United States of Liverpool?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011 | View Comments
-Ben McCormick

For many reasons, there are not many Liverpool fans that will take kindly to being dubbed, "The New Fulham." That, however, is exactly the title they are setting themselves up for by going on something of an American shopping spree.

A few weeks ago, Brent Laham reported US U-17 captain Marc Pelosi had received an offer from Liverpool to join their academy ranks. For those who see that as not all that impressive, the minuscule numbers of players who successfully transition from the academy to the first team being what they are, it should be noted professional international transfers aren't allowed until a player turns 18 under FIFA law. Pelosi's deal looks to be similar to that of Sebastian Lletget of West Ham, who signed a two year academy deal before signing a professional contract on his 18th birthday. Pelosi qualifies for an EU passport through his German heritage.

The most recent development, and perhaps the most surprising, is that of Villyan Bijev, a Bulgarian-American from California who went on trial at LFC a couple weeks ago. In two matches with the Liverpool U-18 squad, Bijev scored five goals and notched two assists. His impressive performances prompted the club to offer him a five year professional contract, with three guaranteed years and two club option years. It was reported in Bijev's native Fresno, CA this deal was done, backed up by Greg Seltzer over at No Short Corners. Bijev was set to play at the University of Washington before signing at Liverpool and, per Seltzer, due to Bulgaria's transitional status as a member of the EU, he will immediately be loaned to Genk of the Belgian Juliper League. On January 1, 2012, Bijev's Bulgarian citizenship will land him a UK work permit through the EU.

The third Yank on their way to Liverpool is Andrew Oliver, who will be training with the Reds. Oliver spent a significant amount of time with the US U-17 national team before being dismissed from the program for behavioral reasons. He led the U-17 squad in scoring at the World Cup qualifying tournament, the 2011 CONCACAF U-17 Championship. It is unlikely Oliver's stint at Liverpool is anything like a trial due to his inability to acquire a UK work permit.

Today, Brian Sciaretta of Yanks Abroad learned from the club itself the two deals for Pelosi and Bijev are not yet finalized, but whether or not the players sign is missing the larger point (Ed: here's a photo of Bijev signing his deal - don't doubt Seltzer).

It's no secret the United States is a largely untapped soccer market. Many of the world's biggest clubs advertise in America, play friendlies in America, or more recently sponsor youth clubs in America. Liverpool, a world giant, has taken a leap by signing American players. Instead of simply collecting checks full of American consumer dollars, Liverpool has shown they believe American players may be ready to compete with the best of the best by investing in them.

Pelosi was the captain of the US U-17 team, and with his German heritage a move to Europe was made easy. If the American captain at that age group can sign with a giant like Liverpool, imagine the different quality clubs many American kids would sign with if work permits and international transfers weren't a problem. With players going from the U-17s to big clubs in consecutive cycles, it's becoming safer to say America is starting to develop truly quality prospects.

Liverpool's signing of Villyan Bijev may have even greater implications. He played predominantly for Cal Odyssey of the USSDA in addition to playing for the US U-18 national team a few times in the past year. Liverpool certainly did their homework on him. He didn't play in any tournament like a youth world cup and isn't the son or nephew of anyone famous. Simply, his signing means clubs like Liverpool are seriously scouting American players on American soil. It is highly unlikely, even with the impressive trial he had, Liverpool would offer him such a long contract unless they knew well before he got there what kind of player they may be getting.

Finalized signing or no finalized signing news of such serious interest in American players from a club like Liverpool is impressive. It's a promising day in American soccer when FulhAmerica fades to the background and the United States of Liverpool moves to the front.
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