Jozy Altidore will be in the Major League Soccer spotlight in 2008 as he enters his most important, and potentially his last, season in the league.
The New York Red Bulls striker made headlines after his composed performance against Mexico, capped off by his first international goal, and drew the biggest response from readers in the latest mailbag. Will he be a star this season? Will he – and should he – go to Europe? We'll see.
Other topics dealt with domestic issues, the U.S.-Mexico rivalry and familiar subjects such as David Beckham and Eddie Johnson.
My answers are in italics.
ALTIDORE ("Altidore shines in U.S.-Mexico spotlight," Feb. 6, 2008)
There's nothing special about Altidore. He scored a goal against a vertically challenged defense and, other than that, did nothing. Gio, also 18, and Vela, 19, showed much more on the ball than him.
I disagree, Jacques. For an 18-year-old he has great vision, skill and awareness. I am not proclaiming him as a world superstar at this stage but he has a huge upside. As for Vela – sure, he is very skilful, but just see how greedy he is. Does he ever pass to an open teammate?
Jozy is possibly the best striker we have ever had at his age. And by far the most mature!
I find it hard to argue with you, Nic. He still has a long way to go to reach his full potential, but his maturity will certainly help him improve.
Hello, I am very interested in Jozy Altidore's career. I am curious to know your opinion on where he will go in Europe.
Tyler, Lafayette, La.
I think England would probably be the best destination for Altidore, given his physical strength. He could make an impact in the Premiership within the next couple of years. Reading certainly thinks so. The Royals tried to sign him in the January window.
Here we go again with building up a player who isn't ready for the adulation only to write him off as a bust in a few years. Yawn.
Yorba Linda, Calif.
Time may prove me wrong, but in my opinion, Altidore has the tools to become the real thing. At this stage there are no signs of him being adversely affected by the hype and expectations.
U.S. VS. MEXICO
Player-wise, who do you think has better players? USA or Mexico?
Mexico has more talented players, but the United States team is better organized and works harder. There isn't much to choose between them, though.
I feel that it is about time that the U.S. players travel to Mexico to play a "friendly" game.
It IS about time, but it all boils down to money. It is much more profitable for these games to be held in the U.S. That is why Mexico plays so many friendlies against other nations on U.S. soil.
Most U.S. fans think Team USA now dominates Team Mexico. But when the rubber hits the road, I seem to recall USA being eliminated from group play by Ghana. Meanwhile, Mexico gets to extra time against Argentina in the second round. I will watch with interest in South Africa.
Andrew J. Duggan
I'm not arguing with you, Andrew, but I just have two questions: Do you think the U.S. would have failed to qualify had it, like Mexico, been in a group with Angola and Iran? And do you think Mexico would have got through from a group featuring eventual champions Italy, the Czech Republic and a talented and exciting Ghana side?
MLS EXPORTS/IMPORTS ("European soccer's new hunting ground," Feb. 3, 2008)
So what is the state of MLS? The recent wave of departures seems a huge step backwards. Nate Jaqua, Clarence Goodson, Pat Noonan, Eddie Johnson, Joseph Ngwenya and even draft picks like Andrew Jacobson are heading to Europe. You can understand moves like Johnson to play in the EPL, but most of these players are going to small clubs in small countries. What does it say about MLS that these players choose those clubs over MLS?
San Francisco Bay Area
What it says is that a proper transfer market is starting to develop involving MLS – and that must be a good thing. No disrespect, but I doubt MLS chiefs will have too many sleepless nights worrying about the departure of Jaqua or Jacobson.
You are wrong about the exodus of American players from MLS. Americans will not support soccer teams that don't feature at least some Americans. Will D.C. United fans support their team if it features Ben Olsen and a bunch of foreigners? I doubt it.
Fair point, Keith, but teams are still going to have a majority of U.S. players on their rosters. I don't foresee a situation like the one that has arisen in England, where Arsenal and other clubs have fielded teams without a single homegrown player.
If MLS wants to boost its popularity and level of play, it has to bring over young talent, instead of spending millions on players who are about ready to retire. They have to find a way to attract young international talent like Ronaldinho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Leo Messi and Robinho.
Easier said than done. Seriously, how is MLS supposed to persuade guys like those you have mentioned to come over here at this stage? There are only a few clubs in the world that can attract those players. Totally unrealistic.
BECKHAM ("Beckham's loss should be Galaxy's gain," Feb. 4, 2008)
You were absolutely wrong with your assertion that the Los Angeles Galaxy would be "somewhat less than delighted" at seeing Beckham miss time due to national team duty. I can't think of one club worldwide that would have a problem with any player leaving the club for national team duty. Beckham has proved that he can play for club and country without missing time for either, as he did in September when he played in L.A., London and L.A., in that order, in a span of eight days.
Eamon, do you really think no club has a problem with its players playing for their country? In that case, how do you explain the mystery injuries that so often befall Manchester United's stars ahead of friendlies? Also, when Beckham played in L.A., London and then L.A. again, he spent the last 10 minutes of the final game barely able to walk. Two games in two days is too much for anyone.
What are the chances that David Beckham would apply for dual citizenship and play for the USA since he is being snubbed by England, kind of like Brett Hull did in hockey being a citizen of Canada but playing for the USA.
No chance at all, Robert.
EDDIE JOHNSON ("Johnson enters hypercompetitive world," Jan. 23, 2008)
Fulham is a smart club and has signed the full package in Eddie Johnson. Do you really think that Fulham is completely naive of Eddie's personality? Eddie needs to go in there and be HIMSELF! You are giving the kid bad advice.
Maybe, but I stick to my assertion that he needs to be careful not to show too much attitude early in his Premiership career. Such an approach would only alienate the senior professionals at his club.
Martin, why wouldn't a large European club buy a MLS franchise, or at least be a part owner in one? I would think it makes sense for a Man United, Madrid, Bayern or other cash-rich clubs to not only have working agreements but also actual ownership. Can you imagine a Real Salt Lake owned partly or completely by Real Madrid? It would be a win-win.
A great question from Jeff, one of our most knowledgeable readers. I believe we will start to see more European clubs get involved with American "feeder" teams over the next few years. At this stage, though, it will probably happen with more regularity at USL level first. The biggest likelihood of a major club buying an MLS franchise could come from an English Premier League team with U.S. owners, such as Manchester United, Liverpool or Aston Villa. There also have been rumors that Argentinean giants Boca Juniors could be looking to spread their wings into the North American market.
As a D.C. United fan, the last few seasons have been excellent – and ultimately frustrating. So many wins and yet so few cups (in MLS and internationally). What's your take?
The MLS playoff system doesn't always reward the best team and D.C. United was the victim last year. After a superb regular season, United came undone against the Chicago Fire and Cuauhtemoc Blanco and saw seven months of hard work go to waste. I see United being very strong again in 2008 but it will need to hold its nerve when playoff time comes around.
How much would it affect Man United if Cristiano Ronaldo leaves the club? And can you please name the five most memorable players who have made an excellent contribution for United, just to see whether our views match.
Ronaldo's performances this season have been incredible and right now, there is no one on the planet who is playing better. It would clearly be a huge blow if he were to leave – except that United would only think about selling him if it was offered a ridiculously large sum of money (probably more than $100 million).
As for United's top five of all time, I would go for Eric Cantona, George Best, Ronaldo, Sir Bobby Charlton and Duncan Edwards. But there are many others who also could be included, such as David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Denis Law, Roy Keane, Bryan Robson, Dennis Viollet and Pat Crerand.
As the MLS draft was held in Baltimore, I wondered if there is any sentiment for expansion to Charm City at some point?
There are no suggestions of Baltimore at this stage, Chris. Its proximity to D.C. will always stand in the way.