Americans Abroad: Exciting Season for U.S. Exports

It doesn't exist in American sports, but the R-word is among the saddest in soccer. Relegation - when a team finishes so far down the standings that it drops to a lower division for the following season - remains a recurring storyline about American players abroad.

During the 2007-08 season, a record 12 Americans played in the English Premier League. But nine played for clubs that battled against relegation.

One of them, Kasey Keller, minded the net for Fulham, which he joined after his German club, Borussia Moenchengladbach, dropped to the Second Division the previous season. Relegated a second season in a row would have been cruel fate for the man with a stellar 17-year career in Europe that included two seasons in the Spanish First Division and 377 games in England.

Keller was one of five Americans on Fulham, also known as "Fulhamerica." Another was Brian McBride - team captain, fan favorite, and scorer of 37 goals in 102 games over four and a half seasons.

Clint Dempsey, who joined the team in midseason of 2006-07 and scored a goal that helped save it from relegation a year ago, defender Carlos Bocanegra, with the Cottagers since 2004, and Eddie Johnson, who arrived in January, completed the U.S. quintet.

With five games left last season, Fulham had managed only four wins in 33 matches and looked doomed. Then McBride, who had been injured for more than four months, scored in a 2-0 win over Reading, another team in the relegation fight.

After a loss to Liverpool, Fulham won its last three games, with McBride scoring in a 2-0 win over Birmingham, which was trying to climb out of the cellar. A 1-0 win over Portsmouth on the season's last day saved Fulham from the drop.

"I take great pride in the fact that my last appearance for Fulham saw the club maintain its Premier League status," said McBride, who bid farewell to return to the USA.

But Fulham's success came at the expense of Reading and its pair of Americans - goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann and midfielder Bobby Convey. Reading returns to the second division, or Football League Championship, from which it won promotion two seasons earlier.

Also going down while setting the record for least points ever - 11 from one win and eight ties in 38 games - in a Premier League season was Derby, home of U.S. midfielders Eddie Lewis and Benny Feilhaber. Last season, Lewis was relegated with Leeds United.

Goalkeepers Tim Howard and Brad Friedel finished the season at the other end of the standings, Howard helping Everton win a UEFA Cup spot with fifth place while Friedel's Blackburn finished in seventh place. Defender Jonathan Spector played 26 games for West Ham, which finished in 10th place a year after it avoided relegation on the season's last day.

In Germany, 23-year-old outside back Heath Pearce played 19 games in his first season for Hansa Rostock, which finished second-to-last and dropped to the second division.

UPS AND DOWNS. The history of American players abroad is often about fighting relegation. Elite teams in major leagues tend not to shop for U.S. players since they have the resources to land big-time stars.

Eric Wynalda's nine-goal season when he became the first U.S. product play in the Bundesliga in 1992-93 remains the highest scoring performance by an American in the German First Division, but his Saarbruecken team was relegated. He also went down with VfL Bochum in the 1994-95 season.

Alexi Lalas, the first American to play in the Italian Serie A, helped Padova win a relegation playoff at the end of the 1995 season. But after he departed near the end of the 1995-96 season, Padova dropped to Serie B.

There have been American champs. Paul Caligiuri helped Hansa Rostock win the league and cup double in 1991 during the last season of East German soccer before reunification. Claudio Reyna won Scottish Premier League titles with Glasgow Rangers in 1999 and 2000, and a Scottish FA Cup. John O'Brien won two Dutch Eredivisie titles with Ajax Amsterdam (2002, 2004).

English League Cups have been won by John Harkes (Sheffield Wednesday 1991), Keller (Leicester City 1997) and Friedel (Blackburn 2002). Friedel also lifted the Turkish Cup with Galatasaray in 2002.

DaMarcus Beasley with PSV Eindhoven won Dutch Eredivisie titles in 2005 and 2006, and the Dutch Cup in 2005. He also picked up some hardware this season.

Beasley, who arrived at Glasgow Rangers for the 2007-08 season via Manchester City, was the season's comeback kid. On his 26th birthday, he made his first start after a six-month layoff with a knee injury in the Scottish FA Cup final against Queen of the South.

Beasley drew a foul for the free kick that led to the first goal, scored on a low shot and assisted on the gamewinner for a 3-2 Rangers' win in which he was the consensus MVP.

In his eighth European Champions League appearance of the season, Beasley had suffered knee ligament damage in a collision VfB Stuttgart keeper Raphael Schaeffer in November.

It was a tough blow for Rangers and Beasley, who in a 3-0 Champions League win over Lyon had scored one and assisted twice. Rangers moved into the UEFA Cup, losing the final to Zenit St. Petersburg.

Beasley returned to action in the last league game of the season, playing 13 minutes, before returning to the starting lineup for the FA Cup final win that gave Rangers the cup double, having won the League Cup in March. Beasley played one League Cup game.

"It's a great feeling," Beasley told Rangers' official Web site. "I came to Rangers to win trophies and we got two out of four. I wasn't part of the first one, but I was made to feel involved. ..."

"I am excited about next season already. We have had a taste of things this year and we want to do even better next year."

Winning a league title was Beasley's U.S. teammate Oguchi Onyewu, who marshaled the Standard Liege defense as it won its first Belgian First Division title in 25 years. Onyewu, who scored two goals, started in all but one game as Standard Liege nearly became the first team to go undefeated in the Jupiler League in 42 years. Standard lost a game after clinching the title.

Onyewu, 26, joined Standard Liege in 2004 but spent half of last season on loan to the EPL's Newcastle.

Fellow central defender Dan Califf captained AaB to the Danish league championship, then moved to FC Midtjylland.

The other American to win a league title abroad was Edgar Castillo. The 21-year-old, who was born and raised in New Mexico, joined Santos Laguna in 2005 and has been a starter since January 2007. Castillo broke into the Santos lineup as it was fighting against relegation from the Mexican First Division, which uses cumulative results over a three-year period to determine which team drops.

Castillo, who has dual citizenship and has represented Mexico, debuted for Santos in April 2006 at age 19 and has since played in 57 league games.

In the Clausura 2008 championship, Santos finished second in the overall standings and went undefeated in the playoffs, taking down Cruz Azul in the final series.

ESPN Deportes Magazine included Castillo, a left back, in its Clausura 2008 Dream Team, saying "His speed and touch make him lethal in attack. He's improved on his defensive work ... Despite being so young, he's already one of the best players at his position and could soon become a regular for Mexico's national team."

The title marked the third in Santos' history, having won in 1996 and 2001.

THE SCORERS. A defensive workhorse with the U.S. national team, 20-year-old Michael Bradley became a marksman this season with his Dutch club Heerenveen. After going scoreless in 21 appearances during his first full season (2006-07) in the Netherlands, Bradley scored 15 times to lead his team in goals and finish tied for fifth in the league.

Bradley also scored twice in the Dutch Cup and twice in the UEFA Cup. His league goals broke the record for most by an American-bred player in a top flight European league.

Heerenveen finished fifth in the Eredivisie to qualify for the postseason playoffs for European competition. Bradley was red-carded in the 39th minute of a 3-1 loss to Ajax Amsterdam in Champions League qualifying. He returned for the second leg of the UEFA Cup playoff series against NAC that earned Heerenveen a spot in that tournament.

Three other American products hit the five-goal mark in Europe last season.

Giuseppe Rossi, the New Jersey native who moved to Europe at age 13, scored 11 times for Spanish La Liga runner-up Villarreal despite missing two months with a knee injury.

Rossi, who represents Italy, scored nine goals for Italian Serie A's Parma last season in 16 games. At Villarreal, he was second in scoring to Turk Nihat Kahveci. (He'll be joined next year at the "Yellow Submarine" by American forward Jozy Altidore.)

Dempsey's six goals for Fulham - two more than McBride - made him the team's leading scorer.

After helping the Houston Dynamo win the MLS title, Oregon product Nate Jaqua joined Austria's Rheindorf Altach in midseason to provide a scoring punch and help Altach avoid relegation.

The 6-foot-3 striker, who had scored seven goals in 19 games for Houston in 2007, hit the net five times in 10 games as Altach survived with an eighth-place finish in the 10-team league. One Austrian newspaper called him a "penalty-area cobra with a lion's heart."

YOUNGSTERS AND THE VET. Florida product Bryan Arguez became the youngest U.S. product to play in the German First Division when the 19-year-old entered Hertha Berlin's game against Eintracht Frankfurt as a sub in February. The youngest player previously to debut in the Bundesliga was Jovan Kirovski, who played for Borussia Dortmund in 1996 at age 20. But Arguez, who arrived on a $300,000 transfer from D.C. United, for which he didn't see regular-season action in his 2007 rookie year, did not see the field again for Hertha.

Also making a Bundesliga debut was 21-year-old Southern Californian Sal Zizzo, who played two seasons at UCLA before signing with Hannover after starring on the USA's 2007 U-20 World Cup team. Zizzo, who had been playing with Hannover's U-23 team in the Fourth Division, came off the bench in Hannover's final two Bundesliga games of the season.

In the last game, Hannover 96 beat Energie Cottbus, 4-0, as the team's American veteran Steve Cherundolo hit three assists. Cherundolo, 29, holds the record for longest stint with a European club, having joined Hannover in 1999.

He played 68 games in four Second Division seasons. Since Hannover was promoted to the First Division, Cherundolo has made 182 appearances in six seasons.


The Rise of Yanks Abroad

The history of Americans making a mark in European soccer goes back quite a ways. American-born Julian Russell Sturgis, for example, won the 1873 English FA Cup with Wanderers FC. But the Boston-born Sturgis was hardly a product of U.S. soccer. He had moved to England at 7 months old.

Indeed, most of the first Americans to play for foreign clubs didn't spend their formative years in the USA, although New York-born Eddy Hamel is believed to have moved while in his teens to Amsterdam, where he played for Ajax in 1922-30.

Soccer historian Colin Jose has tried hard to find out how much soccer Brooklyn native Alfonso Negro played in the USA before becoming the first American to play in the Italian Serie A. But attempts to get information from his daughter, who lives in Italy, have failed.

What is known is that Negro played for Serie C club Angri at age 15, before playing in Serie A for Fiorentina and Napoli, and scoring for Italy at the 1936 Olympics. In the modern era, Tom Dooley, Earnie Stewart and Roy Wegerle - members of the USA's 1994 World Cup team - had stellar careers in Germany, the Netherlands and England, respectively, but all were raised abroad.

Paul Caligiuri, however, started his youth soccer with AYSO in Southern California, debuted for the U.S. national team at age 20, and won an NCAA title with UCLA in 1985.

In 1986, he gained international notice after playing in the FIFA All-Star Game at the Rose Bowl. In 1987, he signed with German powerhouse Hamburg SV in what was the defining moment in the history of Americans abroad.

Caligiuri never played for HSV's first team, a victim of what was then a strict foreigner limit. He moved to Second Division SV Meppen, for which he played two seasons and would eventually reach the Bundesliga.

In 1989, Caligiuri's goal against Trinidad & Tobago qualified the USA for its first World Cup in 40 years, and its appearance at Italy '90 started a flow of American products to Europe.

John Harkes and Tab Ramos landed at second-tier clubs in England and Spain, respectively. Caligiuri and Brian Bliss moved to the East German First Division.

Kasey Keller, a reserve keeper on the 1990 World Cup team, debuted with English second tier club Millwall in 1992, starting what has been the longest stint abroad by an American player.

Also in 1992, Eric Wynalda became the first U.S. product to play in the German First Division.

The USA reaching the second round of the 1994 World Cup it hosted spurred another migration. Claudio Reyna signed with Germany's Bayer Leverkusen, embarking on what would be the longest run with top-tier European teams by an American. Before joining the New York Red Bulls in 2007, Reyna would captain teams in Germany, Scotland and England.

Alexi Lalas became the first U.S. product in the Italian Serie A in 1994 when he joined Padova, for which he played nearly two seasons before arriving in MLS for its inaugural season in 1996.

Many have attempted to find European stardom by going before finishing high school, but few - e.g. John O'Brien and Jovan Kirovski - succeeded.

With MLS came what has become the most successful path so far. Players who cut their teeth in the USA's domestic league before making an impact abroad include Tim Howard, DaMarcus Beasley, Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley.

Now a new migration is afoot. Mexican league clubs are courting players north of the border and last season five young Americans saw Mexican First Division action. One of them, Edgar Castillo, helped Santos lift the Clausura 2008 title.

(This article originally appeared in the July 2008 issue of Soccer America magazine.










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