With America having finally calmed down from celebrating the long-awaited returns of Freddy Adu and Robbie Rogers to the national team and the top European leagues having concluded their seasons, it’s time for an annual SoccerOverThere.com tradition: the OT XI.
Before we look at this year’s OT XI, let’s take a quick review of last year’s team:
Of last year’s honorees, two (Donovan and Freeman) have returned to MLS and another (Guy) moved back to the US for family reasons, leaving eight of last year’s OT XI eligible for this year’s team. Without any further adieu, I bring you the 2010-11 OT XI (with a breakdown to follow):
Let’s start at the front (because everyone always starts at the back):
Matt Taylor, Rot Weiss Ahlen (Germany)
The journeyman forward had a breakout year in the 3rd Liga, scoring 17 goals (more than one-third of his team’s total) and earning himself a contract in the 2nd Bundesliga with SC Paderborn even as Rot Weiss Ahlen went insolvent and were relegated. You certainly can’t blame Taylor though, who finished tied for 3rd in the league for goals despite not exactly having much support and being the entire focal point of his club’s attack. Interestingly, Taylor will play next year in the same league as Edson Buddle and is actually a few months younger than the World Cup veteran.
Alejandro Bedoya, Örebro (Sweden)
Clint Dempsey, Fulham (England)
Sacha Kljestan, Anderlecht (Belgium)
Timmy Chandler, FC Nuremberg (Germany)
Stuart Holden, Bolton Wanderers (England)
(I had Dempsey as a forward last year, and in the hypothetical lineup for this team have him playing in basically the same withdrawn role. Break it down how you want.) Two veterans of last year’s team return here, joining three guys who just completed their first seasons at the top levels of Europe. Dempsey was an obvious pick to return. After a career year that saw him win OT MVP last season, he had an even better campaign this year, scoring 12 league goals (good for 12th in the Premier League) for a career professional high. Bedoya solidified his spot with a ridiculous start to the 2011 campaign, having scored four times in nine matches thus far. Holden was making a strong case for OT MVP, returning from a broken leg that limited him at the World Cup to help Bolton make a run at Europe before another leg injury (this one against Manchester United) ended his season. Kljestan, after having seemingly plateaued at Chivas USA, developed into a reliable two-way midfielder with Anderlecht that saw them win the regular season title before finishing 3rd in the playoffs. Finally, Chandler was an absolute revelation at Nuremberg, coming out of nowhere to be a stellar right midfielder and rightback as 1. FCN, having barely avoided relegation in 2009-10, were one of the Bundesliga’s top sides in the latter half of the season finished 6th.
Steve Cherundolo, Hannover 96 (Germany)
Zak Whitbread, Norwich City (England)
Clarence Goodson, IK Start (Norway)/Brøndby IF (Denmark)
Eric Lichaj, Aston Villa/Leeds United (England)
The longtime Mayor of Hannover became the captain of Hannover this year, and after having escaped relegation in 2009-10, helped guide them on a shocking run that fell just short of what would have been a borderline miraculous Champions League. As it was, Hannover qualified for Europe (Europa League) for the first time in 19 years. Clarence Goodson will also be in Europa League. After the 2009-10 honoree and IK Start narrowly missed out on Europe, he moved south to Denmark and Brøndby in the winter and helped his new club qualify. He should start at the Gold Cup. Zak Whitbread won’t be in the Gold Cup, but he was finally healthy in 2011 and helped guide Norwich City to their second consecutive promotion, where he will become the second under-thirty American defender in a top five league. Lichaj, meanwhile, demonstrated how you handle a loan spell. After a strong showing against Gareth Bale and Tottenham Hotspur, he was relegated to the bench at Aston Villa. Sent to Leeds United on loan in January, he had strong start before moving to leftback where he continued to play well, helping Leeds nearly achieve a second straight promotion.
David Yelldell, MSV Duisburg (Germany)
The German-American had a career year in 2010-11, moving up from the 3rd Liga to help Duisburg advance to the cusp of Europa League before falling in the DFB-Pokal final. He led Americans in Europe with 13 clean sheets in all competitions and even earned his first US cap. While there are always strong contenders in this category— Brad Friedel, Tim Howard, and (surprisingly) Brad Guzan, among others— none stood out as much as Yelldell.
Clint Dempsey, M/F, Fulham (England)
Dempsey was receiving stiff competition from Stuart Holden, who was in fact voted the best player in the Premier League in 2010 by readers of the Guardian and received various Bolton MVP awards. But, while due to no fault of his own, he wasn’t able to put in the complete season that Deuce did. Matt was prepared to enjoy the 2nd division next year early on, but instead the Cottagers came an untimely red card away from returning to Europa League while putting in another top-half finish behind the leadership of Dempsey, who was finding the back of the net from every angle and method.
Goal of the Year
There were some good ones, but I’m personally partial to Chris Rolfe’s weaving goal from twentysome yards against AaB (it starts at 1:50). Yeah, it wasn’t Dempsey against Juventus, but how many goals can be?
Performance of the Year
You could pick any number of performances by any guy on this list, but I’m going with Stuart Holden’s effort against Blackburn in December. He was more or less at the peak of his season performance, dominated the midfield despite being down a man for over thirty minutes, and then scored the winner (see 0:52), a worthy goal of the year contender for the Man of the Match.