Crossing the Atlantic – an MLS XI

Off the back of our last piece on the continued rise of MLS, there are a number of players from the English leagues that you thought you’d forgotten about – all seeking success in the MLS. You could probably make up a complete XI from them…

1. Julio Cesar (Toronto FC – base salary $192,000 in 2014)

The signing of Julio Cesar at QPR looks on reflection to be highly symptomatic of what went wrong at Loftus Road. Signed to a long-term deal on good money from Inter (reported as £100k/week), it was a position they had decent options for going into that summer – in contrast to other areas of the pitch in desperate need of investment if QPR were to avoid the drop.

Nevertheless, Cesar impressed in his first season but his heroics weren’t enough to keep QPR up. Keen to trim the wage bill, he was unsuccessfully offered to clubs last summer. But rather than use his talent, Harry Redknapp bizarrely decided to freeze the Brazilian out of the squad. He joined Toronto on loan earlier this year, and you have to feel his time at QPR, regardless of whether they gain promotion, is over. This, for a player who may captain Brazil at the World Cup this summer. It’s remarkable Toronto have him at the club.

2. Bradley Orr (Toronto FC – base salary $75,000 in 2014)

The former Bristol City legend joined Cesar on loan from Blackburn this year, linking up with former team-mate Ryan Nelson, Toronto’s head coach. After initial early success at Neil Warnock’s Championship-winning QPR, Orr fell out of favour in the Premiership and was packed off to Steve Kean’s Blackburn, featuring regularly in the terrible side that was relegated two years ago.

After a couple of loan spells in the Championship, the versatile defender has been called upon to play in the middle due to injuries in the Toronto squad. He’s already looking at making the move permanent, and is hoping that by the end of his career he’ll no longer be best known as the player that got a red card for head butting teammate Louis Carey while at Ashton Gate.

3. Jordan Stewart (San Jose Earthquakes – base salary $140,000 in 2014)

Jordan Stewart: still playing, still running somewhere down the left

It’s fair to say that Stewart has been around a bit. It’s easy to forget that he also played in the Premiership, for the relegated Leicester City and relegated Watford. Following that, each of his moves seemed to be downward, with an unsuccessful spell in Greece mixed in, before he headed for the MLS last season.

Stewart’s always been a bit of an odd footballer, often average but with the out-of-the-blue occasional screamer. His Wikipedia page describes him as “either a left-back or left-winger, and if required, can play at centre-back.” I saw him play for Sheffield United mid-career-decline down the left-hand side, and he was quite possibly one of the worst left-backs/left-wingers I have seen for the club. His versatility seems to stem from the fact he is equally poor in both positions – he looked like a winger forced to play full-back, or a full-back forced to play on the wing, depending on his position at the time. Good luck to him at San Jose.

4. Jay DeMerit (Vancouver Whitecaps – base salary $184,000 in 2014)

Of all the current MLS players that have made the move from across the Atlantic, the star of ‘Rise & Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story’ stands out as perhaps the most successful. The long-serving Watford centre-half has used his limited ability well over the years, scoring in the 2006 playoff final for the Hornets, playing in the Premiership, and even putting in a decent shift for the USA at the last World Cup despite being released by Watford.

When the Whitecaps gained their MLS status, DeMerit was recruited to be their captain and the focus of the team to be built around him. He was, and still is, on all of their promotional material. The MLS All-Star enjoys a celebrity status at the club that should give hope to any centre-half with moderate success in the English leagues – come to the MLS where you can be the lynchpin of the team, live in a great city, and marry an Olympian.

5. Andy O’Brien (Vancouver Whitecaps – base salary $250,000 in 2014)

A trademark tackle from O’Brien on Robbie Keane earlier this month (Photo: The Canadian Press)

DeMerit’s other partner is the former Bolton and Ireland centre-half, who perhaps seeing the Jay DeMerit story thought he could replicate it. Unfortunately for him, he’s picked a team already with one central defensive late-developing star, so he’s having to settle for being “the other centre-half”, albeit the one being paid somewhat more.

O’Brien had a bit of a rough time at his previous club Leeds – suffering from depression at a time when the club was doing poorly. 35 in June, contract up in December, the tough-tackling O’Brien is looking to bounce back and end his career on a high. Two things were noticeable when watching him recently against LA – he’s as rough a play as ever, and he’d never get away wearing orange boots in Bolton.

6. Steven Caldwell (Toronto FC – base salary $325,000 in 2014)

The other Caldwell is another of the UK contingent in Toronto, currently captaining the side after joining from Birmingham last season. Best known for his time with Sunderland and Burnley, the former Scottish international is enjoying his football after an excellent first season in the MLS.

What Caldwell may have lost in pace in recent years is made up for by his whole-hearted attitude to defending, which saw the MLS retrospectively given a ban after this vicious tackle against Real Salt Lake this month. A tackle he described as “not looking good”.

7. Nigel Reo-Coker (Vancouver Whitecaps – base salary $400,000 in 2014)

Where did it all go wrong for Nigel Reo-Coker? He captained a West Ham side to promotion and an FA Cup final before even turning 22, and despite his form dropping off in 2006-07, Aston Villa were still prepared to pay a whopping £8.5 million to secure his signature.

His time at Villa was mixed, shifted by Martin O’Neill into a number of positions to accommodate him. At times he captained the side – at others, he had major failings out with the club, including a training ground bust-up with O’Neill. He joined Bolton on a free in 2011, ditched them the following summer after relegation, and played half a season at Ipswich before heading to Vancouver.

The Whitecaps were willing to part with their 2nd round SuperDraft picks for 2014 and 2015 to get Reo-Coker. And after initial success, he’s struggled to even get a game so far under Carl Robinson. Again it may be off-the-field where the problems lie – troublesome contract talks before the start of the season, tripping over a bike rack (giving him concussion) and now a mysterious illness keeping him out of the squad. On issues with him in training, Robinson stated that “he just needs to show a willingness”. Ominous signs as to his future at the Whitecaps, particularly considering he’s the highest paid of this XI by some margin.

8. Lloyd Sam (New York Red Bulls – base salary $136,500 in 2014)

While Sam suffered two relegations at The Valley, I always felt he was an underrated player that would eventually get snapped up by a bigger team. Decent speed, comfortable on the ball, and a good eye for goal – all desirable attributes for a winger.

But it never really happened for him after Charlton had to part company with him due to the financial reality of life in League 1. Early promise at Leeds was followed with a series of niggling injuries, before his release in 2012. And after injury followed him in his first season with the Red Bulls, he bounced back last season and has started this season well – currently tied with Obafemi Martins for the number of assists and scoring a late-winner recently against Philadelphia. Encouragingly, he also survived being speared by Tim Cahill amidst the goal celebrations, as Cahill momentarily forgot how injury-prone Sam has been.

9. Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls – base salary $330,000 in 2014)

Sam is joined at the Red Bulls by the other Wright-Phillips. Bradley made history at the weekend by becoming the first Englishman to score a hat-trick in the MLS, coming in a 4-0 thrashing of Houston.

Wright-Phillips is another that has had an odd career. Early promise at Man City was followed with off-the-field issues at Southampton. But he rebuilt his career at Plymouth and then had a superb season at Charlton as they won League 1, in no small part due to his 22 goals. But then he disappeared without a trace again. So deadly the previous year, he had a poor season in the Championship to the extent he was released at the end of last season.

In a contrast of fortunes, he’s now on decent money, playing up front alongside Thierry Henry. 5 in 8 already this season – he’s off to a flyer.

10. Luke Moore (Chivas USA – base salary $120,000 in 2014)

Once a promising forward at Aston Villa after winning the FA Youth Cup alongside brother Stefan, Moore has been blighted with injury throughout his career. Despite West Brom paying £3 million for him in 2008, but ultimately had a fairly fruitless time in front of goal. He failed to regain his form sufficiently at Swansea, and Michael Laudrup released him last summer.

A failed spell in Turkey, where he failed to score in 17 appearances at Elazığspor, was cut short and this is his first season in the MLS. No goals in his 5 appearances just yet, and no goals now for over a year.

11. Giles Barnes (Houston Dynamo – base salary $230,000 in 2014)

Giles Barnes – enjoying his football again

Giles Barnes really had a real buzz about him when he broke through at Derby aged 17. Lots of energy to his game – a really exciting player to watch, who became a key part of their promotion to the Premiership. But following injuries in the years that followed, Barnes’s career took a different path – with disappointment towards the end of his time at Derby followed by further woe at West Brom. By the time he reached Doncaster Rovers in 2011, he was only worth a 6-month deal before being released.

Barnes moved to Houston in 2012, and has since relaunched his career. He had an impressive season last year where he stayed largely free of injury, scored a few crackers, and appears to be enjoying life again. At still only 25, perhaps an English team may be tempted to bring him back for one last go in the top tier.

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