Stoke City’s Mark Hughes has a long track record as an English Premier League manager – since 2004 he’s led five different EPL sides, and at four of those stops Hughes has fielded a player with ties to Major League Soccer.
The Welshman’s use of MLS as a talent pool began in early 2005, when he signed D.C. United defender Ryan Nelsen on a free transfer to Blackburn Rovers. In Houston for the start of Stoke’s three-city stateside tour, Hughes called the Nelsen addition “arguably one of my best-ever signings.” He also managed Clint Dempsey during a tumultuous 11-month stretch in charge of Fulham. In their one year together, Dempsey scored a then career-high 12 goals over 37 league appearances.
Hughes once again has an MLS flavoring to his current roster with three players – Geoff Cameron, Brek Shea, and Maurice Edu.
“I like their work ethic and their attitude to try and be the best they can be,” Hughes said last week when asked about his propensity for using U.S. players. “I’d have no qualms with working with good America players because they have a certain attitude towards sport that maybe is lacking from guys from other countries.”
Asked to elaborate, Hughes continued:
“I think it’s just a real desire to be the best they can be, whatever they try, and embrace things that enable them – as an individual and player – to progress and be better. I’ve seen that in many [American] players and I fully expect to see it in the likes of Brek [Shea] and [Geoff] Cameron. I just think it’s endemic in their makeup.”
Hughes also pointed out that because of soccer’s rank in the pecking order of U.S. sports, American players abroad have a little bit more to prove.
“Maybe they’ve possibly felt undervalued in their own country,” acknowledged the 49-year-old manager. “So when they go to European leagues, they are like flag-bearers for their sport in their own country. Maybe that’s where the drive – the inner drive – comes from.”
While Edu sat out Stoke’s Houston-based training session, Hughes did address the specific cases of Shea and Cameron – a pair of players each hoping to define their position with the Potters.
“He’s been played more often than not as right back,” Hughes said of Cameron. “I don’t think in his own mind he sees himself as a right back. Maybe that’s where he still ends up. I need to get a better understanding of his abilities at other positions as well.”
Hughes added that while Shea has the ability to play left back; he doesn’t believe defense is where the 23-year-old will be best suited.
Stoke City wraps their American tour on Tuesday with a friendly against the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park.