Young U.S. star signs with Liverpool: Whitney Engen will play on Mersey next year

3 Comments

The name Whitney Engen should mean something to you, but it probably doesn’t. Three years ago, she was the first defensive player picked in the Women’s Professional Soccer draft, a stature earned while contributing to four national title teams at the University of North Carolina. A year later, she was voted the league’s best defender as her team (Western New York Flash) won the title. At 24 years old, she’s right on the cusp of regular duty with the U.S. Women’s National Team, her ability to play in the middle or wide giving her multiple means of impressing whomever replaces Pia Sundhage. Among women’s soccer diehards, she’s more than well known. She’s part of the future.

She’s also the type of player who needs to look at options overseas, which may be the biggest reason why Liverpool LFC have made a minor splash, luring the twice-capped U.S. international to northwest England. As the club announced on Tuesday, Engen will join the team in January for the 2013 season.

Her thoughts, from Liverpool’s website:

“I have always been very interested in playing in the WSL so when the opportunity arose, I took it.
“Joining a club with such a legacy and impact in the world of football made the decision easy. I want to thank everyone at Liverpool who worked hard on my behalf to make this happen. I am very excited for next season.”

That it’s Liverpool signing Engen makes this move a surprise. The big names in English women’s football are Arsenal, Birmingham City and Everton. Liverpool, last place finishers in this year’s WSL, are not on the same level, but that may be about to change. That Engen “had various offers from other teams around Europe” (according to her agent) makes this signing is a mind coup. Liverpool’s stepping up.

For Engen, getting to play strong clubs on a regular basis is huge, particularly at this point in her career. She’ll be playing for a big organization, in a good league, in a place where the culture won’t be a significant obstacle. Even before considering the (likely modest) money involved, Liverpool’s a great opportunity for 24-year-old who lacks the same outlets as the national team’s established stars.

But this is also a small warning for U.S. Soccer, who are busy trying to put together a domestic, professional league for the 2013 season (the WSL, like other women’s leagues, is semi-professional). Particularly for players in Engen’s situation – talented, young, still establishing themselves professionally, and looking for some some stability – Europe’s going to be a temptation.

For players willing to leave home, it’s difficult to fault their decision to jump to Europe. The leagues are established, stable, and offer a level of competition the possible U.S. league may not be able to replicate. If a player is lucky enough to land with one of the continent’s bigger clubs, they’re likely to have a professional lifestyle that can’t be matched in this country. For players whose games are still developing, jumping to a high-caliber league might be the best way to improve.

Even after the U.S. league stars, there’ll still be players like Ali Krieger, who’s done her career so much good by playing in Germany’s Frauen Bundesliga. There’ll still be players like Sarah Hagen, who has had success after going from UW-Milwaukee to Bayern Munich last year. And there may be more Lindsey Horans, who was lured by Europe’s money before she’d even made it to college.

And now, there will be the Whitney Engens – a national team hopeful whose career could get a boost from her time in England.

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

AP Photo/Felipe Dana
Leave a comment

A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
Leave a comment

This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

AP Photo/Frank Augstein
1 Comment

Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.