Even though 2020 was a tough and unusual year for everyone, American soccer fans were often treated to respites of pride and joy thanks to the exploits of our boys playing over in Europe.
There were enough quality entries this year to fill a legit top 20 list, with a trio of big goals pulling away from the impressive pack to form a clear top three. Past that, it was laughably agonizing to order the next seven. Some of the accomplishments honored below were encapsulated in a moment, and some were related episodes that spanned over days or even weeks. Starring in the big games earned big bonus points, but some choices came down to instances of sheer genius or a collective accomplishment.
What all the picks have in common is status as a loud stamp on the latest level rise in Old World achievement by American players, and the simple ability to get us all cheering back home in the States.
Before we begin, let's salute several honorable mention events that would be easy picks for the top 10 in most years: Konrad de la Fuente (Barcelona) and Chris Richards (Bayern Munich) rising from the youth ranks to the first team at top clubs, Christian Pulisic's jail-break goal opens a big victory over Manchester City, Pulisic shreds Liverpool for 30 minutes in a losing cause, Giovanni Reyna's assist "hat trick" in a win over Freiburg and Zack Steffen's clean sheet against Marseille (the first by an American 'keeper in the Champions League since Ethan Horvath consecutively blanked Monaco, Borussia Dortmund and Atletico Madrid in 2018).
No. 10: Julian Green's "Magisterial!" free kick
Pardon me for biting Ray Hudson's act for a moment, but I've made no secret about being a free kick junkie. There are few soccer things I love more than dazzling restart in any of its forms. Gimme gimme. I don't even want to hear about it being an insurance tally in a second flight match against... (checks the match log) Jahn Regensburg. Doesn't matter. Green's diabolical, unique dead ball golazo makes my list as the finest bit of marksmanship of the year.
25-year old Tampa FL-born Julian Green scored this exclamation point of a free-kick today in the German second division ?????????? pic.twitter.com/K4qlIJNZ5B— roger bennett (@rogbennett) November 22, 2020
No. 9: Tim Ream shuts it down in the promotion final
Never mind that he was less busy than his possessed central defense partner/Concacaf homie. Ream helped Fulham shut down the most dangerous attack in the Championship when it mattered most. Brentford front liners Said Benrhama and Ollie Watkins combined for 43 goals during the regular season. In the big money Wembley showdown, they were held to one measly shot on frame across 120 minutes. Ream and the Cottagers celebrated a 2-1 triumph, and bounced straight back to the Premier League after the previous spring's relegation.
No. 8: Sergino Dest and Weston McKennie make monster moves
Most of these entries detail one-field exploits, but we've saved a little room for more symbolic achievements. Some may call this a cheat pick because FC Dallas youth product McKennie sealed a loan move to Juventus at the end of August and Dest wasn't snapped up by Barcelona until the first day of October. I prefer to call it a category pick. While it is becoming increasingly common for young Americans to earn transfers to genuine European giants, you still must tip a cap when two get swooped up by such prestigious clubs in the same window.
No. 7: Giovanni Reyna buries a stunner vs. Stuttgart
Toss aside the fact that Borussia Dortmund wound up dropping this game 5-1. The then-17-year-old talent temporarily pulled the home side level with a sublime demonstration of silky skill rarely seen by an American playing across the pond. First, Reyna took down a 35-yard diagonal ball with his left using the pillowy touch of someone handling a Faberge Egg. He then switched from a swaddle to a whip crack in an instant, lashing home with the outside of his right boot in the very next stride. It didn't mean much for his team in the end, but the shock waves from this American kid conjuring a Goal of the Year candidate were felt throughout Germany.
What a golazo from the American Gio Reyna! Great to see the next generation of American players dominating in Europe's top leagues! Despite this goal, Reyna's team actually lost to Stuttgart who is managed by American Pellegrino Matarazzo! Another great step for American soccer! pic.twitter.com/dd3PeF9iOx— New York Futsal (@NewYorkFutsal) December 16, 2020
No. 6: Giovanni Reyna's first goal hypnotizes Werder Bremen
Just a few weeks after making his first team bow, the Borussia Dortmund phenom made the highlight reel with a picturesque account opener in the DfB-Pokal round of 16. The visitors eventually fell 3-2, but Reyna ensured a nervy finish by pulling them to within one with 12 minutes remaining. The kid slithered past three defenders before uncorking a wicked curler that was officially named Goal of the Round.
Heute vor einer Woche:— DFB-Pokal (@DFB_Pokal) February 11, 2020
💥 Mit 1️⃣7️⃣ Jahren und 8️⃣3️⃣ Tagen: Giovanni Reyna wird beim 2:3 in Bremen zum jüngsten Torschützen in der Pokal-Historie des @BVB❗#DFBPokal #SVWBVB pic.twitter.com/bFyB8kz2U1
No. 5: Sergino Dest hits in the Champions League
Of course, getting to the big club is but one thing. How one performs upon arrival is quite another. Many observers questioned how much pitch time Dest would see after coming over from Ajax, but he has quickly grabbed a line-up place, starting in 13 of his 16 appearances. That stat includes five Champions League starts, and a couple of days before Thanksgiving he showed his gratitude on that big stage. Dest highlighted a strong two-way showing at Dinamo Kyiv with a fine first Champions League goal.
No. 4: New record for Americans featured in the Champions League
We're not counting the qualifying rounds. We're talking the Champions League proper. This year, there were nine... count 'em, nine Americans (Pulisic, McKennie, Reyna, Steffen, Dest, De la Fuente, RB Leipzig's Tyler Adams, Club Brugge netminder Ethan Horvath and Bayern Munich youngster Chris Richards) that saw action in the tournament's group stage. And five of those guys are MLS academy products. Both goalkeepers are 25, and all the field players are 22 or younger. This unprecedented volume of American participants in Europe's showcase club competition, and at such young ages, speaks very highly about the US national team's outlook for the near future.
No. 3: Christian Pulisic breaks the FA Cup final ice
It's true that the day didn't end well for Chelsea, who wasted Pulisic's plucky strike in a 2-1 title bout loss to local nemesis Arsenal. That doesn't change the fact that the American staked his side to a dream start in an FA Cup final, and in doing so became the first American to score in that prestigious championship game.
No. 2: Weston McKennie stars at Camp Nou
In one glorious Champions League night at Barcelona's revered home, McKennie stamped his name in minds across Italy, Spain and, well, really the whole world. The Man of the Match keyed a stunning 3-0 Camp Nou raid, which saw Juventus rally at the last chance to win the group. The US midfielder punctuated his grand performance with a fierce flying karate kick goal for the visitors' early second.
No. 1: Tyler Adams fires RB Leipzig to Champions League semis
Yeah, he got help on the deflection. So what? Adams still flowed with the move, put himself in the right place to get a sight and stung one low toward goal. When you hit the ball toward goal, sometimes stuff happens. And when you're the first American and first MLS product to make that all that stuff happen in the 88th minute to beat Atletico Madrid in a Champions League quarterfinal, and you do it at 21, you get this top spot. No viral golazo needed.