2. MLS: Josh Wolff's move to Europe and the appeal of MLS attackers

By Ridge Mahoney

All of a sudden, it seems, American attackers are drawing attention overseas.

U.S. international Josh Wolff has signed with 1860 Munich of the German Second Division following a brief trial, Nate Jaqua has tryouts lined up in several European countries, Edson Buddle is looking for work in Scandanavia, and Clint Dempsey has been courted by several English Premier League teams.

Moves from MLS to Europe by scorers aren't rare. Stern John scored 44 goals for Columbus before moving to England in a move that eventually netted MLS around $4 million. Shaun Bartlett went to FC Zurich for $1 million and Damani Ralph went to Russian club FC Rubin Kazan for about the same price. Last summer, Jean-Phillipe Peguero was bought by Danish club Broendby for $700,000.

John, Bartlett, Ralph, and Peguero, however, aren't American. John, a native of Trinidad & Tobago, Peguero (Haiti), and Ralph (Jamaica) used MLS as a springboard from CONCACAF to Europe. South African Bartlett came to MLS after playing for South Africa in the 1996 African Cup of Nations and did well enough after he left to play five seasons with EPL club Charlton Athletic, which released him about a year ago.

A loan deal that would have sent Guatemalan striker Carlos Ruiz to English club Wolverhampton several years ago broke down because of transfer-window complications as well as concerns about his ability to get a work permit.

About the only American forward to leave MLS and flourish in Europe is Brian McBride, and he had to play in a pair of World Cups and be loaned to English clubs twice to earn a transfer to Fulham for $1 million. He's scored 33 goals for English teams, including 28 for the Cottagers since signing for the club in January, 2004.

Ante Razov left MLS for Spain, but stayed less than a year before coming back, and Clint Mathis lasted about as long in Germany. Joe-Max Moore scored goals in five straight games in his early days at Everton but eventually returned to MLS after netting 10 goals in 37 matches. Razov, Mathis, and Moore went to Europe as free agents.

Says deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis, "I'd like to think all of our players, be they American or not, are receiving more respect overseas. There's certainly no shortage of former MLS players doing well in Europe and I don't think that's a coincidence. A lot of teams are looking for players who can survive in a physical, competitive environment, and MLS certainly has that."

Another attribute of MLS players is they don't cost a lot. Their salaries and acquisition fees rank very low compared to those paid in many European first divisions and miniscule when stacked up against the top clubs in even modest leagues. It might seem shocking that Broendby would pay so much for Peguero, who scored 20 goals in his three MLS seasons, yet a smaller club, Odd Grenland of Norway, paid about $300,000 for a solid but hardly spectacular ex-Rapids defender named Nat Borchers.

"The Scandanavian clubs are looking for bargains, relatively speaking, and most MLS players fit that description," says agent Patrick McCabe. "A lot of Canadian players play there, too. Most teams are looking for left-sided players and goalscorers, and after that, they'll look at MLS for a player who can fit their needs within their budget."

Wolff's move was motivated by more than money. He was one of the highest earners in MLS at a salary of $420,357 and, ambitious as 1860 is, it can't afford that kind of money indefinitely unless it earns promotion back up to the top flight. It was relegated from the Bundesliga at the end of the 2003-04 season and has been wracked by financial troubles. Last season, it narrowly avoided relegation to the Regionalliga (Third Division).

Last September, a move to Derby collapsed when his work-permit appeal was denied. Wolff, who in the past trained with Blackburn and several other clubs, has finally found a spot, however tenuous, in Europe with an American teammate, defender Gregg Berhalter.

1860 Munich is in sixth place, four points below the promotion zone.

"You want to be part of it," Wolff says. "It's exciting to be where soccer is the dominant sport, whether it's England, Germany, Holland, wherever."

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