116street Soccer

Footballing from a lesser authority...

Location: New York, New York

Friday, June 09, 2006

Know Your Yanks: John O'Brien

Is he the best American soccer player? Will he ever play enough for anyone to actually find out? When was the last time he cut his hair? The questions concerning John O'Brien won't go away until the World Cup is over.

John O'Brien, a hero of the USA's 2002 run, has long been a highly regarded member of the USA soccer program, and has often been looked upon as a trailblazer for U.S. soccer players overseas. In 1996, at age 17, he signed an amateur contract with storied Dutch team Ajax Amsterdam, becoming the first American to come through the legendary Ajax academy. After a loan spell at FC Utrecht, O'Brien made his Ajax debut in 1999, eventually becoming a regular starter for the squad, as well as a two-time Dutch champion (2002, 2004). In between, O'Brien also became a fixture for the USA, making his international debut in 1998 and scoring the first goal for the U.S. in the 2002 World Cup.
Unfortunately for O'Brien, his promising career was derailed by a two-year spell of chronic injuries, which began in 2004. Unable to get healthy, he lost his place at Ajax, and soon left the squad to join lesser-light Dutch team ADO Den Haag in 2005. His injuries persisted, however, and he soon came back to the States to rehab. After spending time in California, trying to get back to fitness, O'Brien was able to work out a transfer deal to MLS, where he signed with Chivas USA in 2006. Despite only getting into one match for Chivas this season, O'Brien's obvious talent and national team reputation caused Bruce Arena to choose him for the 2006 World Cup squad.
O'Brien's skill set has often led USA teammates to refer to him as the best American soccer player, when healthy. He is a gifted passer with good speed, a strong tackler, and possesses outstanding ball control. He can play in multiple positions, but for the U.S., he will play in the center of midfield. If he is ready to go, he will be a starter for the squad, but his race to match fitness remains unclear. Nevertheless, there is no question that the U.S. squad is much improved when he is in the lineup.

Career Highlights:

1998: Makes pro debut with FC Utrecht (Netherlands, Eredivisie) on loan from Ajax Amsterdam (Netherlands, Eredivisie). Makes U.S. Men's National Team debut.

1999: Joins Ajax on loan return.

2002: Wins Eredivisie title with Ajax. Advances to quarterfinals of World Cup with USA, before elimination against Germany.

2004: Wins Eredivisie title with Ajax.

2005: Joins ADO Den Haag (Netherlands, Eredivisie) from Ajax on a free transfer. Wins Gold Cup with USA.

2006: Joins Chivas USA (USA, Major League Soccer) from ADO on a free transfer.


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