2012 was a banner year for Americans playing in Europe, highlighted by Clint Dempsey’s goal-filled year in England, Brad Guzan winning the starting job over Irish international Shay Given at Aston Villa, Michael Bradley’s big move to Roma and four Americans seeing significant action in the Champions League.
Picking the 11 best players for 2012 is a bit of a difficult task with Americans playing in over a dozen countries and having widely different standings in the United States men’s national team pool.
With being said, here is the criteria being used.
- Since the list is for overseas players, no one playing in North America is on the list. Since everyone realistically in consideration plays in Europe, it is essentially a list of the best 11 Americans playing in Europe.
- Form, caps, position and call-ups for the USMNT have no bearing.
- A player’s form in 2012 in the only consideration. This is not a ranking of the best American players per se, it is a list of the best American players over the past calendar year.
- Comparing players from league to league is impossible, so while it was given some weight, a player’s overall performance in 2012 was the biggest factor.
There are plenty of American fans who don’t even know who Steve Clark is, let alone too many who would say he was the best American keeper in 2012.
Yet, he was, winning the 2012 Goalkeeper of the Year Award in the Tippeligaen for Honefoss in Norway.
Clark, who started all 30 games for Honefoss and helped the small club avoid relegation, may be on his way to a bigger club in the January transfer window.
Certainly, Tim Howard, Brad Guzan and Brad Friedel are better overall keepers, but all struggled at various times with their clubs in 2012.
Howard, at times, seems to have reverse “Jozy Altidore-syndrome,” performing fantastically for the USMNT, but often looking rather pedestrian with Everton.
Guzan, who won the starting job at Villa this fall, rarely saw the field in second half of the 2011-12 campaign.
And Friedel, who was very strong in 2011-12 and the beginning of 2012-13 for Tottenham, has since lost his starting job to Hugo Lloris.
Shockingly enough, there seem to be more quality Americans at right-back in Europe than at any other position.
And the best of those in 2012 has to be Michael Parkhurst. He helped lead Nordsjaelland to the Danish Superliga title in 2012 and put in several top-notch performances in the group stages of the 2012-13 Champions League.
He was even named to UEFA’s Team of the Week in October after Nordsjaelland’s 1-1 draw with Juventus.
Other noteworthy American performers at right-back in 2012 have been Hannover captain Steve Cherundolo, Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron, Nurnberg’s Timothy Chandler, Aston Villa’s Eric Lichaj and Birmingham’s Jonathan Spector.
Although Rangers were deducted 10 points in the 2011-12 campaign, they still finished second in the Scottish Premier League. This was no small accomplishment considering that the players knew the club was in dire financial straits for the bulk of the second half of the season.
At the heart of Rangers back line throughout last season was American center-back Carlos Bocanegra.
After Rangers were liquidated this summer, Bocanegra made the move to Racing Santander in Spain’s second division, where he has become a key player for the team.
Although Santander is in danger of relegation, they are 3-4-3 (following W-L-D format) with Bocanegra in the lineup and were 0-4-1 when he was out with a hamstring injury.
Also worth mentioning at center-back are Zak Whitbread and John Anthony Brooks.
Brooks came on strong for Hertha Berlin’s reserve squad in the German Regionalliga last spring and has been a consistent starter for the first team this fall in 2 Bundesliga.
Although Oguchi Onyewu probably wasn’t on too many USMNT fans' Christmas card list, Onyewu’s club performances in 2012 make him one of the two best American center-backs in Europe last year.
His inclusion is a sign of the U.S.’ lack of depth at center-back rather than anything else, but Onyewu saw fairly consistent time last spring for Sporting Lisbon and has seven appearances for Malaga this fall, including three appearances in the Champions League.
Since breaking into Hoffenheim’s starting XI on a consistent basis last season, Fabian Johnson has easily been one of the strongest Americans in Europe in 2012.
This fall, Johnson has already made 21 appearances for Hoffenheim and contributed three goals and two assists—not too shabby for a left-back.
Love him or hate him, Jermaine Jones has without a doubt been one of the U.S.’ most consistent performers in Europe over the past year.
Jones already has 21 appearances for Schalke this season, including five appearances in their Champions League campaign.
Other players worth mentioning at center midfield are Mix Diskerud and Conor O’Brien.
Diskerud made 17 appearances for Rosenborg in 2012, including six in the Europa League. Rosenborg finished the 2012 Tippeligaen in third place.
O’Brien is a player many American fans may not be aware of. Playing for SonderjyskE in the Danish Superliga, O’Brien played in all 20 league games this fall starting 19 and contributing four goals.
O’Brien is widely expected to make a move to a bigger club before the league resumes play in February.
Sacha Kljestan is yet another American in Europe who, despite great success on the club level, is still not widely seen by USMNT fans as a top player.
However, his club form is undeniable as he helped lead Anderlecht to the Belgian title last spring and has them at the top of the table again heading into 2013.
So far this year, Kljestan has 29 appearances for the squad, including nine appearances in the Champions League.
While many thought the move was over the American’s head, Bradley has proved to be an invaluable part of Roma’s midfield.
He has already picked up 13 appearances, including 11 league starts that is three more than Italian legend Daniele De Rossi has in the same midfield.
Roma currently sits three points out of a qualification spot for next year’s Champions League.
Although he isn’t on pace in the 2012-13 season to hit the 23 goals he scored in the 2011-12 campaign, Clint Dempsey has still been performing at a high level this fall.
So far, Dempsey has three goals and four assists for Spurs in 22 appearances.
That’s not too bad when one considers Dempsey essentially started the season in mid-September after his lengthy summer transfer saga and being locked out of training at Fulham.
Dempsey also has more points so far this season than highly regarded teammates Aaron Lennon and Emmanuel Adebayor.
Despite the fact that his performances with the USMNT have not matched his club performances, there is no doubt that Jozy Altidore’s club form has been outstanding.
After a strong season with AZ Alkmaar in the 2011-12 campaign, Jozy is at it again this year, racking up 15 goals in 22 appearances for the club this fall.
Also worth mentioning, although both are more wingers than forwards, are Josh Gatt and Alejandro Bedoya.
After a bad experience with Rangers in the 2011-12 season when he rarely played, Bedoya was transferred to Swedish side Helsingborg after Rangers' liquidation. With Helsingborg, he finished 2012 with three goals in 17 appearances.
Gatt helped Molde win the Norwegian Tippeligaen this past year, playing in 19 of Molde’s 30 games with 14 starts, chipping in six goals.
After coming on strong last season playing for Borussia Dortmund’s reserve team, Terrence Boyd has been on a tear this fall with his new club, Rapid Vienna.
He’s already earned 28 appearances with his new club and already has 13 goals.
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