This article is a must read for all American soccer fans and an early warning for all those that watch the Premiership and other top European Leagues.
American players are here to stay whether the world likes it or not.
Am I the only one impressed by Landon Donovan’s emergence as a stalwart in an Everton squad that has lost only once in their last 11 Premier League ties? Has anyone else noticed that Jozy Altidore has quietly played in 19 of his team’s 26 games this season despite a shaky first couple of months in England? Or how about the ease with which Clint Dempsey transitioned into forward, playmaker, and star for Fulham before his knee injury in mid-January?
This type of success is potentially just the beginning. Once upon a time the best American field players may have played in Europe but they were largely considered role players. They were workhorses that couldn’t carry the brunt of the load and couldn’t be relied upon to lead a team with their creativity or vision.
Or they were goalkeepers—damn good ones. Brad Friedel, 38, is the iron man of English soccer and at 215 games and running is still going strong, leading fifth place Aston Villa into the FA Cup fifth round just this past weekend.
Brad Guzan is his backup for Villa and next in the line of American keepers to make their mark in the Premier League. I don’t even need to mention Tim Howard, the country’s current #1.
The times are changing. Just in time for the World Cup. The Americans have their best team, maybe ever, and every starter will have the indelible experience of receiving regular minutes in top European leagues.
Landon Donovan has started in every game for resurgent Everton since his loan in early January. In six appearances, the 27-year-old midfielder has scored once and assisted twice. Just last weekend, in his team’s 2-1 win over league leaders Chelsea, he assisted on the first goal and drew a penalty by crossing up Ricardo Carvalho in the box with a vicious cutback. Sounds like a pretty good day at the office.
American fans have enjoyed seeing this player since the Confederations Cup last June. America’s all-time scoring leader is finally playing as if he has something to prove to the world.
It makes one wonder how much David Beckham had to do with it, considering Donovan’s attitude adjustment and his pinpoint delivery ability. The time they spent on the LA Galaxy training pitch together must have been extensive and productive considering Donovan now delivers a world-class ball from the right side and seems to have finally enjoyed a successful stint in Europe—even if it is his fourth try.
Jozy, since being fined by new manager Phil Brown in October for excessive Twittering, has settled in comfortably at Hull City. Though he has only scored once in nearly 20 appearances, he was quoted in Sunday’s Daily Mirror saying he would be interested in extending his season-long loan from Villareal should the Tigers want to retain his service.
In his team’s 1-1 draw against Chelsea on February 2, Altidore opened his Premier League scoring account with a sweet finish inside the far post from the top of the box. All the hours spent working on his finishing appears to be paying off as that finish was a far cry from the ineptitude he showed in front of goal over the past two seasons.
I shouldn’t have to explain myself when talking about Clint Dempsey. All American fans should already know the type of season the Texan had enjoyed before his injury against Stoke prior to Christmas. With injuries to Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson, Dempsey moved up from the midfield and ably took over the Cottagers scoring role, demonstrating that he is a threat both in the air and with the ball at his feet.
In 21 games before the injury, Dempsey compiled six goals and three assists for his club, including a 35-yard blistering volley against Stoke early in the game before he was injured. He has routinely shown the desire to have the ball at his feet and make something happen.
With both him and Donovan playing such aggressive and attractive attacking soccer, the United States will have a solid chance of advancing from the group stages with or without rehabbing Charlie Davies.
Faced with the possibility that Stuart Holden sees playing time for his new club, Bolton Wonderers, the injury to the Sochoux striker becomes less and less costly as Dempsey will most likely move up front as he did late in games during last summer’s Confed Cup.
Holden, considered by many pundits as the next breakout American, earned a spot on the substitutes bench for his team’s F.A Cup fifth round against Tottenham on Sunday in just his second week with the club. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Scottish-born midfielder started at least a half-dozen games by season’s end.
Outside of England, more Americans have shone this season. Michael Bradley plays 90-minutes every week for Borussia Monchengladbach in Germany, while Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra continue to impress with Hannover 96 and Rennes despite recent injuries.
Even reunited Eddie Johnson and Freddy Adu—the former registering an assist while the latter netted the winner for Greek side Aris Thessalonik on Sunday—have finally seen regular minutes as both started this weekend. Even if they are in Greece.
The bottom line is that for the first time ever, an American national team will field a team of players that are confident in their ability to play with the best in the world because they do it every week on game day.
Hopefully this recent success will translate into success this summer. We can only wait and see.