US SoccerUS Soccer

Record Number of Americans Set to Play a Part in English Premier League

MUST READ: Americans Overseas - 2006-07 European Previews

The 2006-07 edition of the English Premier League is set to be the most exciting installment yet for stateside fans of one of Europe’s best domestic competitions. With a record number of Americans playing at the top level of English football, most of whom will likely feature heavily on their respective teams, fans of American soccer should have their interests piqued as they tune in to watch their favorite players.

After a World Cup in which the U.S. Men’s National Team received an unprecedented amount of support from fans who either traveled to Germany or watched the games from the USA, the 2006-07 EPL season marks another important point in the evolution of soccer in the United States, as interest in the sport, both domestically and abroad, continually increases.

Adding even more intrigue to the scenario is the fact that the Americans in Europe will be competing against each other on an almost regular basis, going head-to-head with their countrymen on the field.

Of the ten Americans who will set their sights on the title that Chelsea won last season, six were involved in the league last year, while four will make their debuts at England’s top level. Additionally, the group represents an interesting cross-section of the national team, with players who have both retired from the setup, players who are current internationals, and players who will look to impact the team in the years to come. Never before has the league boasted such a diverse collection of American players in different stages of their national team careers.

The backgrounds from which the players come are equally varied: they have transferred to the league from other top level European leagues, or been promoted from teams in England’s lower leagues, or even moved to rival teams within the EPL itself. As the sheer number of Americans overseas has increased so dramatically, it becomes more apparent that those players who go on to compete at the highest level do so after pursuing distinctly individual paths. This year’s batch of Americans in England’s top flight represents, for many of these players, a crowning achievement in their varied journeys as professionals.

Cory Gibbs has arrived in the EPL by way of Feyenoord and ADO Den Haag in the Netherlands, and FC St. Pauli in Germany. Meanwhile, Bobby Convey and Marcus Hahnemann helped Reading to promotion after narrowly missing out the year before. Likewise for Jay DeMerit, who guided Watford to a victory in the playoff final (earning Man of the Match honors as well) after rising from complete obscurity just two years go. Jonathan Spector and Tim Howard have moved clubs within the EPL, seeking fresh challenges at West Ham United and Everton respectively, while Brad Friedel, Carlos Bocanegra, Brian McBride, and Claudio Reyna are all seasoned veterans of the league.

Bobby Convey, speaking to the Associated Press, agreed that the increasing number of Americans in foreign leagues means that status of the players is growing: “There's enough of us over here now that people around the world know American players are good,” said the midfielder who made such an impression on Reading followers and opponents alike last year. Marcus Hahnemann, also speaking to the AP, echoed Convey’s sentiments: “This is the league you want to play in, particularly if you are an American. This is the most watched league in the States. It's everybody's dream if you play this game. I spent years trying to do it and when you finally achieve it - it's almost surreal.”

So when the American players kick off on August 19, commencing the 15th season of the English Premier League, they will also participate in another significant step in the progression of American soccer players on the world stage. Never before has such a prominent group of American players been slated to compete week in and week out in one of Europe’s most influential leagues. With soccer fandom in the United States as widespread and devoted as ever, the 2006-07 season for the EPL is the most anticipated campaign yet for loyal American followers who will get the added bonus of an unprecedented amount of exposure for the record number of American players in the league.

KEY DATES – Includes all American derbies (teams with Americans facing each other) as well as other important games for those teams that see them facing traditional rivals, traveling to famous English grounds, or hosting the biggest clubs in the country.

Aug. 19
Everton (Howard) vs. Watford (DeMerit)
Goodison Park

The first day of the season pits new Everton GK Tim Howard against premiership newboys Watford, and their American center back Jay DeMerit.

Aug. 20
Man Utd vs. Fulham (Bocanegra, McBride)
Old Trafford
Fulham, including Brian McBride and Carlos Bocanegra, kicks off the season against the Red Devils at the Theatre of Dreams, where McBride scored a goal in a losing effort last year for the Cottagers.

Chelsea vs. Man City (Reyna)
Stamford Bridge

Claudio Reyna and Manchester City open the season against defending champions Chelsea, whom they’ve had success against in the past, inflicting the only defeat on Chelsea in the whole of the 2004-05 EPL season.

Aug. 22
Watford (DeMerit) vs. West Ham (Spector)
Vicarage Road
The first game of the new season at Watford’s home ground sees DeMerit’s Hornets clash with last year’s FA Cup finalists, and Jonathan Spector’s new club, West Ham United.

Aug. 23
Blackburn (Friedel) vs. Everton (Howard)
Ewood Park

U.S. National Team goalkeepers of the past and the future face off when Brad Friedel and Tim Howard meet in a Wednesday night game between two founding members of the Football League, Blackburn and Everton.

September 9
Everton (Howard) vs. Liverpool
Goodison Park

For the first time, Tim Howard takes part in one of the fiercest rivalries in European football, when the first Liverpool derby of 2006-07 is played over a lunchtime kickoff.

September 11
Reading (Convey, Hahnemann) vs. Man City (Reyna)
Madejski Stadium

Premiership newcomers Convey and Hahnemann face premiership veteran and former MNT teammate Claudio Reyna as Reading entertains the blue half of Manchester.

September 17
Blackburn (Friedel) vs. Man City (Reyna)
Ewood Park

Two members of the U.S. National Team’s memorable 2002 run to the quaterfinals of the FIFA World Cup, both now retired, meet again in the EPL.

Semptember 23
Fulham (Bocanegra, McBride) vs. Chelsea
Craven Cottage

Brian McBride and Carlos Bocanegra lead Fulham against Chelsea, a game that Fulham deservedly won in last year’s corresponding fixture.

Man City (Reyna) vs. West Ham (Spector)
City of Manchester Stadium

Claudio Reyna and Jonathan Spector meet in a game between teams from England’s two biggest cities.

Reading (Convey, Hahnemann) vs. Manchester Utd
Madejski Stadium
Newly promoted Reading faces its biggest challenge of the year thus far against former champions Manchester United.

September 30
Everton (Howard) vs. Manchester City (Reyna)
Goodison Park
New Jersey natives Tim Howard and Claudio Reyna, of Everton and Manchester City, respectively, meet again. Only this time, Howard has traded his red kit of City’s biggest rival, Manchester United, for the Blue and White of Everton.

October 1
West Ham (Spector) vs. Reading (Convey, Hahnemann)
Upton Park
Last year’s surprise, West Ham, faces Reading, a team who’ll be looking to replicate the Hammers’ last season. Jonathan Spector, Bobby Convey and Marcus Hahnemann take to the field.

October 2
Watford (DeMerit) vs. Fulham (Bocanegra, McBride)
Vicarage Road
Watford defender Jay DeMerit will be charged with marking compatriot Brian McBride of Fulham as the teams meet for the first time in the EPL.

October 14
Reading (Convey, Hahnemann) vs. Chelsea
Madejski Stadium

Bobby Convey, Marcus Hahnemann and Reading welcome the champions from London to town.

October 21
Tottenham vs. West Ham (Spector)
White Hart Lane

Jonathan Spector takes part in a London derby as Tottenham host close neighbors West Ham.

October 22
Reading (Convey, Hahnemann) vs. Arsenal
Madejski Stadium

Another big test for Reading, and specifically Marcus Hahnemann, as he could face any number of shots from Arsenal’s all-time leading scorer, Thierry Henry.

October 29
West Ham (Spector) vs. Blackburn (Friedel)
Upton Park
A match between two English entries into the UEFA Cup, both of whom enjoyed better-than-expected campaigns last year.

November 4
Fulham (Bocanegra, McBride) vs. Everton (Howard)
Craven Cottage

McBride, Bocanegra and Co. meet up with Tim Howard’s Everton in a game of two teams who could, come the end of the season, be vying for the same spot in Europe.

Charlton (Gibbs) vs. Manchester City (Reyna)
The Valley
Could this be Cory Gibbs debut for Charlton after a long layoff from injury? If so, it will come against U.S. Soccer legend Claudio Reyna and Manchester City.

November 11
Blackburn (Friedel) vs. Manchester United
Ewood Park

Friedel and Blackburn face their Northern rivals Manchester United, who were particularly troubled by Rovers play last year.

November 18
Man City (Reyna) vs. Fulham (Bocanegra, McBride)
City of Manchester Stadium

Newly Retired MNT players Claudio Reyna and Brian McBride face off for not the first time in the EPL.

November 25
Charlton (Gibbs) vs. Everton (Howard)
The Valley

Fulham (Bocanegra, McBride) vs. Reading (Convey, Hahnemann)
Craven Cottage

A record four Americans could take to the field simultaneously for this EPL match.

Watford (DeMerit) vs. Blackburn (Friedel)
Vicarage Road

November 29
Man Utd vs. Everton (Howard)
Old Trafford

Tim Howard returns to the club that owns his contract, Manchester United, with the club that has taken him out on loan for one year, Everton.

December 2
Blackburn (Friedel) vs. Fulham (Bocanegra, McBride)
Ewood Park

December 3
Everton (Howard) vs. West Ham (Spector)
Goodison Park

December 4
Man City (Reyna) vs. Watford (DeMerit)
City of Manchester Stadium

December 5
Charlton (Gibbs) vs. Blackburn (Friedel)
The Valley

December 9
Manchester United vs. Manchester City (Reyna)
Old Trafford
The Manchester derby is contested for the 147th time as Claudio Reyna and the Blues resume the heated rivalry with their crosstown neighbors.

Watford (DeMerit) vs. Reading (Convey, Hahnemann)
Vicarage Road

December 16
Reading (Convey, Hahnemann) vs. Blackburn (Friedel)
Madejski Stadium

December 17
West Ham vs. Man Utd
Upton Park

Jonathan Spector takes on his former club when West Ham entertains Manchester United.

December 23
Fulham (Bocanegra, McBride) vs. West Ham Utd (Spector)
Craven Cottage

A London derby featuring Brian McBride and Carlos Bocanegra of Fulham, and Jonathan Spector of West Ham United.

Reading (Convey, Hahnemann) vs. Everton (Howard)
Madejski Stadium

American goalkeepers Marcus Hahnemann and Tim Howard take to the field for their respective clubs as they do battle.

December 26
Blackburn vs. Liverpool
Ewood Park

Blackburn goalkeeper Brad Friedel faces his former club Liverpool in this Boxing Day matchup.

December 27
Charlton vs. Fulham
The Valley

This London Derby features two American defenders who could play a part in the national team setup for years to come: Cory Gibbs of Charlton and Carlos Bocanegra of Fulham

December 30
Chelsea vs. Fulham (Bocanegra, McBride) Man Utd vs. Reading (Convey, Hahnemann)
Stamford Bridge Old Trafford
Big games for Americans of Fulham and Reading as they both face giants of the English game in Chelsea and Manchester United

West Ham (Spector) vs. Man City (Reyna)
Upton Park

January 1
Arsenal vs. Charlton (Gibbs) Fulham (Bocanegra, McBride) vs. Watford (DeMerit)
Emirates Stadium Craven Cottage

Man City (Reyna) vs. Everton (Howard) Reading (Convey, Hahnemann) vs. West Ham (Spector)
City of Manchester Stadium Madejski Stadium
New Years Day sees Cory Gibbs and Charlton travel across town to Arsenal’s new Emirates Stadium, as well as a full slate of American derbies to usher in 2007.

January 13
Everton (Howard) vs. Reading (Convey, Hahnemann)
Goodison Park

West Ham (Spector) vs. Fulham (Bocanegra, McBride)
Upton Park

January 20
Man City (Reyna) vs. Blackburn (Friedel)
City of Manchester Stadium

January 31
Man Utd. vs. Watford
Old Trafford
Would Jay DeMerit ever have thought his footballing career would take him from the fields of Wisconsin to the EPL, and one of the world’s great stadiums in Old Trafford?

February 3
Man City (Reyna) vs. Reading (Convey, Hahnemann)
City of Manchester Stadium

Liverpool vs. Everton (Howard)

Tim Howard and Everton resume their cross town rivalry with Liverpool as they travel to the famous ground of Anfield

February 10
Everton (Howard) vs. Blackburn (Friedel)
Goodison Park

West Ham (Spector) vs. Watford (DeMerit)
Upton Park

February 24
Charlton (Gibbs) vs. West Ham (Spector)
The Valley

The Hammers and Jonathan Spector travel to the Valley where they’ll meet cross-town rivals Cory Gibbs and Charlton, with whom Spector had a loan spell last year.

Watford (DeMerit) vs. Everton (Howard)
Vicarage Road

March 3
Watford (DeMerit) vs. Charlton (Gibbs)
Vicarage Road

This might be the worst game of the year. No joke.

March 17
Blackburn (Friedel) vs. West Ham (Spector)
Ewood Park

March 31
Man Utd vs. Blackburn (Friedel)
Old Trafford

April 6
Man City (Reyna) vs. Charlton (Gibbs)
City of Manchester Stadium

April 7
Everton (Howard) vs. Fulham (Bocanegra, McBride)
Goodison Park

A matchup featuring three former MLS players: Tim Howard of Everton, and Brian McBride and Carlos Bocanegra of Fulham.

April 9
Charlton (Gibbs) vs. Reading (Convey, Hahnemann)
The Valley

American Derby which could be the proverbial “six pointer,” depending on how close these clubs are to the relegation zone.

Fulham (Bocanegra, McBride) vs. Man City (Reyna)
Craven Cottage

April 14
Blackburn (Friedel) vs. Watford (DeMerit)
Ewood Park

Reading (Convey, Hahnemann) vs. Fulham (Bocanegra, McBride)
Madejski Stadium

April 15
Everton (Howard) vs. Charlton (Gibbs)
Goodison Park

April 21
Fulham (Bocanegra, McBride) vs. Blackburn (Friedel) Watford (DeMerit) vs. Man City (Reyna)
Craven Cottage Vicarage Road

West Ham (Spector) v. Everton (Howard)
Upton Park

Three American derbies that could have all sorts of implications as to who plays in Europe next season… or who plays in the lower divisions.

April 28
Everton (Howard) vs. Man Utd Arsenal vs. Fulham (Bocanegra, McBride)
Goodison Park Emirates Stadium

Blackburn (Friedel) vs. Charlton (Gibbs)
Ewood Park

Big games for Tim Howard of Everton and the Fulham Americans, as well as an American Derby

May 5
Man City (Reyna) vs. Man Utd Reading (Convey, Hahnemann) vs. Watford (DeMerit)
City of Manchester Stadium Madejski Stadium
The Manchester derby is the most glamorous game on this day, but Reading v. Watford could be the most important, as these two clubs could be mired in a relegation battle.

May 13
Blackburn (Friedel) vs. Reading (Convey, Hahnemann)
Ewood Park

The final American derby of the year could be one that decides where these clubs could be playing next year, whether it is the UEFA Cup, with the likes of PSG and Sevilla, or the slightly less high profile squads of Hull City and Colchester United in the League Championship.