WORDS: MATT BENSON
Some fine players have made their way across the Atlantic to show us Europeans that Americans can also play the beautiful game. Today, the man behind socceroverthere.com picks his ultimate team of US internationals to have plied their trade abroad. Unfortunately, he could only select one goalkeeper
Image: wjarrettc (via Flickr)
So, I have Joe Montana at quarterback and Barry Sanders at running back…
Oh, you mean that football. While it has been America’s “Sport of the Future” since 1972, it is still growing and you can see the growth by the increasing amount of Americans who cross the pond each year to ply their trade in Europe. Here is a lineup of Americans who call it soccer and play(ed) professionally in Europe.
I am just going to get two things out of the way first. I am an American, therefore I am going to call it soccer. Second, we live in a stat-obsessed sports world over here, so I am probably going to throw a lot of numbers out there. I just wanted to apologize in advance.
To be eligible for this Yanks Abroad XI, you needed to have played at least one game for the US national team, but the selection is based on their play with their club teams in Europe, not how they did with the national team (sorry Landon Donovan).
This means there might be a dual citizen or two featured, something we have seen a lot lately with the current national team under Jurgen Klinsmann. There have been times when three or four German-born players have suited up for the red, white and blue over the last two years.
But back to this lineup. I have selected guys to play in the standard 4-4-2.
Because we can’t field multiple goalkeepers, the one position where we continually produce quality, and because the US has never been the most tactical-savvy country out there, unless you want to count Steve Sampson’s 3-6-1 debacle at the 1998 World Cup.
Old man Friedel. Friedel is currently in his 16th season in the English Premier League and still going strong, although his record 310 consecutive appearances was snapped earlier this season. Only two goalkeepers in Premier League history have played in more games than Friedel and he is one of four keepers to score a goal in the Premier League era. He has been over there for so long that he now owns the best British accent by anyone born in Ohio.
Friedel actually began his European career with Brøndby in 1994/95 after he was unable to secure a work permit for a move to Newcastle United. He then bounced over to Turkey, where he helped Galatasaray to a Turkish Cup title in 1995/96. After a quick return to the US to help start MLS, he has since bounced around the English top flight with Liverpool, Blackburn, Aston Villa and now Tottenham. He helped Blackburn win the 2002 League Cup and was named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year in 2002/03.
Steve Cherundolo has been at Hannover 96 for so many years (15 seasons to be exact), he is called the “Mayor of Hannover” by the fans. Cherundolo grew up in sunny Southern California before attending the University of Portland for two years. After two years in college, he headed to then 2. Bundesliga side Hannover in 1998/99.
He quickly claimed the right-back spot and became a regular in the lineup (363 career league appearances). In 2001/02, he played in 30 games, notching one goal, as Hannover 96 won promotion to the Bundesliga, a place where it has been for the last 11 seasons.
Someone I consider as one of the most underrated players in US Soccer history (the man does not get the high praise like a Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan, yet he continually plugs away at the right-back spot), he was named captain of Hannover prior to the 2010/11 season.
Here is our first dual citizen of the bunch. Dooley was born in West Germany to a German mother and a U.S. Army father in 1961. He did not play with the US national team until 1992, but he began his professional career in 1983/84, with German third division side FC Homburg.
Dooley appeared in 121 league games for Homburg, as he helped them earn promotion all the way up to the Bundesliga, and then made the switch to Kaiserslautern in 1988, leading the backline to a German Cup title in 1989/90. Dooley and Kaiserslautern saw further improvement in 1990/91 as they won the league title, the club’s first since 1952/53, a season after surrendering a league-worst 55 goals.
After playing in the 1994 World Cup for the US, Dooley headed to Bayer Leverkusen for one season before making the move to Schalke, where he won the 1997 UEFA Cup. However, that was to be the last Europe saw of Mr. Dooley as he headed to the US for some MLS action to finish his career.
While most Europeans grow up in some youth academy, Gregg Berhalter was a product of the American system where you go to high school and college. Berhalter played his college ball at North Carolina, while he spent his off season in 1993 playing with the “immortal” Raleigh Flyers of the USISL. After his junior year of college, he signed with Dutch side Zwolle in 1994. The next few seasons saw him stay in the Netherlands as he bounced around with Sparta Rotterdam and SC Cambuur Leeuwarden.
After a short stint with Crystal Palace in England, Berhalter signed with Energie Cottbus before the 2002/03 season. He appeared in 111 games and was captain as they earned promotion back to the Bundesliga in 2005/06.
Berhalter then took his strong marking skills to 1860 Munich where he was also named captain and played three seasons with the club. He ended his career with the LA Galaxy (yes, Beckham’s LA Galaxy) in 2011, but he is now back in Europe managing Swedish side Hammarby IF.
Left-back has always been a position of need for the US over the years, so finding someone to fill this spot looked like it was going to be tough. When most US fans think of John O’Brien, they think of one of the most technically gifted central midfielders in US Soccer history, but he actually played left-back for Ajax for most of his career.
John is another standout of Southern California who had his first trial with Ajax at the age of 14. He then signed an amateur contract with Ajax in 1994 when he was 17. After a couple seasons with their storied youth teams, he signed his first professional contract in 1998 with the Dutch giants.
O’Brien actually spent his first season on loan at FC Utrecht before making his Ajax debut in 1999. While he was at Ajax, he was a part of a team that won the league twice (2001/02 and 2003/04) and the KNVB Cup in 2002. Injuries did play a big part in his career and while he only played 85 league games between Ajax, Utrecht and ADO Den Haag, his potential and talent are too good to pass up.
Yet another dual citizen, Earnie Stewart was born in Veghel, Netherlands to a Dutch mother and an American U.S. Air Force airman. The 5ft 9in midfielder began his professional career at the age of 19 at Dutch second division side VVV. After two years there, he moved on to the Eredivisie with Willem II in 1990.
At Willem II, Stewart used his speed down the right flank over six seasons, scoring 49 goals in 170 appearances. In his first year at the club in 1990/91, he scored a team-high 17 goals, which only trailed Romario and Dennis Bergkamp for the most in the Eredivisie.
By 1996, Stewart moved to fellow Dutch club NAC Breda, where he scored 50 goals in 199 games over seven seasons. Currently the Director of Football at AZ Alkmaar, he has brought in American Jozy Altidore to lead the team in scoring, but no American has scored more goals in Europe than Stewart’s 115 career goals.
The son of a former Argentine soccer player at Los Andes, Claudio Reyna was born and grew up in New Jersey, where he later became the high school teammate of defender Gregg Berhalter. I hate using hackneyed phrases like “he pulled the strings”, but he really did pull the strings for the US, although he showed versatility by also being able to play defensive midfield and some right-back.
Reyna signed with Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen after the 1994 World Cup, at the age of 21, and after a successful college career at Virginia. After struggling for playing time, he was loaned out to Wolfsburg in 1997 where he established himself and became the first American to captain a European club. After success at Wolfsburg, Rangers and the Scottish Premier League came calling. Reyna spent four seasons in Glasgow, picking up a Scottish Premier League title as well as one Scottish Cup trophy. Reyna then made the move to England, where he had a short stint at Sunderland derailed by injuries before becoming a popular player among the fans at Manchester City for the last four seasons of his European career.
This selection was probably the hardest as Michael Bradley is still playing (and going strong) ay only 25 years old, but he has already accomplished a lot in his short career and the potential is there for so much more.
Most US fans were slow to come around to Bradley until recently as they either saw him as only a defensive midfielder, despite him scoring a then-American in Europe record 18 goals across all competitions for Heerenveen in 2007/08 at the age of 20. Or they just saw him getting the playing time with both the MetroStars and US national team due to his father being the manager, even though he became the youngest MLS player to ever be sold when he made the move to Heerenveen at the age of 19.
Bradley parlayed his success at Heerenveen with a move to the Bundesliga and Borussia Mönchengladbach. After three seasons in Germany, Bradley has found his home in Italy. He first broke in with the Flying Donkeys at Chievo Verona, where the local fans nicknamed him “The General”, before making a move this past summer to Roma. Now, at the age of 25, he is a regular at a big Serie A club, playing alongside Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi. Not bad, Mikey. Not bad.
No American has won more silverware in Europe than DaMarcus Beasley. The speedy, left-footed winger is another product of the US Soccer Federation’s residency program in Bradenton, Florida, much like Michael Bradley and others.
After excelling with the Chicago Fire, Bradley was brought to PSV by Guus Hiddink in 2004 to be a replacement for Arjen Robben (and was even given the number 11 jersey). Beasley was a regular for PSV for two seasons as the club won two league titles, one cup and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2004/05. That is still the farthest any American has been in that competition, while his four career Champions League goals are the most by any American.
In 2006/07, Beasley was sent on a season-long loan to Manchester City before signing with Rangers in 2007/08. At Rangers, Beasley won another four trophies over the next three seasons, including two league titles. Beasley’s European vacation came to an end (for now) after a cup of coffee with Hannover 96 in 2010/11. Now at the age of 30, Beasley is tormenting defenders down the left side in Mexico at Puebla.
I will say this now, Clint Dempsey is the best rapping soccer player to be born in Nacogdoches, Texas. “Deuce” is probably one of the best Americans ever when it comes to being composed and skillful on the ball while in traffic. He can play nearly anywhere in the midfield, but his best ability is to put the ball in the back of net.
As I write this (January 24, 2013), he is one of six players to score at least five goals in each of the last six Premier League seasons, joining the likes of Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Fernando Torres, Frank Lampard and Dimitar Berbatov. He scored 23 goals in all competitions in 2011/12, an American record for any top-flight league in Europe.
He can score with his right foot. He can score with his left foot. But he is almost at his most dangerous in the air with his head. He is also not afraid to shoot from anywhere, as demonstrated by his wonderful chip against Juventus during Fulham’s Europa League run in 2009/10 among others.
Before Clint Dempsey was even given a chance at Craven Cottage, Brian McBride paved the way for future attacking American players in England. McBride actually began his professional career in Germany at Wolfsburg in 1994/95, but made his way to England in the early 2000s, with loan stints at Preston North End and Everton. He signed with Fulham in January of 2004 and scored 33 goals in 140 league appearances for the Cottagers. A better aerial threat than Dempsey, McBride became captain of Fulham before the 2007/08 season, but a ruptured thigh muscle cut his season short and he returned to the US to end his career with the Chicago Fire in 2008. McBride was a fans’ favourite for his work ethic and professionalism, which led to Fulham renaming a bar inside Craven Cottage McBride’s.