Postcard from Europe: Bold predictions for the new season
AMSTERDAM – The mainstream seasons are kicking off left and right in Europe, which means there's no better time to air a stack of bold (or perhaps crazy) predictions involving American exports.
We'll dispense with the ceremony and get straight to the show, ranked countdown style from least daring to most.
5) Repeat Offenders
To date, only three Americans have repeated as champions in a European top flight: DaMarcus Beasley (twice), Maurice Edu and Oguchi Onyewu. The first two players pulled off the feat as Rangers teammates, but we've never seen Americans on different clubs repeat as champs in the same year. That's about to change.
Who looks most set for more silver? Sacha Kljestan's Anderlecht are again the title favorites in Belgium and I'm going out on a limb to call a Michael Parkhurst repeat with FC Nordsjælland in Denmark.
Beyond that, Josh Gatt's Molde FK are only a point off the top with 11 games left in winter-schedule Norway, while Bryan Gerzicich and Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona are also in with a fair shot to win again in Israel.
4) Homecoming King
Though most everyone in our little soccer bubble would probably predict that a veteran player will leave for a return to, or first taste of, Major League Soccer, transfer matters are often quite tricky. Nevertheless, I'm looking at you, DaMarcus Beasley, Steve Cherundolo and Brad Friedel. All three have contracts that expire next summer and have frequently spoken of a desire to play or play again in MLS.
Also out of contract next summer and fitting the bill to some extent? There's Brøndby captain Clarence Goodson and Birmingham handyman Jonathan Spector around for chasing. All in all, it seems a fair bet somebody will be coming home.
3) Civil War East
While Jozy Altidore's AZ Alkmaar went toe-to-toe with Kljestan's Anderlecht in the Europa League round of 32 last year, eventually winning 2-0 on aggregate, it was the deepest that two Americans have ever met in UEFA cup or Europa League play. This year, we should expect a do-or-die tie between countrymen with 16 or fewer teams left in the draw of that tournament.
It looked as though it would happen when four of our boys made it to separate ties in the quarterfinals last time, but three of their clubs bowed out there. Altidore & Co. will be back for another run to the final eight, as will Cherundolo's Hannover 96 and Onyweu's Sporting CP.
Rapid Vienna's Terrence Boyd and Mikkel Diskerud, who recently joined Norwegian contenders Rosenborg BK, have also joined clubs that are threats to go deep in the Europa League. If Anderlecht, Nordsjælland or Alejandro Bedoya's Helsingborg drop down from a Champions League ouster in the playoff round or group stage, they too would join that band of dangerous clubs. And if Jermaine Jones and Schalke switch over, they'd instantly become one of the Europa League favorites.
Add it all together and you have the recipe for an American vs. American showdown at a new level of high stakes.
2) Ranger Than Fiction
Admittedly, this may be the forecast most likely to fall flat. Yes, Bedoya has moved on from the fallen Glasgow giants' messy dissolution and reformation in the Scottish Third Division, with Carlos Bocanegra and Edu sure to follow soon. When they move, the squad will be without an American for the first time in several years.
Bocanegra has already played in a league contest for Rangers, making it six straight seasons an American has done so. So ... how might we get to seven?
It's quite simple, really. Can you think of a better dark-horse bet than the possibility that some American, one who might not normally get a chance to play in a higher-level European league, would jump at the near-religious experience of suiting up for Rangers?
1) Top Gun
No US player has ever won a Golden Boot trophy by topping the goal chart in a European honor division. Never mind that, because I'm calling it now. Altidore currently leads the Eredivisie with four tallies through two games. He also has a year of Dutch seasoning, more responsibility in attack and several outside variables working in his favor.
Three of the six scorers that finished above Altidore last season have moved away, including the top two, Bas Dost and Luuk de Jong. Title favorites Ajax and PSV Eindhoven have the most potent attacks, but they produce by committee. Finally, the transfer of center back and skipper Niklas Moisander likely raises the amount of minutes AZ spend chasing results with the American on the field.
If you don't fancy Altidore's chances, do consider my decent back-up hedge: Boyd is off to a productive start with Austria Vienna, who arguably have the most industrial attack in a league where the top scorer hit 14 goals last season.
Needless to say, predicting two American Golden Boot winners came under consideration – but let’s not get greedy.