Ranking the Top 12 U.S. Stars Playing in Europe

Juan Carlos SalasContributor IIIFebruary 2, 2012

Ranking the Top 12 U.S. Stars Playing in Europe

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    Europe.

    It's the Holy Grail for every soccer athlete, and now more than ever, American soccer players have been receiving attention from European clubs.

    Currently, there are more than 70 Americans playing in various countries in Europe, in all divisions. Some of these players are unknown, some are still struggling for playing time while the veterans are creating a legacy for those hoping to accomplish the same dream.

    Among the increase of American pro and youth soccer players trying their luck across the pond, let's not forget those players who proved that Americans can succeed in places like England, Italy, Germany and Spain.

    Here is a list of the top U.S. soccer athletes making their mark in Europe.

Clarence Goodson (Brøndby)

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    Defender Clarence Goodson began his European career at Start in the First Division of Norway in 2008.

    The team was promoted to the Tippelgaen the following season.

    The University of Maryland product appeared in 73 matches for Start while notching 10 goals. 

    In 2010, Goodson made a move to Brøndby of the Danish Superligaen and is currently in his second season with the squad. 

Jonathan Spector (Birmingham City)

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    Jonathan Spector saw his career begin in Europe, signing with juggernaut club Manchester United in 2003.

    Some key defensive injuries in the squad allowed Spector to stay and play for the Reds until 2005, when he was loaned to Charlton Athletic

    The following season, Spector signed with West Ham United, where he anchored the defense for five seasons.

    After playing for seven years in Europe, Spector scored his first professional goal in 2010 against former team Man United. Since then, he has scored on three other occasions.

    In 2011, before the start of the season, Spector signed with Birmingham City.

Oguchi Onyewu (Sporting)

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    Oguchi Onyewu's career in Europe has also been one of travel.

    He first signed Metz in the Ligue 2 in 2002, then later was loaned to La Louviere and Standard Liege of Belgium.

    Onyewu stayed at Liege after signing a contract for the 2004-05 season. He was part of the Belgian Jupiler Pro League's Best XI and the Foreign Player of the Year in 2005. 

    After three seasons with Liege, he was loaned to Newcastle United, but returned to Liege for two more seasons. His last two seasons in Belgium once again saw him voted Best XI.

    Onyweu's first division titles with Liege as well as a Belgian Supercup victory got the attention of AC Milan, who signed him in 2009.

    A knee injury playing for the USMNT prevented him from playing much for AC Milan, having the Italian giant loan out the American to Twente of the Eredivisie in 2011, where he helped the team win the KNVB Cup.

    Eventually, Onyweu was sold to Sporting of the Portuguese Primeira Liga, where he's scored five goals in 23 matches.

Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96)

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    Steve Cherundolo has been an icon at Hannover 96.

    He joined the German side in 1999, when Hannover was playing in the second division of the Bundesliga.

    He settled in as a right-back and thee years later helped Hannover gain promotion into the Bundesliga, where it's stayed ever since.

    During the 13 years Cherundolo has played in Germany, he has collected 335 matches and scored eight goals. 

    Cherundolo's leadership has established him as captain of Hannover by his teammates. 

Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar)

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    Jozy Altidore's struggle to become an established European player has been bumpy, but it has also given him much experience.

    In the summer of 2008, Villarreal of Spain's La Liga agreed on a $10 million transfer fee for Altidore, making it the most expensive transfer fee for any MLS player.  

    He scored his first goal for Villarreal in November of the same year—making him the first American to do so in Spain—and a few weeks later received his first start. 

    However, the following season was the beginning of a plethora of loans for Altidore. First to Xerez of Spain's second division, where any injury prevented him from playing any games. That followed a loan to Hull City of the EPL in 2009, where he played for 29 total games before returning to Villarreal in 2010.

    Again in Spain, Altidore played 14 matches and scored two goals, but was loaned to Turkish club Bursaspor in 2011. 

    In the summer of 2011, Altidore came to terms with Dutch team AZ Alkmaar and in August made his debut, scoring an 80th-minute goal. Altidore has fallen into a groove playing in the Eredivisie, scoring five goals in 14 league matches and six goals in as many Europa matches. 

Landon Donovan (Everton)

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    Landon Donovan doesn't practice his craft on a consistent basis in Europe.

    But after unsuccessful tries in the German Bundesliga during his youth, it was a 2010 short two-month loan to Everton that finally showed the world that Donovan can cut it in Europe.

    In 2010, Donovan played 13 matches for the Toffees, scoring two goals and earning Player for Month honors in January.

    Currently in 2012, Donovan again agreed to a short loan to Everton.

    He's found a knack as the team's facilitator, tallying five assists in less than 10 games.  

Michael Bradley (Chievo)

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    After playing a couple of seasons in the U.S., Michael Bradley became the youngest MLS player to be sold.

    In 2006, he was shipped to Dutch club SC Heerenveen.

    After only playing with the club for several months, he helped Heerenveen earn a spot at the UEFA Cup.

    In his last season with Heerenveen, Bradley became the starting central midfielder, scoring 20 goals for the squad.

    In 2008, Bradley found himself in Germany, playing for Borussia Monchengladbach. His four seasons in Germany were very fruitful, playing in 81 matches with Monchengladbach and scoring 11 goals in the process.

    Now, after a short loan stint with Aston Villa in 2011, Bradley currently signed with Chievo of the Italian Serie A, where he is adapting quickly and gaining the respect of both his teammates and training staff.  

Maurice Edu (Rangers)

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    Maurice Edu followed the path that many college players dream of when starting their professional career.

    He was the first overall pick of the 2007 MLS Superdraft, going to Toronto FC.

    After two seasons, Edu signed a five-year contract to play for Rangers of the Scottish Premier League. 

    He made his debut in 2008, and with the exceptions of some early injuries, has been a constant player for Rangers. 

    After suffering an ankle injury, Edu returned to the pitch scoring a stoppage-time game-winning goal against rivals Celtic in 2010.

    His good run of form continued, debuting in the Champions League and scoring his first goal of the tournament against Valencia.

    Edu has played 112 matches for Rangers while tallying 12 goals. 

Carlos Bocanegra (Rangers)

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    Edu's club teammate, Carlos Bocanegra, has bounced around Europe during his professional career—always leaving a mark.

    Leaving the Chicago Fire after a four-year career, he joined fellow American Brian McBride at Fulham.

    In five seasons, Bocanegra had 115 appearances for the Cottagers, but in 2008 he moved on to the Ligue 1 of France.

    He played two seasons with Rennes and in 2010 transferred to Saint-Etienne.

    Bocanegra played for the Fench side until 2011, where in August he was sold to Rangers.

    Bocanegra has always had a strong work ethic, which has always led fans to favor the California native wherever he played.

    The adoration of fans and respect from his teammates led him to earn his first captaincy in 2012. 

Brad Friedel (Tottenham)

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    After unsuccessfully trying multiple times in the early 90s to receive a work permit to play in England, Brad Friedel was loaned by the USSF to Brødby before finding playing time in Turkey and later in the U.S. with the Columbus Crew.

    Finally in 1997, Friedel was transferred to Liverpool, where we stayed for three seasons before being traded to Blackburn.

    In the eight seasons as Blackburn's keeper, Friedel helped secure the 2002 League Cup and was named EPL's Best XI in 2003. He even scored an unforgettable goal in 2004 off a set piece.  

    In 2008, he became Aston Villa's  starting keeper before continuing his career at Tottenham in 2011. 

    In 2011, Friedel reached the 250 mark for consecutive Premier League games played and to date has notched 542 match appearances in England.

Tim Howard (Everton)

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    As both Everton and the USMNT's No. 1 keeper, Tim Howard has been regarded as one the best goalkeepers the U.S. has produced.

    His European career started playing for Manchester United after a 2003 transfer from the NY/NJ Metrostars. 

    After two seasons with the Reds, Howard was loaned out to Everton, where he was eventually sold to, and later became the starting keeper.

    Howard has reached the FA Cup finals twice—winning it Manchester United in 2004 and being runners-up in 2009 with Everton.

    Howard recently scored his first goal as a professional against Bolton.  

Clint Dempsey (Fulham)

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    Clint Dempsey has only played for Fulham since he started his European career in 2007, transferring from the New England Revolution, and he has made one heck of an impression.

    His first goal for the Cottagers helped the team prevent relegation.

    Later in 2010, Dempsey helped the team reach the Europa Finals, and the following season saw him break Fulham's EPL goal-scoring record with 33 goals, outdoing former teammate Brian McBride, who previously held the record. 

    Most recently, Dempsey scored his first hat trick of his career against Charlton, and two weeks later repeated the feat against Newcastle United.

    Dempsey's hat tricks were the first for any American in the English Premier League.