10 American Soccer Players Who Failed in Europe
Once again, MLS offseason transfer talk is in full swing, and there is plenty of speculation out there about which Americans might be headed overseas.
However, there are plenty of American players who didn’t make it in Europe, and their stories serve as a cautionary tale.
As these 10 Americans found out, the grass is not always greener on the other side.
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One of a number of Americans who impressed in the 2007 U-20 World Cup (Freddy Adu, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore also excelled with that same team), Danny Szetela signed with Spanish side Racing Santander in 2007.
However, Szetela never made a league appearance for the side and was almost immediately loaned out to Serie B side Brescia Calcio for the next 18 months.
Szetela eventually returned to Spain after Brescia did not pick up their option to him, but Racing Santander chose not to re-sign Szetela, and he returned to MLS.
After playing four games for DC United in the 2009 season, the club dropped Szetela who has been out of the game ever since.
Now 25, the once promising prospect—who scored three goals at the U-20 World Cup for the United States, played for the U.S. in the 2008 Olympics and was even capped several times by the full national team—is completely out of football.
The last time his name appeared in the newspapers was in 2011 following his arrest in a bar fight.
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Another American who impressed at the 2007 U-20 World Cup, Sal Zizzo signed with Bundesliga outfit Hannover 96 that same summer.
However, in three seasons in Germany Zizzo made less than 15 league appearances in the top flight and, after an ACL injury in his final season, moved back to MLS.
For the Portland Timbers, he made 12 starts in 19 total league appearances in 2012.
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Adu is only 23 years old and may well have a second and more successful stint in Europe (a la Landon Donovan), but it would be hard to classify Adu’s stint in Europe as anything other than a failure.
The most well-documented of the many youngsters who have suffered as a result of the American hype machine, Adu’s European career spanned five different teams in five seasons.
After signing with Benfica in the summer of 2007, Adu endured four different loan moves—to French Ligue 1 side AS Monaco, Portuguese side Belenenses, Greek side Aris and finally second-tier Turkish side Rizespor.
Although he attained some moderate success with Aris and Rizespor, it is notable that Adu could not find a long-term suitor among the seven teams he played with in Europe, including his training stints with German second-division side Ingolstadt and Danish side Randers.
In total, Adu made 34 league starts over four years in Europe, the vast majority coming in the Greek league and the second division in Turkey.
Adu returned to MLS in the fall of 2011.
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In the 2008 January transfer window, Eddie Johnson made the move to English Premier League side Fulham.
Although Johnson was able to get frequent playing time on all three of his loan stints, he only scored seven goals in three years in Europe, five of them coming with Aris.
Johnson returned to MLS in 2012 and has since been able to revive his career for both club and country.
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Edson Buddle scored 19 goals in the 2010 MLS Soccer season, despite missing several weeks of the season due to his duties with the USMNT in the 2010 World Cup.
After the 2010 MLS season, Buddle signed with Ingolstadt in the German second division.
While he did have some moderate success with the club, he could never consistently crack their starting XI and was released by the club in January of this year before re-signing with MLS.
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Once one of the hottest prospects in all of American soccer at the time, Marcus Tracy signed with Danish side Aalborg in 2009 shortly after winning the 2008 Hermann Trophy.
In four seasons in Denmark, Tracy only scored two goals and was persistently injured.
He returned to MLS in 2012 with the San Jose Earthquakes.
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In three seasons, Clark only made 12 league starts for the club, mostly in their doomed 2010-11 campaign in which they were relegated.
After a loan stint with Stabaek in 2012, Clark was released by his parent club and returned to the Houston Dynamo.
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One of the best MLS players of all time, Josh Wolff’s European career lasted less than a year and a half.
Signing in January of 2007 with Bundesliga 2 side 1860 Munich, Wolff made 34 appearances with the club over two seasons but only scored two goals.
He returned to MLS in 2008.
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One of the most iconic players of the USMNT in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, Frankie Hejduk experienced a great deal of success in MLS but little in Europe.
After his performances in the U.S.’ disastrous 1998 World Cup, Hejduk was purchased by Bayer Leverkusen.
While Hejduk made 10 league appearances in his first season, he only made nine league appearances over the next three seasons with the club before finally being transferred to Swiss side St. Gallen.
In Switzerland, Hejduk made seven appearances in the 2002-03 season before returning home and prospering once again in the MLS.
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Kenny Cooper has had two stints in Europe—neither of them particularly memorable.
Signing with Manchester United in 2004, Cooper was never able to break into the first team, and two unsuccessful loan stints to Academica de Coimbra and Oldham Athletic later, he was released by United.
Cooper returned to MLS, and after two strong seasons in the U.S., he returned to Europe this time signing with Bundesliga 2 side 1860 Munich.
Cooper spent a year and a half in Europe his second time around—including a loan stint with Plymouth Argyle—before returning to the United States again having only made 20 league appearances and scoring two goals in 18 months.
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