Climbing Up The Competition Ladder
Since taking over as head coach for the U.S. Men’s National Team in the summer of 2011, Jurgen Klinsmann has preached the need for U.S. internationals to play at the highest level possible, against the toughest competition and in pressure situations. Regional cup competitions certainly meet all that criteria, and in that regard this past season was a successful campaign for Americans after 11 players made their mark in some of the most prestigious cup competitions around the globe.
UEFA Champions League
JERMAINE JONES (Schalke): Jones played a crucial role for Schalke during its run in the 2012-13 UEFA Champions League. The German-American played in all but one fixture, helping them win Group B and remain unbeaten through the group stages of the tournament. In the knockout round, Jones scored a crucial equalizing away goal in the first leg against Galatasaray. However, Schalke couldn’t capitalize on their home grounds and were eliminated 4-3 on aggregate.
MICHAEL PARKHURST (Nordsjaelland): Parkhurst started and played every minute of all six group games against Chelsea, Juventus and Shakhtar, and earned a spot on the Champions League Team of the Week from MatchDay 3 following a 1-1 draw against Juventus.
SACHA KLJESTAN (Anderlecht): Played in five of six group games for the Belgian Champions, competing against AC Milan, Malaga and Zenit St. Petersburg.
CLINT DEMPSEY (Tottenham Hotspur): Appeared in all six group games as Spurs went unbeaten and finished second in Group J against Lazio, NK Maribor and Panathinaikos. He missed the third round against Olympique Lyon due to injury but returned for the quarterfinals against FC Basel. He scored two goals in the second leg away to Basel and sent the game to extra time with his 82nd minute equalizer; however, Spurs ultimately fell in penalties.
CONCACAF Champions League
HERCULEZ GOMEZ (Santos Laguna): Gomez played a crucial role for Santos as they reached the CONCACAF Champions League final before losing to rival side Monterrey 4-2. Herc torched his former league in the tournament, scoring all three of his goals against MLS clubs.
OMAR GONZALEZ (LA Galaxy): Gonzalez played a big role for the Galaxy defense as the reigning MLS Champions made it all the way to the semifinals, where they lost to eventual champions Monterrey. The Galaxy outscored their opposition 12-4 in the early stages of the tournament and Gonzalez anchored the backline and scored on a header in the dominant 4-1 victory in the quarterfinals against Costa Rican side Herediano.
EDDIE JOHNSON (Seattle Sounders): Johnson was a key factor in Seattle’s high octane offense in Champions League play this year. Johnson found the back of the net for a key goal in the Sounders historic 3-2 comeback win against Mexican side Tigres in the quarterfinals, and also scored in the tournament’s early going against Honduran side Marathón.
BRAD DAVIS, TALLY HALL (Houston Dynamo): Davis scored one of the most dramatic goals of the tournament with a last-second tally to give the Dynamo a 1-0 win in the first leg against Herculez Gomez and Santos Laguna. Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall performed fantastically in that match, making three impressive saves to keep the clean sheet. The Dynamo duo couldn’t duplicate their home-field success on Mexican soil, however, and Santos eliminated Houston 3-1 on aggregate.
EDGAR CASTILLO, JOE CORONA (Club Tijuana): The Mexican-American duo have helped lead Club Tijuana on a run through the Copa Libertadores and are currently in the quarterfinals after an upset win against Brazilian side Palmeiras in the Round of 16. Castillo and Corona started in both legs of the 2-1 aggregate victory, including the 1-0 win in Sao Paolo. Xolos came out flying in their first entrance in the tournament, winning its first three group games including a 1-0 win at Millonarios in Colombia. Tijuana will play top-seeded Brazilian club Atlético Mineiro in their quarterfinal fixture.