- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 21, 2007

SEOUL — While David Beckham’s move to Major League Soccer has garnered massive amounts of media attention, the reverse act — American players heading overseas — is hardly a novel concept.

Because soccer in the United States has yet to gain anything more than niche popularity, and because Beckham already has established himself as one of the best soccer players in the world, his is seen more as a move that will create headlines. Despite being in existence since 1996, MLS still is seen as less of a league than outfits on the other side of the Atlantic.

However, for players like Fulham’s Brian McBride, the move from America to England is more about creating an individual identity. Several American players every year make the leap to England's Premier League simply to prove themselves worthy of the world’s best competition.

“We have lots of foreign players in the Premier League, but the American players seem to fit in well,” former Welsh national team star Gary Speed said. “We almost regard them as English, because Brian McBride is an English type of player. Claudio Reyna was also the same — very hard working and very decent on the ball. They are almost regarded as English players and fit in very well.”

American goalies seem to have had the least amount of trouble making the transition. Three American keepers who started in the EPL last season — Brad Friedel of the Blackburn Rovers, Tim Howard at Everton and Marcus Hahnemann of Reading — all have had moderate success thus far. And Kasey Keller used to be a starter for Tottenham Hotspur.

“The ones that have come over are very well-rounded,” said Bolton and former England national team goalie Ian Walker. “They worked on their game hard and adjusted well to the English game. I’ve looked at goalies in the American league and there are some good ones there as well. The ones that came over made themselves irreplaceable for their clubs. They are very solid, reliable keepers. The first year is always an adjustment period it happened for Friedel and Tim Howard. Brad has been one of the best keepers in the Premier League.”

The latest American rumored to be on his way to play in England is former D.C. United player Freddy Adu, who has been linked with Tottenham. After scoring a hat trick against Poland at the Under-20 World Cup, Adu’s stock suddenly has taken an upward turn. Scottish club Celtic also is rumored to be interested in the 18-year-old Potomac native.

Despite the higher level of competition offered in England, Beckham’s move to MLS seems to have whetted the appetite of other British players to do the same.

“It seems every week in the papers that someone is linked with going to MLS,” Bolton Wanderers star striker Kevin Nolan said. “They are so lucky to have him. We’d love to have him back in the Premiership. I played against him as a youngster and realized what a special player he was.”

For Speed, 37, the only thing preventing him from making the move is age.

“I would love to,” Speed said. “But I think the clock is ticking a bit for me in that respect. … I’ve been to L.A. a few times and it’s a fantastic place to be and live … If David Beckham can leave his mark on MLS, there will be more players going over there.”

EPL prediction — So who will be the big star of the EPL this season?

“I think Wayne Rooney,” Bolton striker Kevin Nolan said. “He’s had a complete rest with no games. He’s had six weeks off and I think this year we will see the best of him.”

Rooney had a goal and an assist as Manchester United beat FC Seoul 4-0 before 65,000 at the World Cup Stadium last night. Cristiano Ronaldo, Patrice Evra and Chris Eagles all had goals as well.

Guus goes north? — Guus Hiddink, the Dutch coach who led South Korea to the semifinals of the 2002 World Cup, has hinted at coaching North Korea when his stint with the Russian national team ends, according to a Korean source. Hiddink has a charity in South Korea with the goal to build a sporting facility for the disabled in every Korean city that played host to World Cup games.