USMNT Dark Horse Eugene Starikov

Tuesday, October 26, 2010 | View Comments

The net for potential USMNT players is cast necessarily wide in the hope that anyone with American ties can be brought into the fold.  While Germany (Jermaine Jones, possibly Daniel Williams) and Mexico (a plethora of young players) are the focus at the moment, there's reason to cast an interested eye towards Russia.

Russia is where Eugene (also called Evgeni) Starikov plays, on loan with Tom Tomsk from Zenit St. Petersburg.  The Odessa-born forward/midfielder is beginning to get his legs underneath him on the Siberian plain, scoring his first professional goal in his first ever start over the weekend.  21 years-old, versatile, and in line for more game-time (according to James Appell, Russian football observer), Starikov is an intriguing player mostly because we don't know much about him.

Starikov left Stetson University in Florida to join Zenit St. Peterburg's youth team, a situation aided by his father's connections to the Russian club.  After getting spot substitute appearances throughout the year, he seems to be building steam towards real playing time in relatively strong league.  

He is playing first division soccer, and if he can play striker, he should be on the US radar.  Though the obvious uncapped options, Chris Wondowlowski for example, are more prolific, playing time and potential are factors in Starikov's favor. With a regular starter seeing little time in Spain and still-ineligible players like Danny Mwanga receiving attention simply because the pool is thin, Starikov falls solidly into the "worth a shot" category.  

Starikov is currently eligible for the Ukraine and the United States, with Russia a possibility when his passport comes through (see previously linked James Appell tweet).  He has stated clearly that he'll play for whomever calls him up first; if the US would like to have the benefit of his services should he evolve into a quality player, they'll need to act soon. With no word from Bradley about Starikov, little to no attention from fans outside of the wonkish Americans abroad forums, and Starikov declining an invitation to play in the US youth program, it's impossible to know how likely a call up might be.  The trip to South Africa is certainly not the time, but perhaps the annual January camp is.  

Would Bradley call up an under-the-radar player like Starikov in January?  There's little reason not to.  Would Starikov accept?  If he's open to playing for the US, again, it's hard to see why he wouldn't.  

While it's far from clear if Starikov is an international quality player, giving him a look does little harm.  The worst case scenario is if Starikov develops into a good player, goes on to play for Russia or the Ukraine, and becomes another example of US Soccer's failure in leaving no stone unturned.  Should Starikov turn down a US overture, at least the federation can say they tried.

Go here for the rough translation of a Russian-language story on Starikov from March, which includes his statement that he would play for whichever country called him first.  

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