There’s something special about those midweek European nights. Whether it’s an early play-in round in the Europa Cup, or an April semifinal in the Champions League, the cross-border clashes seem to bring the best out of teams all over the continent.
And there’ve been no few Yanks who’ve gotten their taste. Currently, the Europa League is littered with American Exports, with the likes of Jozy Altidore at AZ Alkmaar, Brad Friedel at Tottenham Hotspur, Sacha Kljestan at Anderlecht and several more from nearly all parts of the continent.
While they’re doing their thing now, let’s look back at three of the more memorable European runs that have featured Americans:
3) Frankie Hejduk and Bayer Leverkusen, 1999-2000: The most memorable part of Hejduk’s time in Europe came with the “Neverkusen” sides from the turn of the century. Year after year they’d compete for the Bundesliga title or European honors, and year after year they’d come up just short.
Hejduk’s best run with Bayer came in the 1999-2000 season when the fullback was a key part of their Champions League Group A efforts. True to form, Bayer came close, but couldn’t advance to the knock-out rounds, finishing third behind Lazio and Dynamo Kiev based on total goals. They then went on to lose to Udinese in the Europa League on the away goals rule.
2) DaMarcus Beasley and PSV Eindhoven, 2004-2005: Beasley’s first year in Europe was his best, as he and PSV thundered all the way to the semifinals of the Champions League before bowing out to AC Milan on the away goals rule.
The American winger, playing under the tutelage of Guus Hiddink, excelled domestically but made his real mark in European competition. He led PSV with four goals in 12 Champions League appearances that year, and to this day remains the only American to have played in a Champions League semifinal.
That Eindhoven side are also the most recent Dutch team to make it to the Champions League semis.
1) Clint Dempsey and Fulham, 2009-2010: Dempsey is clearly on his way to “Legendary Hero” status at Craven Cottage. He’s Fulham’s all-time leading Premiership scorer, including a goal late in the 2006/07 season against Liverpool that saved the Cottagers from relegation.
But what he'll always be remembered for is his audacious chipped goal against Juventus in the 2009/10 Europa League round of 16, completing a spectacular comeback against the Italian giants. It's a goal that the Guardian newspaper called "the most famous goal in Fulham's history," and Fulham rode that wave of momentum all the way to the final. There they succumbed to Atletico Madrid, 2-1 after extra time, but to this day Dempsey remains the only American to play in a European final.
Matthew Doyle writes the Armchair Analyst column for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MLS_Analyst