AMSTERDAM – Usually, when we break out the ol' American Exports abacus for some statistical rankings, most of the attention goes to the attackers and the goalkeepers. This time, we're going to give the defenders their day.
We've done a ton of calculating, so here are the top American defenders across Europe in terms of minutes, continental competition, score-sheet contributions and more. And for those of you who have perhaps written off Oguchi Onyewu, take a look at how dominant he has been during his professional career.
On to the numbers...
Games played in top flights & Cups
The Men in Back
Thus far, only seven Americans have proven dependable enough to European employers to work at least 100 games through top-flight league tilts and cup matches.
Hannover 96 mainstay Steve Cherundolo holds a sizable lead in this category with 335 total showtime matches across the pond. Carlos Bocanegra is second, 65 behind and now with in the Spanish second flight with Racing Santander. And injured. And about the same age as Cherundolo, which means there's very little chance he'll ever catch up.
The youngest player on this list, Jonathan Spector, is also currently out of the top flight, plying his trade now with Birmingham City of the second-tier English Championship. He also splits time between the midfield and defense these days, which means he's no threat, either.
Oguchi Onyewu is the only other American within 100 games of Cherundolo, who recently told MLSsoccer.com he wants to stay at Hannover through the summer of 2014. As such, it appears the Reds skipper's record here should stay safe through the 2018 World Cup and beyond.
Games played in Europe
The tally of American defender participation in European competitions may surprise. Then again, such stats are not always a direct indicator of career strength: While one player may pad his total playing for a top dog in a lesser league, another's number may indicate the high amount of trust placed by a big club.
However you slice it, though, everyone has a long way to go to catch Gooch. Having now played in Europe for AC Milan, FC Twente, Málaga, Sporting CP and Standard Liège, Onyewu is a veteran of those continental weeknights.
Danny Califf and Tony Sanneh have held onto top five status in the chart for a good while, but are suddenly facing pressure from Michael Parkhurst, who's become a mainstay for Denmark's top club.
Worth mentioning: Thomas Dooley, John O'Brien, Sanneh and Spector also played Champions League/Europa League/UEFA Cup/Cup Winners' Cup games in midfield, while Claudio Reyna filled in at right back for Rangers on occasion.
The Goal Threats
Center back goals scored
One might think Dooley should lap the field with his 43 career goals, but only seven of those came after he obtained US citizenship in 1992, and a number of them came when he was playing in central midfield. When Onyewu pulled the Halloween trick of opening his Málaga strike account in a Copa del Rey win at Cacereño, he extended a "Golden Boot" lead of a different kind.
Last season, the veteran passed current Hammarby manager Gregg Berhalter's record for goals by an American center back, counting first- and second-division leagues along with all cup matches.
If you really want to get technical, though, Berhalter still tops the chart for guys scoring only "pure" center back tallies. Onyewu, Clarence Goodson and Jay DeMerit all hit at least once while pushed up to forward in the waning moments of a game, and Bocanegra netted one of his 17 career goals while lined up as a defensive midfielder.
Cherundolo also leads in the category of assists from fullback, but it may not be for long. With seven in his first 18 games this season, Parkhurst is threatening to both overtake his US teammate's 21 career helpers and become the first American at any position to win a top-flight European assist crown.
The rest of the top five stands well back, with Charles Kazlauskas, Heath Pearce and Fabian Johnson all notching additional assists across European top two divisions and cup involvement as midfielders and/or wingers. Johnson is obviously the biggest threat, playing regularly for Hoffenheim and showing his playmaking abilities on the overlap with a good dose of regularity for both club and country.
Offensive fun aside, these American defenders are most of all there to keep the ball out of their own nets. When it comes to putting up backline bricks that stand the test of game time, Onyewu is again the king.
Not only is the Gooch-aided 2005 run of 637 scoreless minutes by Standard Liège tops in the chart, but the burly center back boasts half of the best 10 shutout streaks ever put together with an American on rear guard.
This category is perhaps the most important and easily the most contested. In addition to the top eight streaks listed below, Cherundolo (Hannover 96, 2006), Danny Califf (Aalborg BK, 2008), DeMerit (Watford, 2006), Cory Gibbs (Feyenoord 2005), Goodson (Brøndby, 2011), Pearce (FC Nordsjaelland, 2006), Sanneh (Hertha Berlin, 2000) and Greg Vanney (Bastia, 2003) also enjoyed clean sheets that lasted at least 300 minutes.
|Michael Parkhurst||656||FC Nordsjaelland||2012|
|Oguchi Onyewu||637||Standard Liège||2005|
|Oguchi Onyewu||575||Standard Liège||2009|
|Oguchi Onyewu||414||Standard Liège||2008|
|Oguchi Onyewu||406||Standard Liège||2009|