When selecting a roster – especially one that will compete in FIFA World Cup qualifying – one of the important criteria for U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is seeing that players are making important contributions to their club teams. This season, he’s gotten plenty to be happy about.
The likes of U.S. midfielder Clint Dempsey’s goal scoring frenzy at Fulham to Jermaine Jones and his career-reviving season at Schalke 04 have stood out among a growing group of U.S. players making a big impact abroad.
“I think it’s been something really outstanding in the last nine to 10 months what we have seen from a lot of players,” Klinsmann said. “They made a big step in their careers. They represented the U.S. team and the United States with a quality that we hadn’t seen before. Tim Howard is among the best five goalkeepers in the world. Clint Dempsey was voted the fourth-best player in the Premier League. Michael Bradley, who came after spells in Germany and England, broke into a very prestigious Italian club and became one of their leaders. And then we have younger players coming through the ranks that within one year have established themselves as starters on big clubs. That feeds more quality into our program and it’s also something that makes you proud because it goes hand in hand with what we’re doing. They understand their roles with their club team better and it’s just fun to watch that.”
Gone are the days when there were only a small handful of U.S. players creating a stir overseas. This past season in Europe had more than its share of Americans starring with their respective teams.
“U.S. Soccer is moving in the right direction if you look at the individual players,” said Steve Cherundolo, a U.S. defender and captain of Hannover 96 in Germany. “I think we continue to move up the ladder. These guys are having so much success. Clint scoring so many goals this year in the Premiership can only open doors for the guys coming up behind them.”
Klinsmann and his staff certainly hope that trend translates on the National Team front as the U.S. Men prepare for a hectic stretch of five games in 18 days from late May to mid-June. The final two games of this span mark the start of 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifying, kicking off when the U.S. hosts Antigua & Barbuda on June 8 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN3/Galavision), and takes on Guatemala on June 12 (10 p.m. ET) at Estadio Mateo Flores in Guatemala City.
“Seeing fellow Americans and teammates, guys I’ve known for a long time like Timmy Howard and Clint, performing so well at their clubs and being huge members of their clubs’ success is something that speaks volumes about this program and about the players’ character,” Cherundolo said. “American players are helping European clubs move up the table and have success in European leagues.”
Here is a sampling of the standout 2011-12 club performances:
Michael Bradley, Chievo Verona: Bradley had a banner season with the Serie A club, earning a career-best 34 league appearances after departing the Bundesliga and Borussia Monchengladbach last summer. His midfield presence played a big role in Chievo finishing in 10th place – the team’s best ranking since it rejoined the top flight in 2008-09. The 24-year-old midfielder was dubbed “General Bradley” during the season as the media and fan base showed its appreciation for Bradley’s work rate, composure and tactical awareness. After beginning the first two games as a reserve, Bradley snatched a regular starting role that he wouldn’t relinquish.
Steve Cherundolo, Hannover 96: The three-time World Cup veteran has captained Hannover to its second-consecutive qualification for the Europa League after the side finished seventh in the Bundesliga table. They reached the quarterfinals of the European competition this season, their best-ever finish. Sporting the armband since the 2010-11 season, Cherundolo marshaled the Hannover team that produced an unprecedented record at the AWD-Arena, finishing the campaign as the only Bundesliga team to stay unbeaten at home, posting a 10-0-7 record and a respectable plus-14 goal differential.
Clint Dempsey, Fulham: Dempsey arguably had the best club season abroad for any U.S. Soccer player ever. Certainly the offensive achievements warrant that title. He scored 23 goals overall and 17 in Premier League play for Fulham, setting a single-season record for the Cottagers. Late in 2011, Dempsey surpassed Brian McBride’s record of 36 career goals for an American and he would go on to net his 50th Premier League goal on May 6 against Sunderland. In January, Dempsey became the first American to tally a Premier League hat trick. Capping off this banner campaign, the English press ranked Dempsey fourth in the 2012 Footballer of the Year voting.
Tim Howard, Everton: Howard’s presence among this group is not surprising as he has been a fixture in the Premier League since joining Manchester United in 2003-04, winning the PFA Goalkeeper of the Year award that season. With Everton in 2011-12, Howard logged his fourth straight 38-game season in league action. He posted 12 shutouts as Everton finished in seventh place in the league table. Howard also earned the spotlight for blasting a full-field goal out of his own 18-yard box against Bolton in January, becoming only the fourth goalkeeper to score a goal in Premier League history.
Jermaine Jones, Schalke 04: Jones had a rejuvenating campaign with Schalke 04, and much of his success has to do with new head coach Huub Stevens simply giving the German-born American midfielder regular playing time in the 2011-12 season. Providing a consistently physical presence in the fray, Jones helped Schalke finished third in the Bundesliga table and will join Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in next season’s UEFA Champions League.