As soon as Tyler Adams fired RB Leipzig into the Champions League semifinals for the first time in club history, all of my colleagues starting profusely asking one very simple question: Where did the goal rank in terms of importance from all the goals ever scored in Europe by an American player.
Believe it or not, the answer to the question is relatively straightforward. In fact, the top two are pretty clear-cut, and the same can be said for the three that follow. Filling out the rest of the top 10, however, was more predictably a grind. So... where does Thursday night's hero moment by Adams chart? I guess you'll just have to read on to find out.
Before we dive headfirst into the top 10, you may wonder who fell just shy of the list? Wonder no more: DaMarcus Beasley's semifinal wonder lob against Feyenoord that rescued PSV's drive to the KNVB Cup (2005), Mix Diskerud's stunning late half-volley tie winner for Rosenborg against Europa League playoff round foe Legia Warsaw (2012), Maurice Edu's stoppage time scramble winner against archrivals Celtic that all but clinched the league crown for Rangers (2010), Weston McKennie's last-gasp Champions League group stage winner for Schalke 04 at Lokomotiv Moscow (2018) and Roy Wegerle's sublime mazy "ITV Goal of the Year" solo effort for Queens Park Rangers versus Leeds United (1990).
No. 10: Christian Pulisic vs. Arsenal (2020)
CHRISTIAN PULISIC GIVES CHELSEA THE LEAD INSIDE FIVE MINUTES! pic.twitter.com/PIB2hDymW1— ESPN (@espn) August 1, 2020
As Americans have been piling up important heroics in Europe for a good 30 years now, there isn't much room on the list for the strictly symbolic. Pulisic’s terrific FA Cup final opener, the first-ever goal by an American in that venerable title match, is an exception. Would it be higher on the list had Chelsea hung on to raise the trophy? You bet, but context is everything here.
No. 9: DaMarcus Beasley vs. Rosenborg (2005)
Only a handful of Americans can boast of having bagged a winner in the Champions League proper. None of them did it with the amount of cool style as Beasley, who all but secured PSV Eindhoven's place in the Champions League knockouts (on their way to the semis) with a picturesque group phase decider. Beasley elegantly pulled down a gorgeous Phillip Cocu long ball, leaving compatriot Robbie Russell in his wake to net the 1-0 winner. Nobody knew at the time, but Beasley and PSV would eventually gain advancement from Group D by a single point.
No. 8: John Harkes at Derby County (1990)
No one who's seen it could ever forget Harkes' insane laser blast past England legend Peter Shilton from the next county over. And those faithful witnesses likely remember it was named English soccer's Goal of the Year, marking the first time an American had written big headlines in Europe. What folks may need to be reminded of is the fact Harkes' searing strike also stood up as Sheffield Wednesday's tie-winner in their Round of 16 replay upset win over Derby County, setting them on their way to the first League Cup title in club history.
No. 7: Maurice Edu at Sporting CP (20)
The former Rangers ace nearly had two goals make the list, and it wasn't completely cut-and-dry as to which one was actually bigger. In the end, the choice was this sliding stoppage time fast break job, which took the Light Blues from the brink of Europa League elimination to the Round of 16. This goal from good ol' Mo is not the last European tie winner you'll see on this list.
No. 6: Christian Pulisic vs. Benfica (2017)
The circumstances and drama of Edu's tie-snatcher were better, but this snazzy chip that ousted mighty Benfica and sent Borussia Dortmund to the Champions League quarters sneaks in just ahead of it due it coming in Europe's top club competition. After BvB cancelled an aggregate debt early in the home leg, Pulisic capped the rally near the hour mark for the first of what one assumes will be many glorious Champions League episodes for the USMNT star.
No. 5: Jozy Altidore vs. PSV Eindhoven (2013)
Through the years, 30 American players have combined to celebrate domestic cup title triumph a grand total of 37 times across the pond. While a few of those guys logged assists on cup-clinching goals, only one man can say he was responsible for the winning strike in such a cup championship match. That man is Altidore, whose 14th-minute beauty stood up as AZ edged favorites PSV in the KNVB Cup final. Fun side fact: The Farmers' consolation tally in that game was scored by none other than current FC Cincinnati striker Jurgen Locadia.
No. 4: Clint Dempsey vs. Liverpool (2007)
You have to hand it to Deuce. He definitely had a flair for the big moment. A few months after leaving MLS for Fulham, Dempsey made his first goal for the club count big. Actually, "count big" is an under-sell. After all, he sparked and then finished the play that rescued the Cottagers from the EPL drop in 2007, saving them from a massive plummet in their TV money share. I can't be sure of the exact savings, but it was a number approaching the dollar figure central to the next item on the list.
No. 3: Jay DeMerit vs. Leeds United (2006)
If we were to rank strictly by amount of instant financial windfall induced, DeMerit's stand-up winner in the promotion final would stand alone at the top. The rags-to-riches defender's barnstorming header helped Watford to a huge Premier League TV money split that saw the club pocket upwards of £42.5 million (which came out to a little over $55 million at the time) the following season. Long story short: JayD said "Cha-ching!" and the Hornets' accounting staff wept with joy.
No. 2: Clint Dempsey vs. Juventus (2010)
All things considered, this remains the greatest goal ever scored by an American playing abroad. The delicate artistry. The ho-hum nonchalance of the attempt masking Dempsey's ballsy, sinister intent. The sheer soccer insolence to cap Fulham's comeback from the dead in their Europa League Round of 16 duel against brand-name giants Juventus with a piece of magic in the waning moments. The place in Cottagers and American soccer lore. Deuce's goal had it all.
No. 1: Tyler Adams vs. Atletico Madrid (2020)
Some may snort at this placement because Adams' shot got help from a Rojiblanco defender. It was certainly a good enough action, as the RB Leipzig defensive midfielder didn't hesitate to look for his chance and his low, hard 89th minute drive likely would have created a rebound for encroaching teammates had it not caromed into the net.
Frankly, this is all immaterial. This list is about importance, not entertainment value. No American had ever scored as deep into a Champions League as the quarterfinal until Thursday night, so obviously he's also the first to take his club to its first Champions League final four with a late tie-decider. Make no mistake, Adams now owns the biggest European goal ever scored by an American.
At the very least until he faces Paris Saint-Germain in the semis on Tuesday, that is.