Postcard from Europe: Handing out a few American Export awards
AMSTERDAM — Another year is set to end, and it was one that saw Americans reached new heights in both glory and aggrievement playing in Europe.
With that all in mind, we now celebrate—and bemoan—the past 12 months of Red, White & Blue happenings across the pond.
Can there be any doubt? Is Clint Dempsey's rally-capping ice-cream-dream scoop tie winner against Europa League giant Juventus at Craven Cottage not already an early contender for AE Goal of the Millennium? Somewhat lost in all the brilliance and significance of the deluxe diagonal chip was how quintessentially Deuce it really was; it seemed to come out of nowhere, relaxed demeanor on the play proved a fatal deception and the mic was rocked right. It was just Clint being Clint, again etching his name into the indelible Fulham goals annual.
Best Non-Deuce Goal
With the Fulham ace supplying a fair few crackers of note, we thought it proper to spread the plaudits around. This prize goes to the then-Aris FC duo of Freddy Adu and Eddie Johnson, for their winning production in the playoff opener against Greek power Olympiakos. Adu wiggled his way along the left touchline before poking a lobbed cross for Johnson to place a sublime measured header inside the far post.
This is probably the toughest pick in the bunch, with Örebro's Alejandro Bedoya, Stabæk's Mikkel "Mix" Diskerud and Aston Villa's Eric Lichaj all worthy winners. Problem for them is, Bolton midfielder Stuart Holden hasn't just broken into the line-up or garnered a bit of chatter in support of season-end awards. The former Houston Dynamo is currently the highest-rated player on the entire term to date, according to Guardian readers, and he leads the Premier League in successful tackles. If he plays the front half of 2011 like he did the back half of 2010, Holden could become the first American to make the PFA Team of the Year for the Prem since Tim Howard in 2004.
The "Oh, Hello There!" Award
[inline_node:324228]An early candidate for next year's Breakout honor, Zenit St. Petersburg forward Eugene Starikov broke into both the Russian top flight and U.S. National sights during a loan spell at Tom Tomsk. The Siberians were so happy with his run of six consecutive starts to close the season, they are currently trying to buy the player from Zenit. The Russian champs seem to prefer a loan, but announced this week that the Kiev-born American will play at Tomsk next season one way or the other.
The “Iron Man” Award
With all respect to Robert Downey Jr., this prize goes to a man that looks like a superhero without the clunky metal get-up. Aston Villa keeper Brad Friedel broke the record for consecutive EPL games played back in November of 2008, but now I think we can officially say he's shattered it. The old standard was 166; his start against Manchester City on Tuesday took The Man of Steal's unblemished appearance streak up to 247.
Invisible Man of the Year
There were three notable Americans to miss out entirely on league play during the calendar year, but AC Milan defender Oguchi Onyewu takes this dubious cake. After missing the early part of the year to injury, poor Gooch showed his club commitment to new manager Massimiliano Allegri by adding a wage-free season to his contract... and has been summarily ignored ever since. Expect him to be much more visible in his forthcoming loan outpost during 2011.
Anderlecht did not succeed at first, but they tried again and finally landed Chivas USA midfielder Sacha Kljestan. Formerly sized up by the likes of Celtic and FC Twente, the American found a perfect landing spot. He opened his European in Champions League qualifying and has started 10 of 21 league games for the Belgian leaders. Perhaps even better, when hot transfer topic Mbark Boussoufa eventually departs, Kljestan could be in line for the playmaker role. Good thinking, Batman.
Best Transfer That Wasn't
[inline_node:324102]As an impending summer free agent, Hannover 96 mainstay Steve Cherundolo had widespread interest from the likes of AS Roma and Newcastle, and could have moved before the window opened to a very smitten mystery La Liga side. Instead, the 31-year old extended his Reds deal before it even expired. His reward? Wearing the armband for one of Germany's season darlings at the break, with a home stretch shot at securing his first ever foray into Europe. As is often said to men that go by the name Stevie Wonder: Well played, sir.
Biggest Station Rise in a Transfer
With profuse apologies to Holden, this salutation goes to Duisburg keeper David Yelldell. Last season, he was a member of Koblenz, a ship sinking out of the second Bundesliga. Now, the former Blackburn understudy to Friedel is in the thick of the race for promotion to the top flight. If that happens, he should finally get that national team call up he wants.
Most Popular Transfer Topic
Dempsey and Onyewu gave him a run for the money, but Villarreal strike apprentice Jozy Altidore is just so terribly enticing to loan and purchase suitors. During the year (half of which was spent on loan to Hull City), the youngster drew varying degrees of interest from a laundry list of name-brand clubs from all across Europe, including Ajax, Beşiktaş, Celtic, Everton, Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray, Kaiserslautern, Napoli, Olympiakos and Palermo.
Most Crushing Letdown
Yes, Charlie Davies actually sustained his multiple injuries back in 2009, but the full array effects of that fatal car wreck lasted through all of 2010. Most notable among these ripples was the Sochaux decision to keep the forward from competing for a place at Bob Bradley's World Cup prep camp in May. Many stateside observers howled and all agonized what might have been. But with Chuck D only now returning to his club's selection, the choice to hold back the eager Davies certainly looks a proper call.
Most Exasperating Injury
[inline_node:316237]This "award" will be shared, but fortunately we'll save shipping costs for the trophy because the two recipients play for the same club. Aalborg attacker Chris Rolfe, who has openly shared alternating hope and frustration several times, has not played since April due the hamstring nag of all nags. Meanwhile, club doctors have thrown the kitchen sink at Marcus Tracy's knees, which won't seem to let go of tendonitis problems that forced him to miss the entire calendar year. The club have suffered, too; AaB have only 18 goals in 19 games and sits in the SAS Liga cellar at the break.
Most Disturbingly Frustrating Career Trajectory
Just when it seemed like Freddy Adu had finally found a happy situation to develop through actual playing time. things went completely sour at Aris FC this summer. Despite being used heavily down the stretch and in the Greek European placement playoffs, the eternal prodigy was cast out of favor by manager Héctor Cúper and is awaiting resolution of petition to have the rest of his loan deal cancelled. Should he be returned to Benfica early next year, Adu would then be urged to start shopping for a new club. Ouch. To his credit, the kid never seems to lose heart for trying.
Biggest AE Moment
Even with his Juventus stunner, Dempsey takes this final prize for the moment he entered May's Europa League final in Hamburg. Though Fulham would fall to Atlético Madrid just before penalties due to a case of 118th minute rubber legs at the back, MC Deuce made history by becoming the first American to see action in a UEFA cup championship match. It was one small step for a man, one giant leap for the American Exports.