CHRISTOPHER MCCOLLUM - Wednesday, May 25, 2011
The season is over for the big leagues of Europe, which means it's time to reflect on the past several months, and then take a look ahead to the future. Several Yanks made big impacts on their teams this season, taking steps to cement opinions that Americans aren't just role players and consummate workhorses with "tremendous athleticism."
Of the many things to ponder and reflect upon, the most painful and at the same time the most unexpectedly humorous development over the past year or so, is FIFA's decision to give the 2022 World Cup to Qatar over the United States.
The Qatari vision is immaculately beautiful and brimming with technological and artistic innovation that would surely better the region, and being a staunch supporter of the peace through sports philosophy, it's difficult to be opposed to such a decision- if it was won fair and square. The English tabloids have been quite vociferous in their claims that corruption and cheating was involved at the very highest levels, with massive payoffs and assurances being made to the Executive Committee in return for their votes.
While there still lacks concrete proof that Americans playing abroad were actually cheated out of being able to compete in a World Cup on home soil, the allegations will likely continue for the next decade, prompting the humorous aspect of it all: Sepp Blatter two-stepping around, making campaign promises during his bid for re-election that are laughable to put it politely. His latest claim is that he will "restore FIFA's image," apparently not realizing that FIFA's image is tarnished almost solely because of him.
All that aside, the season finales in Europe have allowed final statistics to be drawn together for prominent players, to aid us in our goal of establishing opinions of successful seasons and what needs to be done to continue climbing up the ladder.
Tim Howard finished the Premier League season with nine shut-outs and 100 saves while allowing 46 goals in 38 games. He continued to solidify himself as one of the Premier keepers in England, and surely will keep that distinction for several more years barring injury. Unless an unbelievable opportunity comes forward, Howard should stay put at Everton indefinitely since he is firmly in favor and playing with a reasonably decent team.
Unlike Howard's solid season, Brad Guzan continued to search for playing time and continued falling short behind the seemingly ageless Brad Friedel, who, in a perfect situation, would hand over the gloves to his understudy and spend the twilight of his career back in MLS. There is his home league he would be helping to develop more goalkeeping talent that at one time was abundant to the point of being able to throw a rock and hitting a star in the making.
Guzan had a smart loan spell at Hull City at the winter break to provide assistance to an injury plagued lineup. Once there, he managed five shut-outs in 16 games while allowing 14 goals and making 77 saves. It was a very successful stint but not one befitting his quality.
To continue his progression, Guzan needs to obtain a starting position in the Premier League. If it isn't going to be his contract holder Aston Villa then he can either wait another frustrating season behind Friedel (if Friedel accepts Villa‘s offer for an extension) or engage in the transfer funny-business that seems an awful lot like contract tampering in the United States.
Spending the season on loan to a second division squad may keep him sharp and is certainly better than not playing at all, but if he hopes to keep himself on Bob Bradley's pecking order, he can't waste much time treading water. If Guzan stays stagnant and Howard stays on top of his game for as long as Friedel and Kasey Keller did, Guzan may only have one opportunity to star at a World Cup and that will be in Qatar.
Guzan perhaps hasn't had the fire under him to necessitate a shift, but that's rapidly changing with MSV Duisberg's David Yelldell popping up on the radar with a solid season in 2. Bundesliga. The German-born Yelldell recorded 10 shut-outs and 81 saves in 34 games while allowing 37 goals. Unfortunately, Duisberg did not secure promotion but Yelldell has raised his stature enough to begin questioning how long it will take for a move to a bigger league.
The question mark over the absence of a clear third choice at goalkeeper on the National Team might finally be settled for the time being, and the upcoming slate of games after the Gold Cup could even see Guzan and Yelldell going glove-to-glove over the second spot behind Howard.
Moving to the field, the best revelation over the past season has been Nurnberg's Timothy Chandler, who came on strong for the second half of the season and became a consistent starter for his club and also became a consistent subject of praise and expectation for future National Team stardom. Keeping his position at Nurnberg and developing through experience should be first on his mind as they lock into a battle for European qualification next season.
Two players who started their seasons in Germany but ended in England on loan moves are Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones. Both moves seemed like good ideas from the outset but they didn't pan out quite as well as expected. For Bradley, who spent most of his time at Aston Villa on the bench, he made four appearances since January with his last as a substitute coming on in the 88th minute. He committed one foul and took no shots, making the loan spell seem like an abject failure, and a move born from an Absinthe binge on the part of Borussia Moenchengladbach who narrowly survived relegation.
Aston Villa have indicated an interest in possibly buying Bradley and making him a permanent fixture on their squad after being pleased with his attitude during practice since January. The desire to fight for a position is nothing to underestimate in someone as competitive as Bradley, and the opportunity could be a blessing in disguise. If we were to look at Clint Dempsey's track record of having to fight his way into starting lineups for the carousel of Fulham coaches over the past four years, he could serve as a role model for the young Bradley.
Rather than going back to ‘Gladbach who may toil in the lower half of the Bundesliga again, the best bet would be a transfer to another squad. But with Aston Villa's staff already taken by his attitude, it might be a perfect fit for his work ethic.
Jermaine Jones' stint in England could be considered a far greater short-term success than Bradley's stint since Jones was in the starting lineup for 15 games and going the full 90 for 11 of them. While not scoring or assisting the near-toothless Blackburn attack (16 goals in Jones' 15 games), he was a solid midfield component and is making the Blackburn executives scratch their heads in trying to figure out how to pay Schalke's asking price for the 29 year old enforcer. A permanent move away from Germany would be beneficial and Blackburn could be as good a fit as any for Jones, if it happens.
The prize of the lot for Americans playing abroad has been Clint Dempsey who finished a record setting season at Fulham with a disappointing last minute draw against Arsenal. Dempsey's 12 goals set a record for an American in England, as well as bringing his total with the club over Brian McBride for Fulham's all-time Premiership scoring record. His 33 goals in four and a half seasons shows a marked improvement from season to season. That in turn forces the topic of needing to transfer. While an integral part of Fulham and a player that is beloved by the fans and surely set to have a bar named after him a la McBride, he will forever be the best player on an underachieving team if he stays there.
Liverpool's rumored interest in him over the winter transfer window surely stoked his desire to play at the top of the table and in European competition, and pushing closer to the prime midfield age must have the biological clock ticking away for the Texan. His stock is higher than it's ever been, making it a potentially profitable summer for a team whose best player has outgrown it.
Then again if loyalty means anything in sports anymore, perhaps Dempsey's choice should be to stay put and honor the team that brought him abroad and the fans who sing his name. The decision may not be his if the price is right to Fulham, but maybe the dream of being a living legend can balance out the dream of playing under the brightest lights. Only Dempsey can answer that and the summer will prove interesting as teams around the world jockey to strengthen their rosters.