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Major League Soccer

O'Brien comes home; versatile player signs with Chivas USA.

John O'Brien
On the day he signed with Chivas USA, John O'Brien was named to the U.S. roster for next Tuesday's friendly against Jamaica.
-- Chivas USA web site photo --
By Gary Davidson
SoccerTimes

(Tuesday, April 4, 2006) -- Midfielder John O'Brien, who was a key contributor the United States men's run to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup, will play professionally for the first time in the U.S. after signing today with Chivas USA of Major League Soccer.

O'Brien, whose entire pro career has been played in the Netherlands, will literally be returning home. He was born in Los Angeles and calls his home Playa del Rey, Calif., about 15 miles from Carson, where Chivas plays in The Home Depot Center.

"I'm very happy to be here. It seems like it will be a solid opportunity for me to get back on the field, to get playing in the place where I grew up," said O'Brien, 28, in his introductory press conference today. "I love to play in front of my home crowd and Chivas seems to be the team that's calling right now, so I'm happy to be a part of this club. There's no place I'd rather be in MLS."

O'Brien was named today to the 18-man United States team that will play Jamaica next Tuesday at SAS Soccer Park in Cary, N.C.

A series of injuries derailed a promising career at Ajax Amsterdam, the Dutch power that first scouted O'Brien while he was playing for the California Flyers youth team in 1992. He was brought into Ajax's famed youth system in the summer of 1994, just shy of his 17th birthday and placed on the club's amateur side in 1996. Two years later, Ajax signed O'Brien to his first pro contract.

O'Brien's World Cup glory was followed by a succession of injuries that eventually led to the end of his career with Ajax when the team released him following the 2004-05 season. From one of the best Eredivisie team he moved to one of the worst, signing with relegation-challenged ADO Den Haag, but a groin tear limited him to two starts and one relief appearance with his new team.

John O'Brien
John O'Brien (left) made his debut for ADO Den Haag in an exhibition match against Portsmouth of the English Premier League last August 5.
-- ADO Den Haag web site photo --
ADO released O'Brien last month. He had not played with the club since September and returned to California in December to do his rehab.

O'Brien has spent considerable time this year at a rehabilitation center in the Los Angeles area. "I'm not 100 percent," O'Brien said. "I've been training the last few days with Chivas, full practice. It will take a little while to get to game speed, go 90 minutes, but right now I have nothing injuring me in my way. I just plan to build on that."

Chivas acquired O'Brien with a league player allocation acquired for finishing out of the playoffs in its inaugural 2005 season when the club closed with a league-worst record of 4-22-6. He could see his first action when Chivas visits D.C. United Saturday afternoon in a 4 p.m. (ET) nationally televised game on ESPN2. Chivas opened the 2006 season Sunday with a 3-0 victory over Real Salt Lake, its fellow 2005 expansion team.

To make room for O'Brien, Chivas waived midfielder Jesús Ochoa.

When healthy, O'Brien is dynamic, versatile player, one who is best suited for the left side, but who played five different positions in midfield and on defense for Ajax.

"This is a big step," said Chivas coach Bob Bradley. "We all know the kind of player he is and what he's been able to accomplish. I think it's just an indication we're going to continue to try to find ways to improve our team."

O'Brien is the fifth player on the Chivas roster with World Cup experience. Defender Carlos Llamosa, who was a U.S. team member in 2002, was recently signed, while Chivas also has three former Mexican World Cup veterans in striker Francisco Palencia (1998, 2002), midfielder Ramón Ramírez (1994, 1998) and defender Claudio Suárez (1994, 1998). Suarez, 37, was named to coach Ricardo Lavolpe's provisional 26-man roster for the upcoming Cup in Germany.

O'Brien has 28 caps with the U.S. men, posting three goals and four assists. In the 2002 World Cup, he scored the first goal in the opening 3-2 victory over Portugal, assisted Clint Mathis in the 1-1 draw with host South Korea and went on to become one of just three Americans to play every minute in the team's five matches. An alternate on the 1998 World Cup squad, he also played every minute for the U.S. Olympic team which placed fourth in the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney.

"John's combination of experience, creativity and work rate will provide additional depth to our squad, as well as valuable leadership for our young players," Bradley said.

O'Brien's last game for the U.S. came August 17 when he played the first half of a semifinal-round 1-0 victory over Trinidad & Tobago at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn. His only other international action in 2005 came the month before when he played in all six games, starting five, in the U.S. march to its third CONCACAF Gold Cup championship. In the semifinals, he scored the tying goal in the eventual 2-1 victory over Honduras, then played 120 minutes in the title match with the Americans besting Panama 3-1 in penalty kicks following a 0-0 draw.

O'Brien also represented his nation at the under-20 and under-17 levels, while making his debut for the senior team in a 3-0 triumph over Austria in Vienna April 22, 1998.

"Chivas USA welcomes a player of the caliber of John O'Brien to our team," said team president and co-owner Antonio Cué. "John has played at the highest level both professionally and internationally, and he understands the passion this club and its fans feel for the sport of soccer."

As a professional, O'Brien played six years for Ajax after spending his first season (1998-89) on loan to Eredivisie rival FC Utrecht. He was a mainstay with Ajax, appearing in 84 official matches, but he played only a handful of games following the 2002 World Cup, sidelined with a variety of maladies. He also missed all but the last month of the 2000-01 season when he injured an Achilles heel in a preseason contest.

He played an important role in the 2001-02 season when Ajax won both the Eredivisie and Dutch Cup titles. He became the first American to play in the European Champions League quarterfinals when Ajax faced AC Milan in 2003.

O'Brien opened his press conference speaking in Spanish to an audience about his signing with a team whose parent organization is Mexico's CD Chivas de Guadalajara. "I want to say that I promise to give 100 hundred percent to help the team win this year," he said.

When he moved to English, he joked that he was done speaking French.

Gary Davidson is a SoccerTimes publisher and managing editor. E-mail Gary Davidson.

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