The draw is done, and three American players learned their fates in the UEFA Champions League on Thursday morning. While Jermaine Jones, Michael Parkhurst and Sacha Kljestan and their teams will face tough odds to get out of their groups, they can draw inspiration from the fact that many American players have blazed unlikely trails before them helping pull off some improbable results.
Perhaps the best showing from an American in European competition, though has come in the Europa League, with Clint Dempsey coming through as one of the leading lights in Fulham's run to the final more than two years ago.
This time around, seven more Americans will learn their fates on Friday morning when the Europa League draw is made, giving them the opportunity to match Dempsey's impressive performance.
It remains to be seen right now who will lead the way for Americans in the 2012-13 campaign, but it's as good a time as any to look back at the top three American performers in European competition. Read on to find out who they are...
Clint Dempsey (2009-10, Fulham, Europa League)
Back when everything was just swell with Dempsey and Fulham, the rising American star played a critical role in Fulham’s best European campaign in club history.
By 2009, Dempsey was a key figure at Craven cottage, and his seven goals helped lead the Lilywhites to a seventh-place finish in the 2008-09 season, their best ever and one that also qualified them for the 2009-10 Europa League.
Dempsey scored his first goal of the competition early on, netting in a 3-1 home win as Fulham negotiated Amkar Perm of Russia in the playoff round. Though he did not score in a tricky group that included Roma, Basel and Bulgarian side CSKA Sofia, he was a regular contributor.
The Texan’s moment of glory would come, however. After Fulham edged out reigning champions Shakhtar Donetsk in the first knockout round, they were drawn against Italian giants Juventus in the round of 16 and were left for dead following a 3-1 first leg loss in Italy and a second-minute David Trezeguet strike at Craven Cottage.
The home side engineered a magnificent comeback, though, scoring twice in the first half and again early in the second to bring things level on aggregate and away goals. And with extra time looming, Dempsey chose his moment, collecting the ball at the top corner of the area and lofting a sublime chip to the far corner, leaving the Juventus ‘keeper without a prayer and sending Fulham through to the quarterfinals.
Dempsey again featured as the Londoners dealt with two German sides Wolfsburg, then Hamburg, to reach the final. And though he was not in the starting XI against Atlético Madrid, he would come on as a 55th-minute substitute, becoming the first American to play in a European final. Though Fulham eventually fell 2-1 to the superior Spaniards in extra time, it still proved a memorable year for Dempsey, who added his name to the ever-growing list of Americans who’ve made their mark at the highest levels of the game.
DaMarcus Beasley (2004-05, PSV Eindhoven, Champions League)
Starting at just 22 years of age, DaMarcus Beasley set the benchmark in terms of production for Americans playing in the Champions League.
Fresh off a transfer to Dutch giants PSV from the Chicago Fire, Beasley was thrown right into the mixer and responded brilliantly. He proved to be an important part of the team that won the Dutch league and cup double and played a crucial role in their best European showing since winning it all in 1988.
Just how big were Beasley’s contributions, you ask? He featured in all but two matches of PSV’s run to the semifinals of the 2004-05 Champions League, getting started right away when he scored a crucial goal in the club’s qualifying-round win over Red Star Belgrade.
Beasley topped that by adding another two goals in the group stage and another in the first knockout round against Monaco. Though PSV eventually missed out on the final by a matter of minutes – falling to Milan in the semifinals on away goals after conceding late goals in both legs of the tie – Beasley’s performance remains the finest any American has produced in the Champions League. His four goals were good enough to make him PSV’s top scorer of the campaign and have also made him the most prolific American player in the Champions League to date.
Jovan Kirovski (1996-97, Dortmund, Champions League)
Although Beasley is the USA’s most productive player in the Champions League, Jovan Kirovski remains the only player to actually have won the whole thing. Or any European competition for that matter.
He didn’t have a huge part to play, with his only European action that season coming in the form of a pair of substitute appearances in group stage games against Atletico Madrid. He was left out of the squad altogether for Dortmund’s epic final against Italian giants Juventus, though he did pick up a winner’s medal for his contributions to the campaign.
The rest of Kirovski’s time at Dortmund was less memorable, as he only totaled one goal in 20 appearances for Dortmund over four years, save for a mildly successful loan spell in the second division.
He did however, get one more chance to shine on the club international level after Dortmund’s European win. The triumph qualified them to the 1997 Intercontinental Cup against South American champions Cruzeiro, where Kirovski came off the bench for the final 11 minutes of the game and was on the field for the second goal in a 2-0 triumph.