Category: Archive

Proving himself

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Ridiculously audacious, his effort sailed past Zach Thornton, but hit the post and came back out. Reminiscent of David Beckham’s wonder goal against Wimbledon back in the days when the snake oil salesman was a serious player, O’Brien’s vision and execution surprised few in America’s soccer community. For nearly two seasons now, the Bray, Co. Wicklow native has been lighting up Major League Soccer (MLS), making and taking goals with that kind of aplomb.
Given that there are no meaningful games in England for a couple of months, and that he is a regular enough patron of the Eircom League to know the pedigree of each of its players, we would hope Brian Kerr spends at least a few days of this international off-season in the great state of Texas. For him to not to travel to Dallas to watch O’Brien play sometime this summer would represent a serious dereliction of duty. Nobody is claiming that the one-time Middlesbrough apprentice is better than Damien Duff, but he’s certainly physically fitter than Andy Reid.
He can score, he can beat people with the ball and he can cross. For a country that has traditionally had problems with creativity, it wouldn’t do any harm to take a closer look. But what about the quality of the league where he stars?
Well, the quality of the league where he stars is backed up by the fact that half the American team that reached the quarter-finals of the last World Cup (a stage farther than Ireland) came from the MLS. Not to mention that O’Brien is producing these displays against sides speckled with current internationals from all over the Americas and Africa.
The MLS cannot be compared to the Premiership or La Primera Liga, but it’s at least on a level with whatever the English are calling the division below their top flight these days. Kerr has shown a willingness to pepper his squad with those from outside the Premiership so he should have no worries about the caliber of players against whom O’Brien measures himself every week. In any case, the FAI official who contacted the New England Revolution’s Pat Noonan to inquire about his eligibility for Ireland a while back seemed happy enough with the standard in America’s domestic competition.
There are so many arguments in O’Brien’s favor that it’s a wonder Kerr hasn’t brought him into a squad before now. After all, his performances have been so consistently good that the U.S. manager Bruce Arena (the person responsible for the World Cup success of 2002) was reportedly looking into his citizenship with a view to introducing him to his own squad. Surely that sort of talk and the fact O’Brien is playing in a league where the pace and style of play is far more akin to international football than so much of England’s helter-skelter club fare might have warranted further investigation.
Other managers in Europe don’t seem to mind their players plying their trade across the Atlantic. In the aforementioned clash with the Chicago Fire, Dallas were undone by a goal from Slovakian international Lubos Reiter, just days after he’d scored for his homeland in a World Cup qualifying game against Luxembourg.
Is O’Brien the victim of some snobbishness about a league in an upstart soccer country or merely written off because of the bizarre nature of his career following Bryan Robson’s decision to release him from Middlesbrough in 1999?
That spawned an unlikely move to Juventus on a free transfer. Although rumored to have signed a contract for

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