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Q&A with Niko Gkionis

Posted on 02 February 2010 by ASN Staff

Professional soccer player in Belgium, MLS youth academy product, Jersey guy, columnist? Either way you look at it, Nicholas (Niko) Gkionis makes for an interesting case study. His recent guest column in this space attracted a lively debate. Now ASN delves a bit deeper with this Q&A, querying the 24-year old on everything from national team allegiance, his future plans (including a mid-season move to MLS?) and a whole lot more. Read on here.

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Holden's deal with Bolton is done, but will he be back?

Posted on 26 January 2010 by ASN Staff

It doesn't sound like Holden will wear Dynamo orange again

Houston Dynamo midfielder Stuart Holden has signed a contract to play with Bolton Wanderers of the English Premier League. The contract ties him to Owen Coyle through the end of their 2009-10 season, but judging by the language on Holden’s Web site, he appears to have accepted a move for the long term.

“I’d like to thank the fans in Houston for all the support they have given me during the past four years. This was the hardest decision I’ve had to make in my career, but at the end of the day I felt it was the right time to test myself at the highest level. I will always feel a part of the Dynamo family and I’ve learned so much playing under Dominic Kinnear and his coaching staff. I would also like to thank all my teammates for their continued support on and off the field, without them none of this would have been possible. I am looking forward to watching them win another MLS Cup this year.”

The deal follows a trial with Bolton as well as Coyle’s former club Burnley. It was reported last week that Coyle had passed on signing Holden, who would turn to Portugal’s Sporting Braga instead. Both reports have now proven erroneous.

Holden, 24, spent the past four seasons with the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer during a time in which the team twice won the MLS Cup (2006 & 2007). As a regular starter at attacking central midfield for the Dynamo in 2009, Holden recorded six goals and four assists. He also made his first appearance for the United States Men’s National Team.

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Lee Nguyen

Posted on 03 December 2009 by ASN Staff

Nguyen with his most recent club in Vietnam

Richardson, Texas, native Lee Nguyen is just 23 years old but his professional soccer career has already spanned three teams on two continents. The midfielder, who in 2007 was called “the best-kept secret” in U.S. soccer, was signed by Guus Hiddink at PSV Eindhoven in 2006. He left the Dutch juggernaut for Danish Superliga club Randers FC two years later, before joining Vietnamese V-League club Hoàng Anh Gia Lai in January. He also had a training stint at Arsenal earlier this fall. Nguyen may now be close to adding a fourth country (that of his birth) and third continent (North America) to his resume. ASN traded a few emails with Nguyen recently to grill him on these and other topics.

ASN: So what are the chances of you joining Major League Soccer next year?

Nguyen: Things are being discussed at this point. Right now MLS is in the picture.

ASN: What are your other options?

Nguyen: Well, we’re looking at Europe as the other one.

ASN: I don’t suppose you’re willing to talk about what clubs in Europe?

Nguyen: Haha, no not at the moment.

ASN: What can you tell U.S. soccer fans who might not have seen you play much (or at all) about your game in terms of strengths, weaknesses?

Nguyen: Well I’m a very technical player with good feet in tight spaces and I’m good around the box. I have good vision and can not only score, but also set up teammates. I’m not a big player [5’8 according to his Wikipedia page] but I’m quick and smart on and off the ball.

ASN: What was it like training with Arsenal? What is Arsene Wenger like?

Nguyen: Training with Arsenal was unbelievable, the training was very technical with high intensity and such a high level. Arsene Wenger is such a smart manager and to be able to see the way he runs training and to get the most from his players was amazing. A lot of respect for the man.

ASN: Do you hope/expect to get called to the U.S. Men’s National Team for the World Cup? With Charlie Davies’ injury it seems there would be space for a player like you…

Nguyen: Yeah of course I hope to get called up. I believe I have a lot to offer the team and just need the chance to show my abilities.

ASN: Did you watch MLS Cup?

Nguyen: Yeah, I was home with my friends watching it. Loved the atmosphere and how much the league has grown. It was a great game.

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Vincenzo Bernardo 'coming to MLS'–as free agent (updated update)

Posted on 28 November 2009 by Nathaniel E. Baker

Vincenzo Bernardo ©vincenzobernardo.net

New Jersey-born forward Vincenzo Bernardo is coming to Major League Soccer. The 19-year old told ASN of his news Saturday morning, confirming what was first reported by Italian Web site Generazione di Talenti.

Bernardo signed a pro deal with Serie A side Napoli in 2008 but turned down a contract extension to become a free agent in September.

Updates:
Dec. 1: Bernardo is coming to MLS as a free agent, according to his agent Steve Georgiou. The former U.S. youth international will not have to enter a lottery “so he can train with who he chooses to or who ever invites him,” Georgiou told ASN. No word yet on who these teams might be. ASN has contacted the Philadelphia Union and New York Red Bulls and will report back if we hear something.

Jan. 7: Bernardo released a statement on his Web site saying in part that he had approached “by more than one MLS club” as well as from teams in USL. ASN has heard the New York Red Bulls were among the interested parties.

Photo supplied by VincenzoBernardo.net.

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Introducing Fafà Picault (exclusive Q&A)

Posted on 13 October 2009 by ASN Staff

Few U.S. soccer fans can claim to have heard of Fabrice-Jean (Fafà) Picault, an 18-year old forward born in New York who currently plies his trade with Italian Serie A side Cagliari Calcio. Expect that to change in short order. Picault is in many ways just as accomplished as fellow tri-stater (and former Italian expat) Vincenzo Bernardo, who attracted a lot of (soccer) press when he left Napoli after only one season in its reserves. True, Picault has not yet been capped by U.S. youth international sides as Bernardo was. But the speedy forward has already made the scorer sheet for Cagliari’s Primavera side, its youth reserves club. ASN traded a few emails with the youngster and came away impressed. We suspect you will be too. Read on.

So far, Picault has made the most of his playing time

ASN: Can you tell us a little more about your background? From my research it appears are of Haitian descent, born in New York City and attended high school in Miami? Is that correct?

Picault: Yes, that’s correct. My parents were born in Haiti and both moved to NYC when they were children. I was born in NYC and moved to Miami when I was about 9-10 years old.

Where did you learn soccer? What youth club(s) did you play for?

I was trained by my father [Leslie Picault], who played professionally in the U.S. and Greece, from a very young age and learned just about everything from him. I played for quite a few team while I lived in South Florida (Southern Soccer, Weston, Coral Springs, and more).

Can you tell us a bit more about your game? I know you’re a forward. Have you always played up front? What are your greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses would you say at this point?

I am an attacking player, very fast, I have a quick dribble, and I shoot with both feet. I am also capable of drawing defenses when necessary and laying off easy goal opportunities for my teammates. I have played almost every position in my life, which has helped me up to now. My preferred position is left/right attacking wing where I can create for myself and others. Last year my greatest weakness was perhaps my mental part, which is normal because I was just getting used to the city with no family, trying to finish high school online with good grades (very difficult), learning the language, and the tactical style of play in Italy. Now that I have graduated and have learned the language more or less, I am much more confident and comfortable on the field. Many people don’t understand that your off-field life does affect your playing. Now I have become extremely strong mentally and at the moment I feel in great form and am driving to continuously improve individually.

Haitian descent, forward, grew up in South Florida…where have I heard this before? Oh I know! Jozy Altidore! Is your game at all like his?

I think he is a very good player and got to watch him a lot when we were younger and still both playing in South Florida. However, we are two very different players in terms of physical stature and style of play. My best attributes are [technical] skills, creativity, speed/quickness, and vertical leap.

Do you have any favorite players or ones you model your game after?

My favorite players are Samuel Eto’o, Kakà, and Robinho. Their abilities to create opportunities are quite unique and I try to do the same in my own way in my own style.

So how were you found by Cagliari?

President [Massimo] Cellino started a soccer program in Miami, combining with the Miami Strike Force. I played there for about two years before moving here permanently.

How have things been going so far?

We are two matches into the season. I scored one goal at the end of the first half against Empoli to draw us closer, but they came out with a third goal in the second half. We ended up with a 3-1 loss. In the second match, the coach put me in the last 30 minutes of the game and I broke through the defense from half-field and set-up my teammate Gallon for an easy put-in to win the game for us, 2-1.

That’s pretty impressive. Have you received any interest from the US Soccer Federation, perhaps ahead of the U-20 World Cup?
I did speak to [Thomas] Rongen [who coached the U-20s at the World Cup] a few months back via-email, but never received any call-ups for any camps or tournaments. I would love to play for my country, but I’m not capable of calling myself up :). So for now I am focused on me growing as a player and trying to break into Serie A as soon as possible, God willing.

How do you like Italy and Cagliari? How is it different from the U.S.?
Italy is a beautiful country with a lot of history as we all know. Cagliari is on the Island of Sardinia and is very relaxed and slow-paced. I have adapted somewhat to the culture and the people. It truly is another world over here, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The seclusion from many things that I am used to allows me to concentrate much more on what I am here to do. The U.S. is different because it is more of a melting pot whereas in Italy everything is purely Italian. I love traveling to away games and getting to see other cities all around Italy.

Would you ever play in MLS? How do young players like yourself view the league?

It is not something that I would rule out, but for now I am focused on making my mark as an American in Italy/Europe. I believe MLS is growing drastically and has raised its level [of play] over the past few years. Much of the credit is due to the influx of foreign players and some young ones also. But I believe a few things could be fixed in the youth systems in America. I remember being told by a region coach that I was good, but I wasn’t big enough. He went on to advise me to drink more milk and lift weights. I was only about 13 years old. I spent about half of the flight back to Florida crying because I knew that I had given my all. In soccer great players come small, big, slow, and fast. If you understand the game and work hard than you can succeed. We saw that in our national team during the Confederations Cup. They did a great job and each player contributed with his own special attribute.

If you are a young American seeking to play abroad I completely encourage you, but if you do not have the right attitude and don’t work much harder than the native players you will not last even the first four months. Hard work, discipline, and a strong mentality are the biggest keys for an American playing abroad.

Would/could you play for the Haiti national team at any point if you don’t get the call from the U.S.?

As a born American I am definitely expecting a call from the USA national team.

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Ian Joy impresses in Ingolstadt debut

Posted on 24 September 2009 by ASN Staff

Joy in a match last season for RSL

Former Real Salt Lake defender Ian Joy impressed his new coach in his first competitive match for FC Ingolstadt, according to a local (German language) report. The game, some sort of regional cup tie against Jahn Forchheim, was won by Ingolstadt 4-2.

Despite the result, Ingolstadt head coach Horst Koeppel said he was “not satisfied” with the team’s performance, though he did praise Joy. “He set up two goals and showed he can help us, though maybe not right away because his shot is not strong enough,” Koeppel said of the 28-year old.

Joy signed with the third division side earlier this month after two season with RSL. He previously spent three seasons at St. Pauli and was briefly believed to be returning to the Hamburg club. He also received an offer from Fortuna Duesseldorf that he repeatedly turned down to rejoin RSL in the preseason. Joy was born in San Diego but also has British citizenship from his Scottish mother.

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Donovan Q&A (translated from German)

Posted on 13 November 2008 by ASN Staff

German Web site spox.com spoke to Landon Donovan after Thursday’s Bayern Munich practice. Donovan started a 10 day trial with the German champs Tuesday. The interview was done in German, which Donovan speaks “very well,” according to the report.

Mr. Donovan, how do you like it here so far?
Everything is perfect. The first day I was nervous because I didn’t know any of the players. But I was taken in very nicely. I have a very good relationship with Jürgen Klinsmann, whom I met in the U.S.

Surely you didn’t come to Munich just to stay fit?

I have a chance to find out how they practice and play here. It was a big opportunity to play with very good soccer players.

So you do want to pursue a spot with FC Bayern?
Yes. As a soccer player you always want to pursue opportunities and present yourself well. But I do not have high expectations. If I fly back to the U.S. Thursday without a contract from Bayern in my pocket I will still be happy.

Are you strong enough for Bayern? [translator’s note: this is a literal translation. It probably means “skilled enough”]
I’m not the best player here, but I can keep up with the level of play.

Your existing contract would permit a transfer?
Any player in the world has the possibility of changing clubs. Should Bayern want me, they would have to pay a transfer fee. My contract runs another three years. Too bad, right? (laughs)

Your former coach Alexis (sic) Lalas said the concept of your market value could be vastly different in the U.S. and Europe.
That could be a problem. In the U.S. I surely have a higher market value than in Europe.

Would you take a pay cut to join a European club?
Absolutely. Money is not important to me. I have enough of it. And I don’t need 50 million euros.

Would a loan arrangement, such as David Beckham’s in Milan, be feasible?
Yes. The MLS season doesn’t begin until March.

Talks with Klinsmann about a possible transfer to Munich took place over the summer. Why didn’t it work out?

There was no possibility to move to Munich because we were in midseason in the U.S.

What’s your favorite position?
I’ve played all offensive positions in my career. I can play midfield and in the attack.

From 2001 to 2005 you were under contract with Bayer Leverkusen. Why did you not establish yourself then?
I was too young and unripe. I thought Germany was not for me. Everything was bad. It was all on me that I wasn’t able to establish myself. The team always supported me but I wasn’t ready. But I have developed [since], both personally and athletically. Now I’m ready.

What does your wife say to your desire to play in Europe?
I have her full support, no matter how the story ends. She told me I should go to Europe if offerend the opportunity. She unfortunately had to stay in the U.S. for her job (editor’s note: Donovan’s wife is an actress)

Would Bayern win the championship if they played in MLS?
Surely, without problems. All players in the Bundesliga are better than the ones in the U.S., from number 1 through number 22. In America there are maybe three players on each team that could play in the Bundesliga. Many in the U.S. can’t [even] play properly.

n

{democracy:6}

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Freddy Adu

Posted on 13 October 2008 by Steve Long

Freddy Adu, who began at DC United as a 14 year old professional, spoke after the Oct. 11 U.S. Men’s National Team’s 6-1 rout of Cuba about returning to DC and his continued growth as a player.

Like DaMarcus Beasley, he is small and relies on quickness and guile to make his game. As a very young professional he would frequently get pushed around. He and Danny Szetela returned to Bradenton for two successive winters and Adu put on 10 pounds, mostly on the upper body, on each occasion. He went so far as to have his own gym in his home in Potomac and charted his progress as he developed.

He has progressed since then, “You’ve got to get stronger in your lower body and that’s what I’ve been working on. I’m not as easy to push off the ball anymore. Keep your balance and be quicker. When you get one step on a person, you gotta go. You can’t let him get his body into you.”

He has balanced strengthening his weakness with emphasizing his quickness, “You’re a smaller player so defenders are gonna want to hit you, because they’re much bigger and they might not be as quick as you. Whatever you’re gonna do, just do it quicker and just go.”

He had said when at DC that he had learned from Jaime Moreno to push off the defender before the defender could do the same to him. While he still often went down, his lower body strength has given him more confidence, “That’s all it is. Just anticipate it and then when the defender hits you, you can’t go down.”

At first, he would often not get the calls he might expect because he seemed to go down too easily. He has learned the value of demonstrated persistence, “You gotta try and keep your balance. Sometimes it’s gonna be a foul and you got to go down. But, most of the time now I just try to stay up on my feet.”

He was warmly received by the crowd as he entered and after the game, and has a nice Barra Brava tee shirt as a souvenir. He was clearly happy to return, “Unbelievable, unbelievable. After the game, I just stood there. This is where I started my career. It brought back so many memories.

“The fans were absolutely amazing. The best fans in MLS, hands down. I just stood there. I almost wanted to cry. Just hearing the crowd chant my name, it was unbelievable. I really appreciated that.

“DC United is a family. Every time one of their players comes back. Esky was telling me when he came back last time, they gave him a great, great welcome too. If you’ve played here, you’re part of the family.”

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Bradley moves to Gladbach

Posted on 01 September 2008 by ASN Staff

Michael Bradley‘s new club is finally official. As first reported on Yanks Abroad, the 21-year old son of U.S. men’s national team coach Bob Bradley will move from Dutch Eredivisie club Heerenveen to Borussia Moenchengladbach of the German Bundesliga.

Bradley’s services will cost Gladbach close to €3 million, according to German Web site kicker.de. He signed a four-year contract with the newly-promoted Bundesliga club after passing a physical Monday, the German magazine’s Web site adds.

The one time New York Metrostar was previously rumored to be on his way to the Premiership, with Paul Ince’s Blackburn Rovers said to be particularly interested. But the most recent reports had Bradley staying at Heerenveen.

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Dallman finds his footing at Bielefeld

Posted on 20 August 2008 by ASN Staff

Portland, Ore., native Matthew Dallman has quickly established himself as a starter at Bundesliga side Arminia Bielefeld, despite having to learn a new position. Soccer365.com has the story.

Highlights of Bielefeld’s first Bundesliga match against Werder Bremen:

The 23-year old Dallman got his start with the Bradenton Academics and played three seasons at the University of Portland before a series of trials in Europe. These included Bolton Wanderers, Danish club FC Nordsjælland and Bayern Munich II. He eventually signed with Nordsjælland and played for the club’s reserve side before a series of trials in Sweden, with heavy interest coming from Superettan club Bunkeflo IF. After more trials at Bolton and VfL Wolfsburg, Dallman accepted a two-year offer from Arminia Bielefeld. Matthew’s father played soccer for Portland State, and his great-grandfather, Roderick Welsh, played professionally for Portsmouth and Port Vale of the English First Division. (Source of above:Wikipedia).

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