EPL: Ranking the Top 10 Americans Who Have Played in the Premier League
Despite the playful jests American footballers must endure from British personalities, it can't be denied that even U.S. players are quick to be signed by Premier League clubs when the talent is high enough and the price tag is low enough.
There has been a rich history of unlikely and inspirational stories around American players striking gold and glory in England since the Premier League was founded nearly 20 years ago. Such players have become beloved figures and cherished role models to fans of the world's game all throughout the United States.
Many American players have ventured to England, but few have truly succeeded to a significant degree in England's top tier. This list chronicles ten Americans who have, and the top ten at that.
While some Americans have certainly established themselves as national legends without really succeeding in the Premier League (Landon Donovan may have done well during his short stay with Everton, but 10 appearances hardly constitutes a spot on this list), this list is not about who are the most skilled Americans to ever play world football.
Based on a combination of total appearances and on-field successes, the following players are the best offerings that America has given to the Premier League thus far. As for the future, we can only hope that many more like them will follow.
10. Joe-Max Moore
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Everton FC has had a long history of success in scouting talent from the United States, with many players on this list having served the club at one point or another. Joe-Max Moore is no exception to that trend.
Having spent several years playing for German sides in the mid-1990s, Moore eventually returned stateside to play in Major League Soccer for the New England Revolution, where he became one of the most prolific strikers in league history. Over 90 matches in the MLS, he averaged better than one goal every two games, and eventually tempted Everton into making the league an offer.
MLS sold Joe-Max Moore to the English club in 1999 for a bargain deal, and the American international wowed fans by averaging a goal per game in his first five appearances.
That level of production, however, could not be maintained for long, as he only scored a total of three additional goals for Everton during the remainder of his stay. In total, Moore was featured in 52 matches for Everton before returning to Major League Soccer to finish his career, once again, with the New England Revolution.
For the U.S. National team, Moore served his country in three World Cups, and has scored the fourth-highest number of goals in national history during his career.
While Joe-Max Moore may not have enjoyed the most successful of stays in England's top flight, the talent was certainly still there. In all, he remained on Everton's payroll for three years, and was a key presence in American soccer for a very long time.
9. Jonathan Spector
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Originally scouted by Manchester United while playing for the Chicago Fire's reserve squad in 2003, 25-year-old defender Jonathan Spector spent five seasons with West Ham United before being released at the end of the most recent season.
With West Ham, Spector earned himself a spot on the first-team squad by demonstrating his adaptability within various defensive roles. While he often played center-back, the club was known to utilize Spector's abilities in a left-back position, despite the fact that he is a right-footed player.
In five years with West Ham, Spector's career was jeopardized by injuries that severely limited his playing time, though he still recorded over 100 appearances with the club during his stay.
On the international side of things, Spector has earned 31 caps with the Stars and Stripes, and joined the national squad at the 2010 World Cup, although he did not compete in any matches during the tournament.
As of yet, Spector's fate following his release from West Ham is unclear, but given his flexibility on the pitch, he should have little difficulty securing a spot on another European club's starting roster.
8. Marcus Hahnemann
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When the English side Reading won promotion to Premiership in 2006, their American goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann was named to the Football League Championship Team of the Year, an honor selected by the Professional Footballers' Association.
As a result, Reading opted to retain Hahnemann as first team keeper during the next campaign in England's top flight. The gamble, as it turned out, payed off greatly for Reading, as Hahnemann kept 13 clean sheets during the season, recorded the most saves of any Premier League goalkeeper, and helped his squad enjoy a wildly successful post-promotion season with an eighth-place finish.
Reading could not maintain that success the following year, however, as they finished in the relegation zone and returned to the Championship once again.
In 2009, newly-promoted Wolverhampton opted to give Hahnemann a shot, signing him to a one-year contract. Subsequently, he served the Wolves well and earned the highest goalkeeping Castrol Index figures of any player that year (a figure that is, admittedly, fairly unrelated to non-relative talent).
Hahnemann's Premier League career has been off and on, and hit and miss, over the years, not truly making an impact until his mid-30's. His career could have been significantly more successful, however, if only he had been given a more legitimate shot with Fulham FC after originally signing for them in 1999.
Unfortunately, when Fulham reached Premiership, Hahnemann had the misfortune of being out-shined by, who was then a new name in the Premier League, Edwin van der Sar (perhaps you've heard of him), who Fulham opted to field on their first team instead.
7. Claudio Reyna
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Claudio Reyna, the former captain of the U.S. National Team, is one the most creative and influential midfielders to ever wear a U.S. jersey. Given his talent on the pitch, it's really no wonder he earned himself a several-year stay at some of England's top-tier clubs.
After three years with the Virginia Cavaliers, Reyna spent a number of seasons bouncing around Germany with Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg. It wasn't until he was 28 that he finally settled down in England in 2001, signing for Sunderland.
Despite his talent on the pitch, Reyna had the vast misfortune of being plagued by injuries during his Premier League career. Although he stayed with Sunderland for two years, a knee injury kept him off the pitch for all but 28 matches.
In 2003, he was transferred to Manchester City, constituting the highlight of his promising career. But his injury woes continued to follow him even there. Still, Reyna spent four years in Manchester, and was appreciated dearly by City fans for his creativity and skill on the ball. After four years and 87 matches, he returned to the U.S. and finished his career with the New York Red Bulls.
U.S. soccer fans fondly remember the promise that Reyna showed in every match he played—for MLS squads, for the national team, or for European clubs. He was surely destined for one of the greatest careers in U.S. history, and would have achieved just that if not for his poor luck when it came to injuries.
Despite the problems he faced overseas, he still had a very successful international career, accumulating 111 caps, joining the U.S. team for four World Cups, and tying Kasey Keller for the American record.
6. Carlos Bocanegra
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Throughout his career, Carlos Bocanegra has been one of the most consistent defenders in United States history with 93 caps for the Stars and Stripes, two World Cups, and even recording 12 goals in a U.S. jersey. When the States defeated Spain in the 2009 Confederations Cup, Bocanegra held the captaincy.
Like many American players, Carlos Bocanegra began his career in Major League Soccer, holding a first-team spot on Chicago Fire's roster. He earned many of the league's top honors, including Rookie of the Year in 2000, and Defender of the Year in 2002 and 2003. He was the first MLS player to ever win the latter award twice.
In January 2004, Bocanegra joined the Premier League by way of Fulham FC, the club that would define and constitute his entire England career. Primarily, he played center-back for Fulham, but that didn't stop him from being the club's second best goal-scorer in the 2006-07 season. He also served as Fulham's captain for a brief spell.
At the final tally, Bocanegra appeared in 124 Premier League matches, all with Fulham FC, playing a vital role as a key element in the club's defensive structure for four seasons.
5. Kasey Keller
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At 41 years old, and still competing in professional football, goalkeeper Kasey Keller has enjoyed one of the longest and most successful careers of any American on this list.
In 1989, Keller began small, making 10 first-team appearances for the newly-renamed Portland Timbers in Oregon—not exactly escaping far from his Pacific Northwest childhood home in Olympia, Washington. However, his short stay with the Timbers culminated in a selection for U.S. squad in the 1990 World Cup, where he made an impression on one of England's top-flight organizations.
He signed with Millwall in 1992, essentially becoming a founding member of the English Premier League, making his first appearance for the club a mere two months after the Premier League was created. He remained with the club for four seasons in the top tier, making 178 appearances and securing his place in club lore for years to come.
When Millwall was relegated in 1996, they were essentially swapping places with newly-promoted Leicester City. In doing so, they also swapped goalkeepers, selling Kasey Keller to Leicester, where he would spend the next three seasons, securing his spot in the Premier League for a few years more.
After a brief stay with La Liga side Rayo Vallecano, Keller was signed by the Tottenham Hotspur in 2001, playing a backup role for Spurs into the following season when he landed the starting spot and maintained his status as Tottenham's top goalkeeper for two seasons.
Keller's Premier League career ended with a one-year stay at Fulham FC, where he played with another American great, Clint Dempsey, before returning to his home in the greater Seattle area to finish off his career.
One of the greatest accomplishments of Keller's career came not in England, but in his legendary displays on the pitch with the U.S. National Squad, for which he made 102 appearances. Having joined the Stars and Stripes for four World Cups, he holds the record with Claudio Reyna for most World Cup appearances by an American player.
American fans will never forget his first team appearance in 1998 in a 1-0 U.S. victory over Brazil. He maintained a clean sheet with 10 impressive saves, which Brazilian international Romario called "the greatest performance I have ever seen by a goalkeeper."
Currently, Kasey Keller is playing what is expected to be his final professional season for the MLS side, Seattle Sounders FC. Ironically, the rivalry between the Sounders and the Portland Timbers is the most heated in American soccer. Having started his career for one side of that rivalry, Keller will finish his career on the other.
4. Tim Howard
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The United's States' current star in goal, and Everton FC's first-team keeper, Tim Howard is the next big name in a long tradition of impressive American goalkeepers overseas.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Howard began his professional career with the local USL side, the North Jersey Imperials, eventually joining Major League Soccer's New York Metrostars (now the New York Red Bulls). In 2001, after recording 146 saves for the Metrostars, Howard became the youngest player in league history to win a coveted MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Award.
His success in America's top flight allowed Howard to achieve a dream held by many footballers around the world: playing for Manchester United, who paid the Metrostars $4 million to finalize a transfer in 2003.
Howard's EPL success, however, would not be recognized with the Red Devils, where he earned a limited number of first-team starts in his four seasons in Manchester. He did, however, make a considerable number of tournament appearances, and was the first American player to ever win an FA Cup winners medal after winning the FA Cup final with United in 2004.
In 2006, after struggling to find a significant role for Howard on their squad, Manchester United handed him to Everton on a one-year loan. Everton was not looking for a long-time starter in the arrangement, just a temporary replacement for retired keeper Nigel Martyn. But Howard's impact on the club would later earn him a permanent spot on the roster for several years.
When the loan period expired, Everton bought Howard from United outright. Since that time, Howard has made 156 appearances with the club, and his 2008-09 season established a new club record for most clean sheets kept in a single campaign. Tim Howard still plays for Everton today and continues to be a nearly impenetrable barrier between attacking players and the back of the net.
3. Brian McBride
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American international striker Brian McBride has been one of the most successful faces of American soccer in Europe, serving five seasons for two Premier League clubs in England and achieving the distinct honor of being only the second American to ever captain a team in the Premiership.
He also enjoyed one of the longest careers of any American player outside of goal.
In 1994, McBride began his European career in Germany for Wolfsburg, appearing 18 times before ultimately returning to the U.S. in what appeared to be a failed opportunity at European glory.
For the next eight years between 1996 and 2004, he played outstanding football in America, scoring 62 goals for the Columbus Crew and becoming an iconic presence in Major League Soccer. Europe took notice once again, and this time the attention came from England.
In 2003, the Crew loaned him out to Everton for a short time, where he turned heads by scoring four goals in eight appearances. When Everton asked to extend the loan, Major League Soccer rejected the request, preferring to sell the striker over continuing to loan him out.
While Everton may not have been first in line to buy McBride outright, Fulham FC took little hesitation in making an offer. Subsequently, McBride earned a spot on Fulham's starting roster, and made an impact on the club over the next four years that Craven Cottage will never forget.
In 151 appearances for Fulham, McBride scored 41 goals, and was the club's top goal scorer in the 2006-07 campaign. In achieving that feat, McBride was named team captain, and was etched into club lore for many years to come.
2. Clint Dempsey
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Born and raised in Texas, Clint Dempsey grew up to be one of the most adaptable footballers in United States history, capable of filling a variety of attacking roles ranging from attacking mid, to winger, to fearsome and talented striker.
Dempsey began his professional career playing for the MLS side, New England Revolution, where he made an impressive impact in scoring 25 goals in 71 appearances and helping the club earn two consecutive playoff berths and reach the MLS Cup final in 2005.
His success in the U.S. caught the eye of several European outfits, particularly Fulham FC, who made a bid for Dempsey in December 2006. When the deal to move to England was finalized, it was the most expensive transfer deal in Major League Soccer history.
Since then, Dempsey has made a total of 145 appearances for Fulham, scoring 33 goals and finishing several seasons as the club's top goal scorer. In 2009, he helped the boys of Craven Cottage achieve the highest Premier League finish in their history, ending the season in seventh place.
Dempsey has also held a seemingly permanent position on the U.S. National Squad since 2004, establishing himself as a fan favorite and one of the most creative presences on the pitch for the Stars and Stripes. In the 2010 World Cup, he was the only U.S. player to score against his English peers when the two sides met in the group stage (though the goal was much less his own doing and much more a goalkeeping howler).
Currently, Dempsey's contract with Fulham extends through 2013, and with hardly even any whispers of a potential transfer anytime soon, he seems destined to remain at the Cottage for years to come.
1. Brad Friedel
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After spending nearly 14 years bouncing between four different Premier League clubs, it's safe to say that Brad Friedel has established himself as one of the most iconic American goalkeepers in English history.
After an immensely successful 1997 season with the Columbus Crew, during which Friedel was named one of Major League Soccer's "Best XI" and earned the league's Goalkeeper of the Year Award, the MLS sold the American to Liverpool, initiating one of the longest stays in England by any American footballer in history.
For Liverpool, Friedel spent three seasons serving as essentially a backup keeper, appearing hardly more than 30 times for the Reds. However, he did manage to accumulate some coveted playing time in the UEFA Cup while he was there.
In 2000, Friedel was transferred to Blackburn, who were at that point in the second tier of British football. His consistent performance in goal was a key factor in Blackburn winning promotion to the Premier League in the 2000-01 season. After that, he remained an unstoppable force in goal for the Rovers for several seasons to come.
Also notable during his tenure with Blackburn: Friedel scored against Charlton Athletic, making him only the second Premier League keeper to ever score in the run of play.
Given the success of his stay with Blackburn, Friedel eventually caught the interest of other Premier League sides, including Manchester City and Aston Villa. After deliberation, Blackburn accepted an offer from Villa, sealing Friedel's fate and a move to Villa Park.
Most recently, Friedel secured a transfer that could prove to be the defining moment of his career, signing a two-year deal with Premier League top-four contenders, Tottenham Hotspur. If the club competes as well as it says it will, Brad Friedel could soon become the highest-placing first team American player in Premier League history.