AMSTERDAM – With the end of another exciting season for American exports fast approaching, we can once again look back proudly at the progress made by our still-developing players. The strides taken this term by AZ Alkmaar striker Jozy Altidore and Chievo midfielder Michael Bradley, among others, offer great hope for the foreseeable US national team future.
With a long summer ahead allowing for plenty of musing and speculation, it begs the question: Who will be the players to make great strides across the Atlantic next season? Considering talent and the looks of all things as this season ends, these five guys appear best-positioned for a jump to the next level.
1. Brad Guzan
The netminder will take his typical place in the dugout on Sunday, acting as backup for Aston Villa at Norwich City. It will likely be the last time, as Guzan is set to go free with suitors starting to clamor. The former Chivas USA backstop wants to be the starter somewhere, and he'll have plenty of landing spots to choose from among the top two flights in England this summer.
Previously, MLSsoccer.com confirmed that old loan employers Hull, Ipswich, Sunderland and West Brom had all been calling about Guzan since at least winter. Recent UK reports have also linked him to promotion playoff combatants Birmingham and Blackpool.
Wherever he goes, Guzan will arrive with 773 minutes of first-team EPL experience under his belt. Including a pair of cup matches, the US netminder conceded once every 85.9 minutes. Though in a much shorter sample size, that season rate beats Tim Howard, Petr Cech, Ben Foster, Tim Krul – and yes, Villa starter Shay Given, who has leaked a goal every 64.9 minutes of play.
2. Eric Lichaj
While Guzan is set to pick up stakes, the American fullback is just digging in at Villa Park. Lichaj has picked up eight consecutive starts going into the closing day, several of them at the perennial USMNT problem area of left back.
Though a natural righty, the 23-year-old plays with both feet and prefers raiding the box to crossing into it. Now that his defense has been tidied up, it really doesn't matter which side Lichaj is commissioned to work.
Before anyone conjures up notions of our very own Philipp Lahm-style wingback, take note that he may be back on the right when Villa start the new EPL season next fall. Alan Hutton has been poor, Carlos Cuéllar is set to be a free agent and Ciaran Clark is currently busy being outshined by Lichaj.
3. Andrew Wooten
Flush from signing his first pro contract and a starter as Kaiserslautern plunges to the second division, the former US Under-23 striker is probably already dying for preseason to arrive.
Wooten has worked seven Bundesliga matches since his March debut, with his lone goal for the cellar-dwellers a game-winner at Hertha Berlin. Next year, the 22-year-old will get a chance to grab a starring role on a popular club that found itself starved for goals this term.
He's scored 14 goals in his last nine second-team games, and he's seen what it takes to excel in the Bundesliga. If Wooten can now hit double digits in the toughest second flight in the world to help the Red Devils bounce back, even the sky could be no limit.
4. Alejandro Bedoya
It's been a tough season at Ibrox, both for administration-hit Rangers and the US midfielder. Bedoya initially struggled to meet the pace of the game in Scotland, and when he caught up to that, he struggled with nagging injuries.
Though he has only managed 12 first-team appearances heading into the final game of the season, the 25-year-old is now fit and has begun to show signs he's ready to shine for the Light Blues. Last week, Bedoya pounced on a Maurice Edu through ball to score his first Rangers goal. With some high earners likely to leave soon, he should find many more chances next season.
5. Joseph Gyau
Don't be fooled by the fact that Hoffenhaim's teen winger only got 12 minutes of cup playing time on the campaign. Gyau is in the perfect position, heading upward without the weight of blame.
The club is set to shuffle the deck on a middling attack that was mostly bluffing as a Europa League berth slipped away over the last four games of this season. Considering his progress over the last year or so, Gyau looks set to be pulled from Hoffenheim's sleeve.