Postcard from Europe: Altidore, Bradley among best of 2012
AMSTERDAM – With another new year heading our way, it's time to take a quick look back in remembrance of the best, brightest and even the worst of 2012 for Americans playing in Europe.
There were several fine strikes in the running, making it difficult to choose. If a poll was held, there'd likely be a heavily split vote.
Fans of the free kick could pick Sacha Kljestan's tricky "screwball" dipper inside the far post that put Anderlecht up on Genk to stay back in February or they could go for Clint Dempsey's perfect curler against Bolton while still with Fulham in April.
Those with a taste for long-range delights may opt for Bobby Wood's first 1860 Munich goal play, a 40-yard ramble up the gut followed by a corking equalizer from nearly 30. Then again, some will prefer Mikkel Diskerud's running last-minute volley against Legia Warsaw to send Rosenborg to the Europa League group phase.
When it comes to goals, Jozy Altidore spoiled us all for choices this year. There's the cool, simple calculation of his second goal against FC Twente in April or the lit cannon job the following match at PSV Eindhoven. Either of his two opening day tallies at Ajax would also make a fine winner.
However, we're going to go with Altidore's fanciest number, a "now you have him, now you don't" late equalizer at ADO Den Haag from last month.
Best Match Performance
As in the goals department, the competition is fierce for this prize. For instance, Altidore's double at Ajax looks even better now that we've watched his club struggle to create chances for three months.
Of course, making the official UEFA Champions League Team of the Week for will get you on this shortlist, so former FC Nordsjælland ace Michael Parkhurst is under consideration for his role in a group phase draw against Juventus in October.
Matt Taylor's hat trick and assist in Preussen Münster's August DfB-Pokal upset of Werder Bremen is a worthy contender, as is Clint Dempsey's forced own-goal winner and assist to see Tottenham on to the Europa League knock rounds at Panathinaikos.
Back in May, Josh Gatt enjoyed a tremendous attacking day that included an assist in Molde FK's 1-1 draw at Hønefoss – only to be outdone for Man of the Match honors by home netminder Steve Clark, who turned away no less than 15 shots on goal.
In the end, though, we've tabbed Jermaine Jones' top-shelf, all-around showing as Schalke stormed back from a first-leg deficit and early away-goal leak to beat FC Twente 4-1 for a place in last year's Europa League quarterfinals.
On top of being at his distractive best in central park, the midfielder enjoyed perhaps the best attacking game of his career. After forcing a terrific early save from distance, Jones eventually fired a sweet turnaround tie-winner with 19 minutes left and set up the late insurance tally for good measure.
It would be easy to select Geoff Cameron's successful switch from the Houston Dynamo back line to that of EPL battlers Stoke City, but we will instead pick a move more than a year in the making.
Michael Bradley finally went from being the General at Chievo to a rock-solid regular for AS Roma after 14 months of coveting, covered start-to-finish here at MLSsoccer.com.
It's not to say the US star has revived Roma's best play this season, but there are some clues to his impact. Not only has Bradley started over a fit Daniele De Rossi five times, but he was the only Giallorossi man to work every minute of a recent five-game win streak that counted as the team's best run all year.
Best Transfer That Wasn't
Dempsey's long-supposed move to Liverpool, that was supposedly being forced by the player, never materialized. This was not for a lack of trying by the always comical UK press.
After completely false Deuce-to-Liverpool rumors had run rampant in the British rags during the January window, the Reds actually joined the fray for his services in summer.
And then, The Fenway Sports Group mistakenly posted a news item claiming they had captured Dempsey in July. Fulham boss Martin Jol predicted Dempsey would later walk back. And finally, the American went to Tottenham.
For the record, Dempsey did not refuse to play for Fulham before moving. In fact, it was the club that suggested he sit out their preseason camp in Switzerland.
Most Popular Transfer Topic
With all due respect to FC Dallas attacker Brek Shea and the 2012 stampede of European scouts to see him play live, he didn't get the offers to match the interest.
Altidore, meanwhile, saw AZ reject summer bids from Rubin Kazan and Sporting CP, while Fiorentina have been standing on the curb with a boom box held high playing "In Your Eyes" for months now. With 26 goals this calendar year, it also stands to reason the striker has probably had about as many scouts from the big four leagues out to watch him.
A source close to the situation recently told MLSsoccer.com that Altidore was most likely to leave AZ this coming summer, so the widespread interest should continue into the new year.
Hottest Hot Streak
It's not enough to simply note that Altidore scored 13 goals in 12 straight Eredivisie games spanning the summer offseason, or that they came in all sorts of spectacular fashions.
He hit doubles against both Ajax and FC Twente, plus goals at PSV and Vitesse, with the streak ending on a hat trick at Roda JC. Four of the strikes opened the scoring, two tied the game and six of them put AZ ahead.
Most Crushing Letdown
It all seemed so perfect. In March, each of the four Europa League quarterfinal ties featured an American on a team coming off round-of-16 thrills. Since none could be knocked out by a compatriot, hopes were high that someone would become the second US international to appear in a European final.
Alas, that didn't happen and we can largely blame the reign in Spain. Steve Cherundolo's Hannover 96 were bounced by eventual champs Atlético Madrid, Jones and Schalke by runners-up Athletic Bilbao and Altidore's AZ were taken to the woodshed at Valencia after winning leg one at home.
When the round was over, only Oguchi Onyewu's Sporting CP were still standing – and he was sidelined by injury when they fell out in the semis.
Biggest "American Export" Moment
Combining artistry with significance, Diskerud's volley against Legia would make for a great choice. Group-stage appearance is financially vital for mid-level league powers like Rosenborg to operate.
Nevertheless, we will hand the award to Dempsey's first-ever goal for Spurs, a second-half winner at Manchester United. The goal itself wasn't much more than a good run and competent finish, but it helped Tottenham snap both a 23-year Old Trafford hex and a 29-game overall win drought in the series.
Greg Seltzer covers Americans based in Europe for MLSsoccer.com