Sheffield Wednesday might not have been promoted to the English Premiership for next season, but there's a good chance rising U.S. star Frank Simek (currently in training with the national team as part of the Gold Cup squad) will be playing there anyway. Due to his outstanding form in the Championship the past two seasons, an EPL team might swoop this summer for the 22-year-old right back.
Unofficial reports out of England state that Wednesday have placed a $4.5 million price tag on Simek, with Everton among the likely suitors.
"We are in the environment where any player who performs well in the Championship seems to get linked with a Premiership club," said Sheffield Wednesday spokesman Colin Wood. "Obviously Frankie falls into this category but at present he is contracted to Sheffield Wednesday until the end of next season and the club intends to keep hold of him.
"At present, we have no bids from other clubs."
Simek is entering the final year of a three-year deal signed in 2005, which he signed after being released from his previous club, Arsenal. Those familiar with the Yank's playing career will note that he's known as a hard-tackling, technically superior defensive player. Standing 5-foot-11 with good speed, the St. Louis native displaced fan favorite and team captain Lee Bullen from his favored spot of right back shortly after arrival at Wednesday.
Since then, he's anchored the position for the past two seasons, helping Wednesday avoid relegation in his first year with the club and mounting a late charge for the promotion playoffs in the 2006-07 campaign. Owls fans recently named him their player of the year, a great compliment for someone who plays in a less glamorous position and a testament to his value.
His fantastic form has been noticed stateside, as Bob Bradley brought him into camp and handed him his first cap for the United States against Guatemala in March.
Considering all of the positive energy surrounding him, it's clear now Simek's decision to leave the United States at age 16 was a wise one.
"When I made that decision to come over -- that's when I decided to play soccer for a living," Simek said. "I only had a little bit of schooling at that point, but I knew I wanted to make a career out of soccer. So far it's going all right for me."
Unlike many Americans who play abroad, Simek had a running start before moving to England to play soccer.
Simek's soccer journey began in earnest when his father, who worked for Anheuser Busch, accepted a position in London when Frank was a young boy. His family always had been into soccer, and in England young Frank was exposed to the passion and fervor of English football and rubbed elbows with some influential footballers.
"When I first moved over here I played for a Sunday team. My coach there was Tony Gale, who is a football pundit (on Sky Sports' Soccer Saturday) right now," Simek said. "He obviously knew some people over there so he got me a trial with Arsenal when I was still 12 years old.
"At that point I was still young but I was quickly learning the culture here."
After that six-year stint in England, Simek moved back to the United States. Back in his hometown of Millstadt, Ill. (a suburb of St. Louis), he played for the club team Metro United as well as the regional ODP team. But he must have made favorable impression during his time in England because at the age of 16, after only two years of high school, he got the call that changed his life.
On the other end of the line was Arsenal, and they were offering a trainee contract. Accepting would mean leaving his hometown and moving to London to play soccer for a career. This time, however, his family wouldn't be joining him.
For Simek, the choice was an easy one.
"They offered me the contract and I honestly never thought about saying no to it. Once they offered it, I was going to do it," Simek said. "I talked to my mom and dad about it. It was a bit of a risk, with only get two years of high school under my belt, but I didn't want to pass it up."
So Simek packed his bags and moved to London, where five practices a week with a match or two to boot awaited him. The culture shock was mitigated by that fact that in addition to living in England for a substantial period of time, he already knew a number of his teammates with Arsenal. He excelled through the ranks, eventually becoming the skipper of the Arsenal reserves. He became the first American to play for Arsenal's senior team in December 2003, playing in a 5-1 Carling Cup triumph over Wolverhampton.
However, it seemed that Simek never would join the senior team on a permanent basis, as his path was blocked by a number of quality defenders. After a couple of loan spells with Queens Park Rangers and AFC Bournemouth, it became clear that he would have to seek his fortune elsewhere. So with a heavy heart he left Arsenal for Sheffield Wednesday in the summer of 2005.
"I was a little sad -- I'd been with that organization for probably eight years or so," Simek said. "I was definitely disappointed when I got the news but it turned out to be a good thing, because I got the chance to play week in and week out and progress my game. I'd been on loan twice and to go somewhere like Sheffield Wednesday and be playing in front of a lot of people was a great experience."
Two years after leaving Arsenal, Simek is poised to join the host of Americans plying their trade in England's top division. He believes this crop of young talent speaks volumes about the quality of player coming out of America in recent years.
"It shows that the U.S. is producing players that are capable of playing overseas. Making the move over to England and living away from your family is up to the player, but it shows that we're improving all the time," Simek said. "For American soccer, the perception is getting better all the time. Our showing in the World Cup wasn't by any means disgraceful -- it was just as good as England's, actually."
For someone who has spent more of his life in England than he has in America, he still counts Millstadt as home. As such, he roots for the Cardinals and speaks with an American accent.
"When I talk about home, I talk about America, even though I've been living over here half my life," Simek said. "Home is definitely still Millstadt, Illinois."
Andrew Winner is a freelance writer who covers U.S. soccer for ESPN Soccernet.com. He can be reached at email@example.com