With the major European leagues wrapping up (some in legendary fashion), it’s time to revisit a SoccerOverThere.com favorite: the OT XI. Before discussing this year’s OT XI, let’s review the honorees from 2010-11:
Unlike the 2009-10 OT XI that saw three guys return to the States, all of last year’s honorees were in theory eligible for this year’s team, although extended injuries (Holden, Lichaj) and less than ideal club moves (Yelldell, Bedoya) played a factor. Before unveiling this year’s team, we must recognize the gentlemen who were gunning for a three-peat, having earned spots on both the 2009-10 and 2010-11 squads:
- Clarence Goodson
- Clint Dempsey
Will Clay and Deuce three-peat? The answer lies below:
Breaking down the team:
Tim Howard, Everton (England)
Did you realize that Everton finished joint-third in the goals allowed column in the Premier League this season? After a somewhat forgettable Gold Cup, Howard had one of his better club seasons, allowing his fewest goals since 2008-09 despite a record-setting offensive season in the Premier League. For just the second time in 25 years and the seventh time in the last 50 seasons, the Toffees finished ahead of rivals Liverpool (alone in 7th) despite having a transfer budget so meager they were forced to rent a winger from Major League Soccer. Howard becomes the third keeper in as many years to earn this honor.
Jonathan Spector, Birmingham City (England)
Michael Parkhurst, FC Nordsjælland (Denmark)
Oguchi Onyewu, Sporting CP (Portugal)
Fabian Johnson, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (Germany)
It’s a story of renewed careers at the backline. Jonathan Spector, largely a reserve as West Ham United sank to relegation a year before, helped Birmingham City to the promotion playoffs despite missing several weeks with an injury. Meanwhile, Oguchi Onyewu, seemingly bound to never recover from his 2009 knee injury, landed at a surprisingly big club and surprisingly became a regular starter in Portugal’s second-best defense and a Europa League semifinalist. Michael Parkhurst’s consistency blosomed into a great year as poor little Nordsjælland are surprise title and Champions League contenders, allowing just 22 goals in 30 matches. Meanwhile, in Germany, hybrid wingback Fabian Johnson provided some quality minutes at leftback, sparking debate about whether he could in fact be the First Great American Leftback.
Bryan Gerzicich, Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona (Israel)
Josh Gatt, Molde (Norway)
Michael Bradley, Chievo Verona (Italy)
Sacha Kljestan, Anderlecht (Belgium)
Clint Dempsey, Fulham (England)
Bryan Gerzichich and Kiryat Shmona were surprise champions of Israel. The plucky bunch from the tiny border city, 4th in 2010-11, ran away with the Israeli Premier League by an astonishing 17 points in the regular season and holding on in the playoffs to advance to Champions League qualifying in part because of Gerzicich’s play in the midfield. Meanwhile, another Yank starred for a surprise champion in Norway, as Josh Gatt played pretty much everywhere on the right in helping Molde FK celebrate its centennial with its first top-flight title and making the would-be college sophomore a favorite of coach and Manchester United legend Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Michael Bradley rebounded from a nightmare loan spell with Aston Villa last year to put together one of his finest seasons of his career, with the now-minted “General Bradley” helping Chievo to a top-half finish despite having the league’s second-worst offense. Elsewhere, Sacha Kljestan was yet another champion in the midfield, turning in consistently strong performances as Anderlecht won its 31st title and move into the Champions League group stages. Finally, Clint Dempsey is pretty much awesome.
Jozy Altidore, AZ (Netherlands)
After a forgettable three years in Europe (six goals in 77 appearances with four different clubs), Jozy Altidore moved to the Netherlands and finally found his touch. Despite a few benchings, Altidore consistently returned to the lineup because he scored goals. He scored 15th in the Eredivisie (good for 7th in the league) and 19 in all competitions, nearly matching his career total. Additionally, playing as the center forward in AZ’s 4-3-3, he finally embraced the finer parts of the #9 role, making nice near post runs and showing the best holdup play of his career. Despite a late slump, AZ and Altidore will be in the Europa League next year, and the team’s leading scorer will be looked upon to build on a strong debut year.
Clint Dempsey, M/F, Fulham
Whenever Dempsey retires or moves back to MLS, we might have to rename this award the Clint Dempsey Trophy. After winning deserving MVP awards the past two seasons, Deuce had his best season yet, moving from “nice/quality player” to “elite”. Dempsey finished 4th in the Premier League in goals with 17 and finished with 23 goals across the board, surpassing his total combined from the last two seasons. He blitzed past former teammate Brian McBride to become the leading scorer by an American in England, went over 50 goals for his career, and may have earned his way to a Champions League transfer. He’s a great American, my friends.
Goal of the Year
Perhaps no goal was more symbolic of Gatt’s performance than his flying, slaloming run against Start that put a defender on the ground and solidified his spot as perhaps the most exciting American youngster.
Performance of the Year
We were all impressed when Dempsey scored a hat trick in a 4-0 FA Cup win over League One’s Charlton, but we were really impressed when he went and had a hat trick two weeks later against a Premier League side. Dempsey destroyed a Champions League-contending Newcastle on January 21, even passing on a penalty kick when sitting on two goals to earn the hat trick the real way. (Indeed, had Dempsey taken Fulham’s penalty kicks that day, he could have earned himself a Golden Helmet of Mambrino five goals. Yeah, he can ball.