Across the country, in small enclaves of Internet-tethered American soccer fans who forgo bread and water for the sustenance provided by transfer scuttlebutt, brows are being furrowed at an alarming rate. Edson Buddle has signed with a 2.Bundesliga club, FC Ingolstadt 04.
"Why?" is the most common question, because Buddle's decisions seems odd on its surface. Second division soccer in Germany is hardly a step up from his old digs in LA, where, need we be reminded, he had a career year in 2010. The hand-wringing in Galaxy circles, and to a lesser extent among MLS observers who will take any opportunity to point out the flaws in the way the League operates, is understandable. .
I'm not sure what the Galaxy offered Buddle, and he was certainly in line for a raise after the season he had in '10, but it would be irresponsible to repeat them here (and they would just distract from the thrust of this post). The sense I get, based on the hurried nature of his signing (unless there was a longer courtship we didn't hear about), is that Buddle was intent on getting to Europe come hell or high water. Money was surely a factor, but I'm not positive a difference in salary explains fully why the American striker signed with a 2.Bundesliga relegation candidate.
From Buddle's perspective, it was now or never for a European tour of duty. He was out of contract, free to sign with whomever wanted him, just played in a World Cup, and at 29, is running short on time. American players putting more emphasis on playing in Europe that might be warranted is not a new problem. But an American player eschewing a return to sunny LA for a chance to play in Germany's second division is hard to explain, even acknowledging the European gravitational pull. Buddle didn't do anything new, he just did the old thing in an odd way that hit us like a punch to the sternum.
Yet there are reasons it might make at least a modicum of sense. Despite rumors linking him with EPL sides and SPL giant Rangers, Buddle getting a work permit in Britain was unlikely. Buddle didn't play enough for the USMNT over the last two years, and doesn't fit the criteria for exceptions for young, extraordinary talents. Buddle is an ageing striker with a nose for goal - valuable, sure, but valuable to whom, and at what level commitment is debatable. Would it be better for a player like Buddle to sign with a first division side (if such interest existed where work permit issues weren't a problem) where the money might be good but the playing time scarce, or a team like Ingolstadt where he's almost guaranteed to play and the money would be at least on par with what he could get in LA (I'm guessing here - don't know what he's making)?
By signing with Ingolstadt, Buddle can be fairly certain of playing time. By signing with Ingolstadt, he's in the backyard of European teams who, should he burn up 2.Bundesliga over the next few months, might be willing to sign him in the summer. By signing with Ingolstadt, if he has the usual relegation clause in his contract, he isn't locking himself in for more than a few months should they go down. And if he manages to contribute enough to help them stay up, perhaps another club comes calling. It's also possible he only signed through the end of the season, meaning he'd be free to leave no matter what happens. 2.Bundesliga sounds like a funny place to showcase yourself, but, in the minds of Buddle and his agent, it might just be a stepping stone to something they imagine happening in July.
If it doesn't work out, if Buddle doesn't play/score, if Ingolstadt does down and no one else in Europe is interested, Buddle can just come back to MLS. The Galaxy traded for Adam Cristman today, scraping the bottom of the striker barrel with Buddle now in Germany and Juan Pablo Angel as yet unsigned, so it's not difficult to imagine them welcoming him back with open arms should he need a place to play down the road.
This move very well might be a mistake for Edson Buddle, and who knows how Bob Bradley took the news. Nevertheless, there are ways to explain Buddle's thinking that make at least a little bit of sense. Perhaps the Galaxy are at fault for letting him get away, but maybe Buddle values a European address a little to highly for his own good, and he never considered signing another MLS contract.
I suppose we'll see how long he sticks to those guns.