Monday Postgame: Top 10 MLS alumni in Europe
NEW YORK -- The 2013 MLS SuperDraft is in the books, MLS training camps are under way, and the March 2 start of the 2013 regular season — the earliest kickoff in league history — is visible on the horizon.
But after a blizzard of MLS hot-stove news this past week, many North American fans focused over the weekend on Europe, where MLS alums Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Clint Dempsey all sparkled over the weekend.
There were also reports that FC Dallas winger Brek Shea is headed to Stoke City, which, if true, would give the Potters three former MLSers on their books (in addition to Geoff Cameron and Maurice Edu, who was recently loaned to Turkish side Bursaspor).
All of which got us thinking about the history of MLS alums in Europe. Which former league standouts have found the most success abroad?
Below are the Postgame’s Top 10. Before we get to the list, a quick word on criteria: This is our (subjective) take on the best MLS alums, not necessarily the best Americans, in Europe, and we’re limiting the list to players who blossomed in MLS before going to Europe — which rules out Brad Friedel (who had 40 appearances in Europe before joining Columbus in 1996), among others.
10. Stern John — The Trinidadian striker scored 44 goals in 55 appearances for Columbus before signing with Nottingham Forest in 1999. After netting 18 goals in 49 starts for Forest, he was transferred to Birmingham City, a club fighting for promotion to the Premier League, in 2002. He struggled at Birmingham, but later found success at Coventry City and Southampton, where he finished with 19 goals in 2007-08, fourth-highest total in the Championship that season.
9. Michael Parkhurst — The former ace New England defender has won two Danish Cups and a Danish league title since departing MLS in 2008. He’s played in the Champions League as well, and recently transferred to Bundesliga side FC Augsberg.
8. Maurice Edu — After winning the 2007 MLS Rookie of the Year award with Toronto FC, Edu signed with legendary Scottish club Rangers. In 96 appearances as a defensive midfielder for the Glasgow side, he scored nine goals — including a 93rd-minute winner over archrivals Celtic in 2010 — and helped the team win the Scottish Premier League three times. Still only 26, he’s currently on loan from Stoke City to Turkish side Bursaspor.
7. DaMarcus Beasley — The speedy former Chicago winger came up through the US youth ranks with Landon Donovan, and was practically on par with the Galaxy attacker for years, including in 2004-05, when he won a Dutch title with PSV and scored four goals in the Champions League. He also had his moments in three seasons with Rangers, including a Man of the Match performance against Lyon in the 2007 Champions League. He’s currently with Puebla in the Mexican top flight.
6. Jozy Altidore — He left the Red Bulls in 2008, at age 18, joining Villarreal for a record transfer fee. After relatively fruitless loan spells at Xerex, Hull City, and Bursaspor, he landed at AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch top flight last season, and started to shine. He was the club’s top scorer in 2011-12, with 22 goals across all competitions, and he leads the team in scoring again this year, having bagged 14 — tied for second most in the league — so far this season. Poised to rise up this list.
5. Marcus Hahnemann — According to the Castrol Index, Hahnemann, who started the 1997 MLS Cup final for the Colorado Rapids, was the best goalkeeper in the world in 2009. Wolverhampton gave up 1.2 goals per game when he was between the pipes that season and two goals a game when he wasn’t. He stopped 78.4% of shots on target, the best save percentage among first-choice goalkeepers in Europe’s top five leagues. In other words, he almost single-handedly kept Wolves in the top flight that year. Before that, he backstopped Reading’s rise from the third tier to the Premier League.
4. Tie: Carlos Bocanegra/Brian McBride — A two-time MLS Defender of the Year, Bocanegra left the Chicago Fire in 2004 for Fulham, where he joined countryman McBride, whose pro career had taken off in Columbus following a brief, unsuccessful stint in Germany. Incredibly, the pair finished 1-2 in scoring for the Cottagers (yep: Boca bagged five goals) in the 2006-07 Premier League season. Bocanegra subsequently delivered the goods at Ligue 1 clubs Rennes and St. Etienne, Rangers, and Spanish second-division side Racing Santander, his current team. McBride went on to become a legend at Craven Cottage, where a stadium bar was renamed in his honor in 2009.
3. Michael Bradley — Call him No. 3 with a bullet, because the the 25-year-old could reach the top of this list before he’s done. The former MetroStar has already had successful stints with Dutch side Herenveen, Bundesliga club Borussia Mönchengladbach, and Chievo of Serie A (as well as a less successful turn with Aston Villa). Now starting in central midfield for Italian giants Roma, he’s never looked better.
2. Tim Howard — Plucked from New York in 2003 by none other than Manchester United, Howard was the PFA’s keeper of the year in his first season at Old Trafford. He faltered at the end of that season, though, and ended up being shipped to Everton in 2006. But he has rebounded there to become one of the top goalkeepers in the Premier League, and one of only two (along with Friedel) to make more than 200 consecutive appearances.
1. Clint Dempsey — The 2004 MLS Rookie of the Year with New England, Dempsey scored 23 goals in all competitions for Fulham last season — without question the best season ever by an American outfield player in Europe. He also became the first American to top 50 career goals in the EPL, and has shown a consistent knack for clutch goals. This year, after missing preseason with Tottenham, he is starting to heat up. He has seven goals in 27 appearances — but four in his last four games.
Brad Guzan — Stuck behind Brad Friedel for years, the former Chivas USA man is coming into his own for Aston Villa now.
Sacha Kljestan -- Has solidified his place in Anderlecht's midfield, won a Belgian title, and played in the Champions League.
Tony Sanneh — The ex-D.C. United star excelled in the Bundesliga — when healthy — for six years.
Stuart Holden — Left Houston in 2010 and made a brilliant start for Bolton that year. Would probably be in the Top 10 if not for a series of unfortunate injuries.
Juan Toja — He and his rock-n-roll hair departed FC Dallas in 2008 and played in the Champions League and the Europa League with Steaua Bucharest and Greek side Aris.
Landon Donovan — Not a bona fide alum, as hasn’t left the league for good. Yet. Would otherwise be on the list for two stellar loan spells at Everton.