Saturday Sports: American Soccer Players Abroad!
The English Premier League is arguably the most difficult league in all of Europe. The league epitomizes physicality, but in the case of players like Wayne Rooney and Sergio Aguero, the EPL gives room for talent and silky smooth skills as well. Ever since the dawn of the millenium, there have been famous American players plying their trade there. Some of them have made a lasting impression as well. Brian McBride made a huge impact for Fulham, establishing himself as a fan favorite and becoming the club’s captain during his 4 years there. He became so popular that there’s a pub right by their stadium called ‘McBride’s’. Landon Donovan, arguably USA’s best soccer player, (fun fact: he’s born in Ontario, really close to Claremont McKenna College) enjoyed a successful 6 month loan with Everton, one of the league’s better clubs. By the end of this loan, Everton wanted to make the deal permanent, only for this parent club LA Galaxy to reject it, afraid of losing their star man. Slowly but surely, Americans are making an impact on the EPL. Here are a few of those Americans:
Stuart Holden (Sugar Land, Texas) – Bolton Wanderers
Stuart Holden established himself as a dynamic and vibrant midfielder for Bolton, a team in Northwestern England synonymous with physical play. In a team like that, Holden was a whiff of fresh air, offering Bolton a Plan B of playing beautiful joga bonito-esque one-touch football as opposed to the tried and tested method of getting crosses in to big, lumbering forwards and expecting a header or a flick on to get a goal. Holden had a wildly successful season, only to be severely injured in a match against champions Manchester United, an injury so severe it required 26 stitches. This caused him to be injured for 6 months, and the fact that Bolton were on a losing streak when he was out is testament to his talent and potential.
Tim Howard (North Brunswick, New Jersey)– Everton
After a mediocre career with Manchester United, Howard went to play for Everton in Liverpool and suddenly usurped everyone to become one of the best Premier League keepers. During this time, he grabbed the goalkeeping position in the US national team, leaving the likes of Brad Friedel and Marcus Hahnemann benchwarming. Becoming a fan favorite at Merseyside, Howard has all the essentials a goalkeeper should have. Great reactions, good positioning and consistent clearances make Howard a dependable keeper that most Premier League teams would jump at the chance of signing. However, 5 reliable seasons at Everton mean he’s not going anywhere soon.
Brad Friedel (Lakewood, Ohio) – Tottenham Hotspur
A journeyman throughout his career, Friedel has spent a whopping 14 years playing in the EPL, playing for the likes of Liverpool, Blackburn and Aston Villa. Now 40 and definitely in his twilight years of football, he plays for Tottenham Hotspur in north London, one of the top 6 clubs in England. He brings to the club great experience and a great reading of the game as well. For a 40 year old, his reflexes are supernatural and has an air of consistency engraved in him. A whopping stat is that he has the record for number of consecutive league games started, with an earth-shattering 250 continuous appearances. Time will soon come for Friedel to hang his boots, as he isn’t getting any younger, but he will leave the Premier League a legend.
Clint Dempsey (Nacogdoches, Texas)– Fulham
There are some players who have industry, teamwork and work-rate. There are other players who can produce a piece of sublime skill out of nothing. Clint Dempsey definitely comes in the latter, and is one of the most talented players in the Premiership, despite being one of the most underrated. He has a record for the highest number of goals scored by an American in the Premier League. Along with Landon Donovan, he is the star talisman for the national side as well. He is one of the players that their teams look to when the situation is dire, because Dempsey has an X-factor attached to him. At times, he can look harmless, but when it comes to rising to the occasion, there is no one more ready for the challenge in Fulham than Dempsey. His high point was his superlative chip against Juventus, one of Europe’s greatest. The fact that Premier League giants Arsenal were interested in securing his services speaks volumes about the talent he possesses. Currently 28, Dempsey is at the peak of his career as well as his fitness. Watch out, Premier League defenders.
Here are 4 Americans who have held their own in the Premiership in recent seasons, whether it involves adding a new dimension to the team, producing great skill out of nothing, or providing unnerving consistency. These players are widely respected in the Premier League for their tenacity and technique. And the fact that these players are getting world class exposure shows with the team Bob Bradley has built in the national set up. Situations such as going to the finals of the Confederations Cup, beating world champions Spain in the process, will continue to happen as more and more American players start to ply their trade in Europe. It’s not a coincidence that mainstays like Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore and Carlos Bocanegra have European experience. It can only go uphill from here for American soccer.