Tuesday 19 February 2013
Following the signing of four players from Major League Soccer in the January transfer window, Premierleague.com caught up with Grant Wahl, senior writer at Sports Illustrated and MLS contributor for Fox Soccer, to get the lowdown on Brek Shea, Kei Kamara, Roger Espinoza and Simon Dawkins and gauge the increasing popularity of the Barclays Premier League in the United States.
Premierleague.com: What can you tell us about Brek Shea?
Grant Wahl: He's a really promising left-sided winger. That's where he's played for Dallas and the US national team over the last few years. I first heard about him several years ago when Sir Alex Ferguson had spotted him and said he had a bright future. So I kept an eye on him and two years ago he made a huge impact on the MLS. At the age of 20 he was one of the three finalists for the Most Valuable Player Award in the league.
PL.com: Does he have any distinguishing features?
GW: He's a player who is taller than most but has good control, likes to take on defenders: he's fast and scored a lot of goals two years ago. It was a breakthrough, he got into the national team when Jurgen Klinsmann took over and played a lot of games for the US. Last year, maybe because of his youth, he struggled a little, but the MLS wanted to keep him long-term because he's young and they want to have young American stars in the league, but he wanted to move to a higher level and he's now getting that chance with Stoke.
PL.com: Was he playing on the left wing for Dallas?
GW: He played in some different spots but he was by far better on the left wing. Dallas tried him as a centre-forward which didn't go quite as well, they even tried him in the back line. It's possible he could be a wing-back but Klinnsman said recently that he's better off upfield as a left winger.
PL.com: How will he adapt to life in the Barclays Premier League?
GW: He should do fine. It depends on what opportunities he gets at Stoke. He could get the chance there because they spent some good money on him and it's good for him that he has a fellow American in Geoff Cameron there who has settled well and had a good season for Stoke. Brett's from Texas, like Clint Dempsey, so it's definitely a cultural change from England but he'll do fine.
PL.com: How successful do you think he will be?
GW: He has a very good chance of being a success. It might take a while to settle in but he's got a lot of potential.
PL.com: If you had to compare him to any player in the Premier League or Europe which would it be?
GW: He's a really tall guy and because of his height and because he's really good on the ball I won't say he's anywhere close to Cristiano Ronaldo but they have similar traits. When you see Brek on the ball and taking people on, sometimes you think a guy that tall shouldn't be able to dribble that well and that's the same thing you get with Ronaldo. Obviously, Ronaldo is way more accomplished but you may get a picture of that in your eye when you see Brek Shea on the ball.
PL.com: Kei Kamara has an interesting background, doesn’t he?
GW: Yes, he's from Sierra Leone and grew up in a war-torn country. His is an amazing story, to get out of the country, move to California, and become a success. He played with several MLS teams and didn't break through until he went to Kansas City where he found a good system. They play 4-3-3 and their style is a good preparation for the Premier League, a very hard-driving style. Roger Espinoza who just arrived at Wigan, played in that system at Kansas City too, and seems to have already been a good fit.
PL.com: What can Norwich fans expect from him?
GW: Kamara finds ways to get in good positions. He scored quite a few goals in the MLS in the last couple of years and he's been a team leader and a fan favourite in Kansas City, where the fans were disappointed to see him leave, albeit on a loan deal. If you follow his Twitter account you can see he's an interesting guy. There's a reason why he won over so many fans at Kansas and he will now at Norwich.
PL.com: What sort of player is he?
GW: He's a winger in a 4-3-3. He's not tremendously fast but he has a good sense of the game and knows how to get on the end of balls in the box. I think he was their leading scorer last season and yet was also frustrated because he probably should have had more. He got on the end of so many chances. He's a hard-working player and a really good team-mate; when it comes to passing to them or being on the end of passes I never found a player that didn't like playing with him.
PL.com: So he's a good fit for Norwich?
GW: He could be. You never know how short-term loans will work out but Kamara's a guy who fits in very well on and off the field usually so he's a person you want to have in your team. He won't have cost a lot of money. Selfishly, we'd like to see him stay in MLS but there's a good chance he'll end up making the move permanently.
PL.com: Roger Espinoza was a team-mate of Kamara's at Kansas City. What do you make of him?
GW: He played there for several years. Roger Espinoza is just a force of nature. He covers a tremendous amount of ground in the midfield but can also make that transition into the attack very smoothly. He really made an impression at the Olympics for Honduras. I was at that game when Honduras lost 3-2 to Brazil; he scored and was all over the field. He was the best player on the field that day and that was in a match in which Neymar was playing.
Espinoza got a standing ovation from the Newcastle fans when he came off the field, it was just a really special moment. [Wigan Athletic manager Roberto] Martinez has had some success with Honduran players so, much like Kamara, playing at Kansas City has been a useful grounding for Espinoza because they play in a Premier League style.
He has tremendous amounts of energy. I was in Honduras last week for their World Cup win over the United States and Espinoza flew in from England, played the next day and was the best player on the field. The guy just never seems to get tired.
PL.com: What would be his best position?
GW: He plays central midfield. He's made a good impression there in the few games he's played and any time you can hit the ground running in the position he plays that's a good sign.
PL.com: He already made an impact against Stoke, can Wigan fans find salvation in the Honduran?
GW: He's going to help their chances of staying up. Last year Wigan really got hot at the end of the season to stay up and I see no reason why Espinoza can't have an impact there and help them do it again.
PL.com: Do you think he has the attributes to be a success in the Premier League?
GW: There's no doubt he's going to be a success there. I'm tremendously impressed with Espinoza. He'll be a very useful player for Wigan and the kind who will be a success overall.
PL.com: Simon Dawkins is English but you probably know more about him than we do as he spent two seasons in the MLS
GW: I was a little surprised Villa made that move. It's not that Dawkins is not a good player. I've seen flashes of potential there in San Jose over the last couple of seasons but he was still very much a complementary player there and it made me think that if Dawkins can get a move to the Premier League, albeit on loan, and start playing immediately then maybe MLS is even further along than I thought.
PL.com: So the earth didn't exactly move for Earthquakes fans?
GW: If you were watching the San Jose Earthquakes last year he would have been a guy who was kind of in the middle of the pack as far as quality of player, but maybe that's good news for MLS. I'm curious to see how he does.
MLS is starting to help with the careers of Americans and non-Americans in preparing them for moves to a great league like the Premier League. But Dawkins had some good moments. San Jose had the best record in the league last year during the regular season. Clearly they had a good team and he was one of the component parts.
PL.com: Aston Villa already have a very young side, what do they stand to gain by buying a 25-year-old with no Premier League experience?
GW: That was the question I asked myself. It was a surprise. But one thing we haven't seen much is MLS taking players on loan from Europe and then giving them a couple of years for them to step up. Maybe if he's successful Dawkins will be the start of a trend there.
In the past MLS has been hesitant to take young Europeans on loan unless they get the option to buy as part of it and yet there's a school of thought over here that maybe MLS should do more of that to improve the quality of the league.
PL.com: Do you think the influx of MLS players is going to increase the interest in the Premier League in the States?
GW: It should. Interest here in the Premier League has been increasing for a long period now. We'll see the change that happens next season once we have a new television carrier - NBC Sports Network are starting a new three-year deal, taking over from Fox Soccer - so the US has become a great place to watch Premier League matches.
PL.com: Sounds like fans should move out there?
GW: It's really quite wonderful. You have 60-70 live games every weekend in the United States including from all over the Premier League so the Premier League is getting an opportunity to get bigger here. It does help when a lot of the fans here have got used to a lot of these players and like following them or seeing some American players go over to the Premier League and have success.
PL.com: How is MLS faring?
GW: MLS is getting better from a quality standpoint. There will always be the challenge of competing with traditional American sports and MLS is not of the same standard as the Premier League - even my 80-year-old mother who has just started following soccer can see that - but it is far better than six or seven years ago and the upturn in the TV ratings and the options for viewing games reflect that. The World Cup has become a gigantic event in the States now, the Champions League is getting bigger every year and the Premier League is getting bigger every year.
PL.com: So if you speak to the man in the street he will have a better idea of the Premier League and its players than you would have done 10 years ago.
GW: Oh, yeah, definitely. Right now soccer is viewed as a cool sport in the United States. I live in New York City and you walk around Time Square and, although there are quite a few tourists, you do see people wearing soccer shirts from all around the world as you do any American sport.