Rejoice: American Players Are Soccer's New Exploitable Resource

In April, Thomas DiBenedetto, a rich businessman from Boston who somehow emerged from the economic downturn unscathed, bought a controlling interest in AS Roma for around 60 million Euros. Pending approval, he'll be the first foreign majority investor in Serie A. One of his first action items is to sign an American player. Or two. Or three. Somehow, possibly via diligent reporting, the MLS website managed to break the news of DiBenedetto's patriotic impulse:

Roma's lead crushes are currently Borussia Mönchengladbach midfielder Michael Bradley (now on loan to Aston Villa) and LA Galaxy star Landon Donovan. [New sporting director Walter] Sabatini has also sized up the likes of New York Red Bulls forward Juan Agudelo, FC Nürnberg right-sider Timothy Chandler, Aston Villa 'keeper Brad Guzan and Anderlecht midfielder Sacha Kljestan.

Now this is interesting. Chandler and Agudelo have loads of potential that needs developing. Guzan is a very good goalie, as are many goalies out there. Kljestan shouldn't even be in this conversation. Which leaves the mainline American stars in Donovan and Bradley. Of the two, Donovan should be considered on merit, given his technical ability. But merit can't be the only consideration with this many Americans in play for an international transfer. It starts to feel a little like Manchester United signing Dong Fangzhuo to tap the Chinese market, although less disingenuous.

When Donovan served a brief stint with Everton last year, awareness of the club spiked in the United States. I saw many fans looking to buy Donovan's No. 9 Everton jersey online and a bunch more wearing it in South Africa during the World Cup (not that my first-hand observation is quantitatively significant). Point is, Everton scored in two ways with Donovan: the club found a nice complementary player on the right wing and a Trojan horse into the American market. In a mere 13 games, Donovan generated a good deal of free publicity and revenue for Everton, which did absolutely nothing here to promote its American connection.

It looks like DiBenedetto has a more targeted approach in mind. He's already referring to the American players as "products." He sees that many MLS stadiums are overflowing with devoted fans. I'm sure he knows that Americans bought more World Cup tickets last year than visitors from any other country. We've been conditioned to think that the lasting embrace of soccer here was supposed to occur in a fiery instant, like some cosmic bro hug set to a Hans Zimmer score. But it's been gradually percolating all along. If the economics of the sport have now reached the point where American soccer players are being wooed because of their nationality, rather than in spite of it, I guess you'd have to call that progress.

Could US stars Bradley, Donovan be headed to Roma? [MLSsoccer.com]