgrade in size and strength, as he would instantly become the tallest defender in the squad. This not only helps Novara in the back in dealing with set pieces and crosses but can also add an extra dimension to their attack.

Iro has also shown in his career that he is a winner, and this can’t be overlooked. At every level he’s played, from his college days at UC Santa Barbara to his professional time with Columbus, he has won championships. This winning attitude and ability to get positive results might be an asset for a club that will be fighting for its survival this year in Serie A.

13 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Alex on 2011/11/21 at 1:03 PM

    Was there a point to this article?


  2. Posted by Nelson on 2011/11/21 at 1:51 PM

    I guess some of it seems far-fetched. Which moves have sources behind them? Which teams have expressed interest? And why just Italy?


    • Posted by EFG on 2011/11/21 at 2:05 PM

      These are all 100% made up hypotheticals posited with no other goal but to stir up a discussion. Do I honestly think any of these moves will happen? No, of course not.


  3. No Cameron or Gonzales manning an Italian backline?


  4. Posted by matthewsf on 2011/11/21 at 2:08 PM

    I asked for the piece at TSG. We’re going to try and do this across the four or five major Euro leagues.


  5. Posted by Alex on 2011/11/21 at 2:18 PM

    I would love to see Landon in the purple of Florence. My sister lived there for a year so they were my pick for a Serie A team to follow. Plus with a new coach and some consistent line-ups Fiorentina could be better.
    The thing is, we all know Everton most likely can’t afford to outright buy Donovan, but does Fiorentina have the funds to?


  6. Posted by dude on 2011/11/21 at 2:38 PM

    Eh, I’d still like Donovan in Everton blue again. Besides being my EPL club, and that Donovan has already established his worth there, it also would be a wonderful organization to create a pipeline of fine American players. Everton is strapped for cash, so to see them eat up cheap but quality prospects would benefit both the club and the US program tremendously.


  7. Posted by Crow on 2011/11/21 at 4:21 PM

    I’d love to see Williams in Europe after a little more time in Philly. Weren’t Roma and Philly supposedly working out some kind of partnership or was that just speculation?


  8. Posted by U + Me = Us on 2011/11/21 at 5:57 PM

    Heart surgery for Cassano, not brain


    • Posted by EFG on 2011/11/21 at 7:38 PM

      You are absolutely right. Kept thinking about the brain symptoms and just wrote brain. Thanks for the catch.


  9. Posted by jwrandolph on 2011/11/21 at 8:43 PM

    Thanks very much for the thoughtful piece. I learned a lot about Serie A and MLS both (mostly an EPL viewer). Thrilled you’re here to contribute at TSG!


  10. How about a big Italian DP for NY? It seems like that would be a great way to market NY to the Jersey Shore crowd:-)


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