Postcard from Europe: Our 2011-12 Team of the Season
AMSTERDAM — The domestic silver is all but handed out for European leagues playing the traditional fall-to-spring schedule, which means it's time to post our American Exports Team of the Season.
As usual, this XI honors the most influential club performances over the 2011-12 campaign, relative to league strength. Though this variable puts all Americans overseas on a level judging field, the top division guys still pulled a clean sweep this year.
Goalkeeper: Brad Friedel
It was a very close call over Tim Howard, but the Tottenham Hotspur netminder bested his compatriot in wins, saves and shutouts. Fresh off his highest-ever EPL table finish, Friedel is also set for a league merit award, after stretching his Premiership record for consecutive starts to 304.
Right back: Michael Parkhurst
Arguably the US defender boasting the best club season, the FC Nordsjælland handyman has actually done fine work from each station along the backline. The majority of his matches and star displays came on the right, where he showed a vastly improved attacking game. And if the Wild Tigers win on Wednesday, the former New England man will become only the second American to be crowned a Danish champ.
Center back: Oguchi Onyewu
The spell spent in the Eredivisie clearly paid off as Gooch quickly grabbed a starting place at Sporting CP and worked more comfortably on the ball. Onyewu played 27 matches overall, helping the Lions reach the Europa League quarterfinals along the way.
Center back: Carlos Bocanegra
The US captain has been both the definition of solid at the back for Rangers and quickly appreciated at Ibrox. A few weeks ago, the main club message board closed their Player of the Season poll voting: Bocanegra had more than 50 percent support, more than double that of the runner-up.
Left back: Eric Lichaj
Are nine EPL starts (a few of which came on the right side) really enough to get the Aston Villa wingback in our side? They are when Lichaj was probably their best field player down the stretch as the strugglers notched enough draws to avoid the drop.
Central midfielder: Jermaine Jones
Sure, the Schalke 04 man collected cards like a kid at a hobby convention. Slightly obscured in those league-leading 14 bookings was a consistently solid season that ended with Jones rated third among Bundesliga two-way midfielders by Kicker magazine. It's worth mentioning that he was even better in Europa League play.
Central midfielder: Michael Bradley
The new Chievo arrival started well and just got better as the season continued. The top-rated midfielder on the team in Serie A's IVG ratings despite spending much of the season in a very defensive role, Bradley raised his stock enough to have the likes of Inter Milan prowling.
Attacking midfielder: Sacha Kljestan
Last year, the former Chivas USA ace told MLSsoccer.com he was busy becoming a more complete midfielder in his rookie campaign at Anderlecht. This season, he proved that wasn't talk. Now much more composed as a holding player, Kljestan still got forward enough to notch five goals and six assists in a career-high 47 matches.
Right wing: Fabian Johnson
Some may wish for the Hoffenheim flank raider to be at left back. Sorry, up the wing is where he's best, and where he's needed. Truth is, Johnson's defensive work often leaves much to be desired. He did, however, ring up a goal and four assists in 10 Bundesliga starts up the field.
Left wing: Clint Dempsey
The American Export of the season pulled off an impressive array of feats this campaign. He hit 23 goals overall for Fulham, including 17 in EPL play. Dempsey had 10 game-opening strikes, six winners, a pair of second-half equalizers against archnemesis Chelsea and three in the Europa League. He also dished six league assists, enough to at least co-lead half the league's clubs.
Forward: Jozy Altidore
The AZ Alkmaar striker had a couple of form hiccups, but it's all in the process of crafting a No. 9 in the Eredivisie. Altidore responded to advanced tutelage with 19 goals in 46 games across all competitions, both career-high figures. He also dished out some big assists late in the season, one part of his enhanced all-around game.
Our bench: Tim Howard, Steve Cherundolo, Tim Ream, Bryan Gerzicich, Maurice Edu, Charles Kazlauskas, Matt Taylor.