Two major events last January said a lot about the state of MLS and American soccer -- but MLS's signing of David Beckham created an avalanche of media coverage that buried the other news. That is, an English Premier League club paid $4 million for an MLS player who was born and raised in Texas.
After three seasons with the New England Revolution, Clint Dempsey, at age 23, signed with Fulham. He joined two other Americans, Brian McBride and Carlos Bocanegra, both of whom also went from MLS to the U.S. national team to the millionaires' league in England.
But in the EPL, where players average salaries of $2.1 million, even a $4 million transfer fee doesn't guarantee a starting spot. Dempsey played only eight games, all as a sub, in his first four months. Then, in early May, with Fulham in the midst of an 11-game winless streak and facing relegation, Dempsey came off the bench and scored the gamewinner against Liverpool. He started the next game.
That relegation to the second tier costs a club about $60 million in annual revenue, Dempsey proved that shelling out a few million for an American can be a worthwhile investment.
For sure, Fulham's overall 16th-place finish was a disappointment, but McBride led the team in scoring with nine goals and Bocanegra made 30 appearances in midfield and on the back line, and was the team's second leading scorer with five goals.
Three American goalkeepers played every game for their EPL clubs. Tim Howard with Everton was the American who finished highest in the standings at sixth place, which earned it a UEFA Cup spot. Brad Friedel's Blackburn finished 10th while Marcus Hahnemann helped EPL newcomer Reading finish a respectable eighth.
Jay DeMerit, an unknown from Wisconsin and the University of Illinois-Chicago when he ventured to Britain in 2003 to try out with lower division clubs, held on to his central defender spot in Watford's first season at the top tier since 2000, but Watford finished dead last and returns to the second tier.
Jonathan Spector, 21, who started his spell in England with Manchester United in 2004, was on the field for West Ham when its last-day 1-0 win over Man U saved the Hammers from relegation.
Claudio Reyna ended his 12-and-a-half year stint in European top-flight soccer when he left Manchester City for MLS in midseason. Man City, for whom DaMarcus Beasley scored three times while on loan from PSV Eindhoven, finished 14th.
Eddie Lewis, in his seventh year in England, suffered relegation to the third tier with Leeds United, which a year earlier had qualified for the EPL promotion playoffs.
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE (2006-07) PLAYER (CLUB) GP/G Brian McBride (Fulham) 38/9 Marcus Hahnemann (Reading) 38/- Brad Friedel (Blackburn) 38/- Tim Howard (Everton) 36/- Jay DeMerit (Watford) 32/2 Carlos Bocanegra (Fulham) 30/5 Jonathan Spector (West Ham) 25/0 DaMarcus Beasley (Man. City) 18/3 Claudio Reyna (Man. City) 15/0 Oguchi Onyewu (Newcastle) 11/0 Giuseppe Rossi (Newcastle) 11/0 Clint Dempsey (Fulham) 10/1 Bobby Convey (Reading) 9/0 Johann Smith (Bolton) 1/0
ENGLISH CHAMPIONSHIP LEAGUE (2006-07) Eddie Lewis (Leeds) 41/3 Frank Simek (Sheffield Wed.) 41/1
CHERUNDOLO STILL MR. STEADY In his 10th season with Hannover 96 and his sixth in the German First Division, right back Steve Cherundolo played in all but one game and scored twice as Hannover finished 11th. Cherundolo has now played 149 Bundesliga games (a record for an American) in addition to the 68 games he played in the Second Division in 1999-2002.
Borussia Moenchengladbach, with goalkeeper Kasey Keller, finished last and was relegated to the Second Division. Keller started 28 games before missing the final five with an injury. Gladbach released Keller after the season.
The 37-year-old joined Gladbach in the middle of the 2004-05 season, when his performances were hailed for helping the club stay in the top flight. Keller, who played in the top two tiers of the English league, and in the Spanish First Division, since moving to Europe in 1991, was at times during his stint with Gladbach rated among the Bundesliga's top goalkeepers and a fan favorite.
Benny Feilhaber, Kamani Hill and Neven Subotic made their Bundesliga debuts. Subotic made his for Mainz 05 in the last game of the season with the team's relegation to the Second Division already sealed.
GERMAN FIRST DIVISION (2006-07) PLAYER (CLUB) GAMES/GOALS Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96) 33/2 Kasey Keller (Borussia M'Gladbach) 28/- Benny Feilhaber (Hamburg SV) 9/0 Kamani Hill (Wolfsburg) 9/0 Conor Casey (Mainz 05) 2/0 Neven Subotic (Mainz 05) 1/0
GERMAN SECOND DIVISION (2006-07) Gregg Berhalter (1860 Munich) 29/3 Josh Grenier (Koblenz) 29/0 Josh Wolff (1860 Munich) 10/2
CASTILLO BREAKS THROUGH AT SANTOS The peculiar Mexican League relegation formula, based on teams' results over a three-year period, meant Santos Laguna battled against the drop during its Clausura 2007 campaign while in the midst of the playoff race. With 20-year-old Las Cruces, N.M., product Edgar Castillo playing at left back in 18 of Santos' 21 games, Santos maintained top-flight status and reached the quarterfinals.
Central midfielder Sonny Guadarrama, 20, played three First Division games for Santos and started on its Second Division team. The Texas native with dual citizenship has also been part of Mexico's U-20 national team.
Southern Californian Michael Orozco, 20, played nine times (seven starts) for San Luis and appeared in both legs of its repechaje playoff loss to Santos.
MEXICAN FIRST CLAUSURA 07 PLAYER (CLUB) GAMES/GOALS Edgar Castillo (Santos) 18/0 Michael Orozco (San Luis) 9/0 Sonny Guadarrama (Santos) 3/0 Sammy Ochoa (UAG Tecos) 1/0 Jesus Padilla (Guadalajara) 1/0
BRADLEY UEFA CUP BOUND Michael Bradley, U.S. coach Bob Bradley's 19-year-old son, made 21 appearances, mostly off the bench, as Heerenveen finished fifth in the Dutch Eredivisie and earned a UEFA Cup spot. PSV Eindhoven won the Dutch title, but Lee Nguyen, 20, did not see league action.
Former U.S. international Danny Califf fared best of the Danish contingent as Aalborg finished third and qualified for the Intertoto Cup, a UEFA Cup qualifying tournament.
Last season, Chase Hilgenbrinck, 25, an Illinois product who played college ball at Clemson, helped Nublense win promotion to Chile's First Division. He was one of six players the club retained, and this season he started in defense as Nublense rose to the top half of the standings.
Gabriel Ferrari, a 19-year-old New Yorker who played at Newark's St. Benedicts Prep, signed last winter with Italian Serie A Sampdoria, for which he played on the reserve team and made a brief Italian Cup appearance.
Giuseppe Rossi, the U.S.-born New Jersey product who is playing for Italy's U-21 national team, was loaned out twice by Manchester United this season. He left England's Newcastle in midseason for Italian Serie A's Parma, where his nine goals in 16 games helped Parma fend off relegation.
CHILEAN APERTURA 07 PLAYER (CLUB) GAMES/GOALS Chase Hilgenbrinck (Nublense) 17/1
DANISH FIRST DIVISION Danny Califf (Aalborg) 31/1 Heath Pearce (Nordsjaelland) 28/1 Robbie Russell (Viborg) 24/0 Joe Zewe (Viborg) 4/0
DANISH SECOND DIVISION Jeremiah White (Aarhus) 11/1
DUTCH EREDIVISIE (2006-07) Michael Bradley (Heerenveen) 21/0
DUTCH JULIPER LEAGUE (2006-07) Charles Kazlauskas (TOP Oss) 29/0
FRENCH FIRST DIVISION Quentin Westberg (AC Troyes) 2/-
FRENCH SECOND DIVISION Jeremiah White (Gueugnon) 14/4
ITALIAN SERIE A Giuseppe Rossi (Parma) 16/9
(This article originally appeared in the July 2007 issue of Soccer America Magazine.)