I’m a sucker for any sort of list, so with the European leagues wrapping up, I give you my 2009-10 Best XI and other awards. While the seasons aren’t quite over yet, I wanted to discuss this now before we switch over into World Cup roster speculation, because the lists are going to be different.
One thing I want to clarify beforehand is that these selections are intended to reflect player performance relative to the league that they were playing in. This isn’t my list of the best 11 US players in Europe or a stab at the national team, it’s a ranking of the seasons that these guys have had. I’m also picking four defenders, four mids, and two forwards although it could certainly function as different formation.
Brad Friedel, Aston Villa (England)
The Cal Ripken Jr. of the Premier League (227 consecutive starts) gets the nod over US national team goalkeeper Tim Howard of Everton. Howard played well, but I’m giving the edge to Friedel who continued to be stellar in the goal even as Aston Villa’s offense at times broke down.
Carlos Bocanegra, Rennes (France)
Clarence Goodson, IK Start (Norway)
Hunter Freeman, IK Start (Norway)
Jonathan Spector, West Ham United (England)
The US captain Bocanegra had a rough spell in the middle of the year, losing his starting position in December and January. However, he earned it back and has played well again in helping guide Rennes to another mid-table finish, having featured in 26 of 35 matches (and all but 1 since returning to the lineup). IK Start teammates Freeman and Goodson have become quietly successful in Norway. IK Start spent the 2008 season in the 2nd division; Goodson helped them earn promotion that year. In 2009, Freeman left Toronto FC to join Start; the two helped guide them to a 9th-place finish in the 16-club Tippeligaen and have them 6th so far this year (and just two points back of a European spot). Spector has struggled at times with West Ham as he has been forced to play out of position at LB due to injuries, but he has finally been healthy and has finally become a Premier League regular.
Maurice Edu, Rangers (Scotland)
Landon Donovan, Everton (England)
Alejandro Bedoya, Örebro (Sweden)
Ryan Guy, St. Patrick’s Athletic (Ireland)
While Donovan only played 10 league matches in Europe, his impact with Everton was significant enough that he makes the list. He received a player of the month award from the Everton fans and impressed in wins over Chelsea and Manchester United, the top two teams in the Premier League this year. Edu was hurt for the early part of the season, but featured in 18 matches (2 goals) once returning to health. His stoppage time winner in the Old Firm all but sealed Rangers’ title. Bedoya made a surprising impact with Örebro and has become a starter this year for a club currently in a Europa League slot. Guy, meanwhile, tied for the league lead in goals for St. Patrick’s Athletic last year with 6 and leads the club so far in 2010 with 5. His performance has been critical for the Saints as they currently sit atop the League of Ireland table.
Eddie Johnson, Aris (Greece)
Clint Dempsey, Fulham (England)
Strictly speaking they are still actually teammates as Johnson is merely on loan to Aris. After a rough 2008-09 that saw him score just twice in 30 appearances with Cardiff in the 2nd division and make just two sub appearances for Fulham in the fall, Johnson has started to find his groove in the Greek Super League. His brace in the playoff against Olympiacos gives him 4 goals in 14 league appearances, which is actually double the number of goals he has scored since leaving Kansas City after the 2007 season. Dempey’s play this year was simply outstanding. Despite missing a long stretch due to injury, he has matched a career high with 7 Premier League goals which included some stunners. Meanwhile, the Cottagers have made a Cinderella run to the Europa League final, in no small part due to his outstanding goal to complete a miracle comeback past Juventus.
Clint Dempsey, M/F, Fulham (England)
I really don’t see how it could be anyone else. Even despite missing several weeks with torn ligaments in his knee (and freaking out American fans everywhere), Dempsey had perhaps his best season as a professional. On May 12, he will (almost assuredly) become the first American to play in a European final as Fulham look to earn their biggest win ever (unless the 1949 and 2001 Second Division titles excite you). The sports bar at Fulham’s Craven Cottage might be called McBride’s, but if Fulham win on May 12 Dempsey’s goal in the quarterfinals might have made him the most legendary American Cottager ever (and there have been several).
Goal of the Year
Could it be anything besides Clint Dempsey’s twice-mentioned strike against Juventus in the Europa League quarterfinals in March? Seriously, it might have been the biggest and best goal by an American in Europe ever.
Performance of the Year
While I’m not going to profess to having seen every game an American played in Europe, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better performance than Donovan’s in Everton’s 2-1 win over Chelsea. While he did not score, he absolutely controlled the match from his spot on the right wing, brutally terrorizing Ashley Cole before (mercifully?) injuring Cole in a challenge.
What do you guys think? Any omissions? Anything surprise you? I decided to keep with the Eurasian focus of this site; since we don’t really cover Herculez Gomez and Jose Francisco Torres in Mexico, I’d be remiss to put them on this list.