American Exports: Premier League preview
AMSTERDAM – Most of the club seasons in Europe have recently or are about to kick off. With that in mind, we journey across the continent to gauge what's ahead for the Americans playing in England's Premier League.
The Prem opens season on Saturday, so it is the right time to emerge from the MLSsoccer.com Euro-lab with our oh-so-scientific findings on the eight Americans to watch this season.
Americans: Goalkeeper Brad Friedel (390 career EPL matches), 'keeper Brad Guzan (1), wingback Eric Lichaj (0)
Last season: 6th place EPL (earned Europa League berth), semifinals FA Cup, runners-up Carling Cup, playoff round Europa League.
Americans' role: Friedel opens as the starting keeper, with Guzan as the back-up. The latter was heavily involved in cup play under departed manager Martin O'Neill, but this system naturally could change. Hot prospect Lichaj seems right on the verge of breaking into the first team. With three defenders on the mend as the season opens, his league debut could come sooner than later.
Key question: Apart from all the obvious unknowns about who will eventually step in for O'Neill, this is an easy call. The main difference between the Villans and the five teams that finished above of them? Goals scored, with the Birmingham side owning a shocking average of 30.4 net strikes shy of those clubs. Villa have been linked to some impressive attackers this summer, but no signings have been made yet and ace winger James Milner could leave. This is a concern that could turn sharply either way before the window closes.
Season outlook: As it stands, they would do miraculously well to match last season. That's basically a nice way of saying that Villa need to hop to it, pick a boss and snare one or two offensive weapons before they're looking out below.
Americans: Midfielder Stuart Holden (1)
Last season: 14th place EPL, round of 16 FA Cup, round of 16 Carling Cup
Americans' role: Manager Owen Coyle seems to just love Holden and the scrappy US international appears to have earned a starting job in their newly bold 4-3-3 set. At the least, he will be a platoon player.
Key question: Bolton could surely use more goals and grabbing Martin Petrov gives them great wing balance opposite Lee Chung-Yong. However, their best way back toward the top half requires better play at the back. The faces are mostly the same – can they tighten it up?
Season outlook: This will probably be a better campaign for Holden than the team at large. The aim here should be to end near mid-table with one deep cup run.
Americans: Goalkeeper Tim Howard (193)
Last season: 8th EPL, round of 32 FA Cup, round of 16 Carling Cup, round of 32 Europa League
Americans' role: Timmy will be the man in Everton's goal for the fifth straight season.
Key question: Will standing pat pay off or cost them? There has been gossip of moves in and out, but they'd need to sell before adding anyone. Manager David Moyes would love to bring back Landon Donovan, but for now at least, he has to rely on team continuity.
Season outlook: Barring major changes, Everton will likely be a tough match most every week and challenge for a return to Europe, just like last year.
Americans: Midfielder Clint Dempsey (110), forward Eddie Johnson (7)
Last season: 12th place EPL, 3rd round Carling Cup, runners up Europa League
Americans' role: Unless one of his many admirers drops a load of cash, Dempsey will again be a key attack cog for the Cottagers. New boss Mark Hughes is chasing strikers, so the US star could spend more time on the flank than last season.
For Johnson, who returns from his loan spell at Greece's Aris, it remains to be seen how much of a chance he'll get to contribute to the attack – but until Hughes completes a striker deal, the American will vie for selection.
Key question: Who can Hughes lure to the Cottage? Fulham definitely needs more goals – only six EPL clubs bagged fewer last term.
Season outlook: If they get some real help up front, this nucleus is one capable of breaking into the top 10. If not, another 12th-place finish would be quite acceptable.
West Ham United
Americans: Defender Jonathan Spector (110)
Last season: 17th EPL, 3rd round FA Cup, 3rd round Carling Cup
Americans' role: The additions of Tal Ben Haim and Winston Reid mean Spector will likely remain at least a part-time starter at left back.
Key question: Are the Hammers better than they played last season? It's a great query because they were awful for much of the campaign until a 2-2-2 finish pushed them clear of the trap door. There have been a handful of decent additions to the squad, but the returning players need to step it up.
Season outlook: Like crosstown Fulham, West Ham need more goals and they are chasing forwards on the market. But unless something excellent happens in defense, where they conceded at least twice in 24 of EPL 38 matches, they could experience a few more relegation worries.
Americans: Goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann (99)
Last season: 15th place, round of 32 FA Cup, 3rd round Carling Cup
Americans' role: Hahnemann now has the No. 1 shirt after taking the starting job last year.
Key question: Can Wolves find the net? They were the lowest scoring team in the Prem last season. When 35-year-old defender Jody Craddock is your next-to-top scorer with five goals, every match is a struggle. New blood Stephen Hunt and Steven Fletcher should help, though.
Season outlook: Finishing around 15th again should be the goal. It's baby steps for a club trying to become a permanent resident in the top flight.