When England’s Under-21s play Israel at Oakwell on September 5th, many people’s eyes will be drawn to the youngsters who have lit up the Premier League in recent months.
However, while stars such as Chelsea’s Daniel Sturridge and Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will remain the point of focus for many European-based observers, England’s opponents have a starlet of their own who could prove a valuable asset for years to come.
Chicago Fire striker Orr Barouch has received his first call-up to the side at the age of just 19, and having only made his professional debut at the start of this year.
Luis Fernandez, coach of Israel’s full national side, may well have been made aware of the youngster’s potential future eligibility for the United States. Despite having been born in Haifa, Barouch began his career in the States with Chivas USA and, despite since moving to Mexican giants Tigres, has made a quick return to MLS with his loan move to Chicago in March.
With the strength of his debut season for the Fire, in which he has featured in 20 of the club’s 23 games, the powers-that-be at Toyota Park will certainly be keen on him extending his stay.
It would be naive to expect consistent world-class displays from a youngster who has hitherto failed to catch the eye of scouts in Europe’s larger leagues despite a move to Belgium being mooted before he joined Tigres.
And let us not forget the hype which surrounded Barouch’s fellow countryman Gai Assulin at Barcelona, before the development of contemporaries Thiago Alcantara and Jonathan Dos Santos forced the continuation of the winger’s development in Manchester City’s academy.
However, in the games he has played so far for Chicago the 6’2” frontman has shown plenty of signs that he can become a star, be it in Major League Soccer or elsewhere. An imposing presence in spite of his tender age, the teenager has gone from being one for the future to edging out much more renowned and likely more highly-paid team-mates.
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Indeed it would not be too much of a stretch to say the form of Barouch accelerated the departure of fellow forward Gaston Puerari, of whom big things were expected upon his arrival from Montevideo Wanderers. At the very least it may have softened the blow of the extinguished hope which accompanied the Uruguayan’s exit.
With Barouch, Dominic Oduro and Diego Chaves all providing viable options in attack, last year’s eternally frustrating triumvirate of Freddie Ljungberg, Nery Castillo and Collins John have become a distant memory.
The development of both Barouch and rookie team-mate Jalil Anibaba has provided some respite for the long-suffering Fire fans in yet another stop-start season. The fine early-season form of Chaves – which eventually proved something of a false dawn – was cancelled out at the other end by the error-strewn displays of Jon Conway in goal, meaning the reinstatement of Conway’s predecessor Sean Johnson came too late to save Carlos de los Cobos’s job.
The Mexican has since been replaced in the dugout by former Fire player Frank Klopas, albeit only until the end of the season, and the new man is finally beginning to get a threadbare squad playing to its strengths.
A narrow defeat to Manchester United in July’s friendly was arguably the team’s best all-round performance of the season, and had some of their players taken their chances (fringe player Baggio Husidic was the main culprit) then a 3-1 loss could easily have been a draw or even a win.
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That display has seemed to invigorate a number of members of the squad, not least Oduro and his fellow Ghanaian Patrick Nyarko. The pace of the African duo had always been a valuable tool in the Fire’s arsenal, but in recent weeks an adventurous formation has allowed them to use that quality to good effect by getting in behind opposition defences as they should be.
Klopas’ side still sit bottom of the Eastern Conference with just two wins, but last Saturday they got the better of Hans Backe’s New York Red Bulls for large amounts of their away encounter, and only a controversial Joel Lindpere equaliser robbed them of their second win on the road in 2011.
It might be too late to creep into the play-off picture this season, but the talent young and old in the Fire squad at least gives the fans reason to be optimistic ahead of the 2012 campaign, even if Guatemala star Marco Pappa sets sail for Europe in the new year.
It is now eight years and counting since the Illinois club reached the MLS Cup final – what price a shot at glory next season?
Tags: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Chicago Fire, Daniel Sturridge, England Under-21s, Israel, MLS, Orr Barouch