Superlatives, summer storylines and more Americans Abroad
Fulham's Clint Dempsey simply had the best season abroad by any American
Jozy Altidore had a breakout year in his first season with AZ Alkmaar
Two years after major knee surgery, Lisbon's Oguchi Onyewu return to form
For the most part, another season is in the books for Americans playing abroad. Sure, some leagues around the world operate on a different schedule, and a couple will carry on throughout the summer, but with the UEFA Champions League final on tap this weekend and most major leagues involving Americans on break until next season, it's a good time to dole out a few superlatives from this season along with taking a look at the most pressing storylines involving Americans ahead of the summer transfer season:
Best Season: Clint Dempsey, Fulham
And not just the best 2011-12 season, but the best season by an American abroad ever (as documented by SI's Grant Wahl). With 23 goals in all competitions, 17 of which came in Premier League play, Dempsey shattered his own records for an American in England by turning his run of form into a season-long venture. He scored in his final 15 games in all competitions at Craven Cottage, added free-kick prowess to his growing attacking repertoire and finished fourth in England's Football Writers Association Player of the Year voting. All of the attention is already centered on where Dempsey's next move will take him, but it would be unwise to look ahead without reflecting back on a truly remarkable season from start to finish for the U.S. national team star.
Runners-up: Jozy Altidore, AZ Alkmaar; Michael Bradley, Chievo Verona; Sacha Kljestan, RSC Anderlecht; Herculez Gomez, Santos Laguna
Breakout Season: Jozy Altidore
When dealing with as much pressure as Altidore is to become the go-to scorer for his country when his club career has been filled with detours, it's safe to say that he needed this season in the Netherlands badly. Altidore scored 19 goals in all competitions in his first season with AZ Alkmaar. His 15 league goals were good for seventh in the Eredivisie. With a demonstrated improvement on his first touch and hold-up play and a finishing range that extended for some sweet long-distance blasts, the 22-year-old Altidore was able to deliver an emphatic response to some of his harshest critics while settling in at a club that truly feels like home.
Runners-up: Sacha Kljestan, RSC Anderlecht; Eric Lichaj, Aston Villa
Most Notable Return to Prominence: Oguchi Onyewu, Sporting Lisbon
Jurgen Klinsmann said it best following the U.S. national team's match against Ecuador this past October: "Gooch is back."
Now more than two years removed from major left knee surgery, Onyewu returned to the Gooch of old playing center back in Portugal this season after a mixed loan spell to FC Twente from AC Milan in 2011. With Sporting, Onyewu showcased the athleticism and power that made him a dominant figure during the 2010 World Cup cycle. He was a threat on both sides of the field, scoring five goals this season -- one that was sidetracked with an injury to his other knee that required surgery but only shelved him for two months. Onyewu returned toward the end of the campaign and should continue to be a staple in the heart of the national team's back line during an important summer.
As a side, considering Stuart Holden's injury luck in the past two years, here's to the Bolton midfielder -- who has pledged his future to Bolton despite the club being relegated, according to UK media reports -- being the hands-down winner of this faux award next year as he attempts to lead the Trotters back to the top flight.
Runners-up: DaMarcus Beasley, Puebla; Michael Parkhurst, FC Nordsjaelland
Most Disappointing Transfer: Alejandro Bedoya, Rangers
There's no way Bedoya could have known about the degree of financial strife Rangers would endure over the months after sealing his summer transfer from Swedish club Orebro, but between various injuries and having a hard time cracking the lineup when fit, Bedoya's move did not serve him well on the heels of some breakout performances at last summer's Gold Cup. That's not to say things cannot and will not still materialize for the talented, 25-year-old attacking midfielder, who made 13 appearances (six starts) in all competitions and scored one goal. Rangers' expected mass exodus this summer could either open up boatloads of playing time in Glasgow or provide a chance for a fresh beginning elsewhere. The 2011-2012 season, however, was one to forget.
Runners-up: David Yelldell, Bayer Leverkusen; Robbie Rogers, Leeds United
Blossoming Young Pro to Watch: Andrew Wooten, FC Kaiserslautern
Wooten, a 22-year-old German-American, will be given a big role for his German club as it tries to return to the Bundesliga after being relegated this year. Wooten showed glimpses of what he's capable of doing with the first team by scoring his first top-flight goal on the heels of a reserve season in which he found the back of the net 20 times and signed a three-year professional contract with the club. Despite the U.S. Under-20 national team's inability to qualify for last summer's World Cup and the U.S. U-23s' failure to qualify for the Olympics, there are still some gems of up-and-coming talent in the U.S. pipeline, and Wooten is one of them.
Runners-up: Terrence Boyd, Borussia Dortmund; Joe Gyau, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim; Josh Gatt, Molde FK; Joe Corona, Tijuana
The Dempsey Watch will be all the rage as the rumor mill continues to link the U.S. star to Arsenal, Liverpool, Everton, France, Spain, Mars and the 2012 U.S. Presidential Race. Fulham wants to keep its star, who has a year remaining on his contract, but signing a new deal at Craven Cottage probably ends Dempsey's hopes of playing Champions League soccer, which is a desire he has not been shy about expressing.
Dempsey's future isn't the only important one in the balance, though. Brad Guzan's contract with Aston Villa is up at season's end, and while the club has expressed its desire to retain his services, Guzan would be wise to consider alternatives, either in the Premier League or the League Championship. With the World Cup qualifying cycle getting underway in June, Guzan would be best served at a club where he is guaranteed the No. 1 job instead of signing on for another year of backup duty at Villa and jeopardizing his place on Klinsmann's depth chart.
The trio at Rangers -- Carlos Bocanegra, Maurice Edu and Bedoya -- face uncertain times as well, with the club's financial situation and sale fiasco putting the storied organization in a tailspin. Bedoya and Bocanegra each signed three-year deals with the club last summer, and Edu still has a year left on his current contract, but mass player sales across the board are not out of the question.
A few other questions to ponder:
Does Belgian club Gent purchase on-loan 21-year-old midfielder Mix Diskerud outright, or will he return to Stabaek? And will Stabaek buy on-loan Ricardo Clark outright from Eintracht Frankfurt? Stabaek might be in financial turmoil and in last place in Norway, but the club qualified for the UEFA Europa League opening qualifying round through the FIFA Fair Play table, so there's that to take into consideration.
Borussia Dortmund has already lost Paraguayan forward Lucas Barrios, and Japanese attacker Shinji Kagawa appears to be on the outs. Will those moves, plus outside interest in Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, open up first-team time for Terrence Boyd with the two-time defending Bundesliga champions? The 21-year-old German-American forward has more national team caps (1) than he does top-flight appearances (0) and is coming off a season in which he netted 19 times for Dortmund's reserve squad.
Charlie Davies has a year left on his deal with Sochaux, a club teetering on the edge of relegation with one match remaining in the season. Davies has received limited playing time with the first team since returning from his MLS loan, and relegation could actually play into his favor if the club is forced to sell off some of its attacking talent. Either way, for a player hell-bent on returning to the national team picture, he needs a place where he can play regularly. If Sochaux is not going to be that club, will it be more willing to part ways with Davies with his contract winding down? Will he at least be granted a loan elsewhere? Now more than two years on the comeback trail, Davies' 2012-2013 season is a crucial one for his future aspirations.
How does the firing of Alex McLeish at Aston Villa affect Eric Lichaj's standing with the club? The versatile fullback became a regular in the starting lineup under McLeish, and even though it was clear the club needed a new direction based on results, Lichaj benefited from his decision making. Despite emerging as an effective starter this year, Lichaj may have to prove himself for yet another manager during a season in which he has the chance to become a regular for the national team.
Which, if any, abroad-based Americans will return to MLS this summer? Goalkeepers Marcus Hahnemann and Luis Robles, who were largely inactive this entire season would appear to be two candidates, even though Seattle -- where Hahnemann had been rumored to go for months -- is set with Austrian Michael Gspurning -- and New York -- where Robles was on the verge of signing before learning he would have to go through the league's allocation order -- appears stable in the back with rookie Ryan Meara.
Given all of the above, this summer has the potential to be the most intriguing silly season for Americans in some time.