ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – With the calendar set to flip over to 2016, it's time to celebrate the highs and bow our heads at the lows of the year that was for Americans playing their soccer across the pond with the 2015 Exp-y awards.
American Export Player of the Year - Fabian Johnson
The Borussia Monchengladbach winger was not only the most productive American playing in arguably the best league in the world, he was quite the good luck charm. In 2015, the Foals compiled an amazing 19-1-4 Bundesliga record when Johnson started (and lost the last six in a row he missed). Were it not for a late matchday 6 collapse after he departed the contest, the wily dribbler would have led 'Gladbach to the Europa League parachute spot in the Champions League "Group of Death."
As for his final product, Johnson rang up seven goals and eight assists in 38 appearances across all competitions during this calendar year. Those numbers include a pair of each from his last three Champions League outings, which came against Juventus, Sevilla and Manchester City. The 28-year-old also passed at an 80% clip and managed to earn three Kicker "Bundesliga Team of the Week" nods at a star-studded position that was populated by the likes of Douglas Costa, Kevin De Bruyne, Marco Reus and Franck Ribery this year.
Breakout of the Year - Bobby Wood
Prior to joining 2. Bundesliga strugglers Erzgiberge Aue on loan in February, the Hawaii native had never bagged more than three goals in any of his four-and-a-half professional campaigns. Wood fired his first pro brace in the second game there and ended up with three tallies in nine games before making a permanent move to Union Berlin in the summer.
There, he's notched seven goals in 19 league games, taking him to double figures in 2015. The 23-year-old will begin the new year standing in a fifth place tie on the league scoring chart. Now firmly entrenched as a full-time forward after years toiling out wide, Wood and his wheels also produced three assists at his two stops for good measure. While the Iron Union currently reside in 13th place at the winter break, don't blame their attack, which is tied for third (with table-toppers RB Leipzig).
Young Player of the Year - Ethan Horvath
The 20-year-old Molde FK netminder would probably be a lock for this honor solely on the basis of being the last American standing in European competition. After going unbeaten in three Champions League qualifying games, Horvath has helped his underdog side to a Europa League round-of-32 showdown against two-time defending champs Sevilla by improbably posting a 3-1-2 group phase record against three European giants: Ajax, Celtic and Fenerbahce. The Colorado native went unbeaten on the road during the round, with victories at both Parkhead and the terrifying cauldron that is Fener's Sukru Saracoglu Stadium.
Of course, that's not all he accomplished in 2015. Aided by a five-game win streak to close the Tippeligaen season, Horvath chalked up 16 wins and nine shutouts – numbers that put him behind only Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann, Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller among American 'keepers in their first full seasons in Europe. Not bad for a kid who entered the year with just two cup games on his CV and didn't nail down the starting job until midseason.
American Exports Golden Boot - Bjorn Maars Johnsen
This year did not start so well for the Norwegian-American target striker, who possesses pretty fancy feet for a major aerial threat who stands 6-foot-5. Johnsen went scoreless in his last seven games for Portuguese second flight side Atletico CP before moving to Bulgarian title chasers Litex Lovech in late February. It then took him seven matches to light the lamp for the Oranges, but he's been on fire much of the way since mid-April.
Johnsen then hit six times in the last seven A-PFG championship hexagonal games before bagging eight goals in the current campaign, which includes the first two Europa League tallies of his career. That sum of 14 places him just ahead of Galway United's Jake Keegan and the highly nomadic Cesar Romero (see below) for the scoring crown among all Americans playing in Europe during the 2015 calendar year.
Mr. Excitement - Cesar Romero
Setting aside the variable of league strength, no player made more headlines, highlight reels and score sheets than the former Chivas USA striker in 2015. Romero began the year with Armenian side FC Pyunik, where his late push secured the country's top flight Golden Boot and led the team to a domestic double. He ended the 2014-15 season with 21 goals and nine assists in league play, scoring in each of the last two games to top the goal chart. The California native also added five on the way to the Armenian Independence Cup crown, which included the capper in Pyunik's 3-1 final triumph.
Mere days after scoring his first career Champions League goal to help Pyunik advance from the first qualifying round, he transferred to Macedonia's FK Vardar Skopje, where he notched five goals, two helpers and the first two red cards of his pro career in just eight appearances for the winter champs. Romero then closed the year by hopping the globe to join Ascenso MX club Coras de Tepic for nearly a half-million dollars.
The Steady Eddie Award - Geoff Cameron
The slow but sure rise of Stoke City was among the many wild stories from Premier League play this year, and the American handyman was one of the constants in the team’s success. Practically defining the adjective "solid" in a Potters shirt this year, Cameron managed to stay in the improving line-up by turning up at several positions and providing steady play at each of them.
Cameron ended the 2014-15 EPL season with 10 of his 14 games at right back, and a pair at both left back and in central defense. This term, the US international started by helping to quell a selection crisis with 10 straight league games at center back. Since that stable got well at the start of November, the 30-year-old has worked all but one contest in midfield, with appearances as a No. 6 and further up the field. Despite all the shuffles, he's contributed to Stoke reaching the Capital One Cup semifinals and helped the team post a 6-0-2 record with five clean sheets from his last eight starts of 2015.
The Freddy Krueger Award - Brad Guzan
One simply has to feel for the beleaguered Aston Villa backstop, who will end the year burdened by an obnoxious 18-game EPL winless streak. Despite standing fourth in the league in saves, Guzan has not tasted victory since shutting out Jonathan Spector's Birmingham City in Capital One Cup play back in September and has not celebrated a league triumph since opening day.
Sure, he's been responsible for a couple chilling gaffes and even was benched during the spring, but the major problem for the cellar dwellers has been a backline plagued by injuries and incompetence. The word "unmarked" has repeatedly shown up in Villa match reports. Meanwhile, the team's attack has scored multiple goals just four times in the last 22 league tilts, granting their netminders little margin for error.
The Yet More Hard Luck Award - Terrence Boyd & Josh Gatt (tie)
There's been no shortage of injury news for American Exports in 2015, but the RB Leipzig striker and the Molde FK wing terror share this dubious prize for suffering repeated mind-numbing setbacks on their recovery roads from knee problems.
Boyd has gone under the knife for various procedures no less than three times since going down with torn anterior cruciate (ACL) and lateral collateral (LCL) ligaments last December. He's now resumed running and light side training three times, but has yet to make it back to full team practice sessions. As the year closes, the 24-year-old is once again fighting his way back.
Unlike Boyd, Gatt did make a league appearance in 2015, his first in nearly two years. In heart-crushing fashion, it was only one, lasting just four minutes before the 24-year-old had to be replaced. He's also now undergone a third surgery to repair his troublesome left knee and is set to run out of contract at Molde. The good news is, manager Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer is will likely offer the Michigan native a contract extension with hopes of finally returning the two-time Tippeligaen champion to action in 2016.