Altidore leads Americans Abroad season superlatives
As seasons come to a close overseas, focus turns from club to country, with a number of abroad-based Americans set for international duty either in friendlies, World Cup qualifiers or the Gold Cup.
Before looking ahead, though, let's take a look back at a season that included some prolific and record-breaking goal-scoring by Jozy Altidore; Jermaine Jones, Sacha Kljestan, Josh Gatt and Conor O'Brien cementing places in the UEFA Champions League; Clint Dempsey, Brad Friedel and Tottenham coming up a point short of that stage but still clinching a place in the Europa League and a host of other achievements, disappointments and developments that shaped the landscape for Americans playing their club soccer abroad.
Here are some superlatives for the 2012-13 campaign:
Player of the Season: Jozy Altidore, AZ Alkmaar
Altidore shattered Clint Dempsey's single-season record for goals by an American abroad (23, set last season) with 31 in all competitions for his Dutch club. He scored in all six games of the Dutch Cup competition, including two against Ajax in the semifinals and the cup-clinching goal against PSV to capture his first piece of club silverware. He became a symbol of strength by standing up to racist chants at FC Den Bosch, refusing to halt the match and burying a penalty kick (on which he went 4-for-4 this season) in the faces of the opposing team's classless fans. Altidore's club productivity has yet to translate to the national team, but the diverse manner in which he scored his goals was perhaps the most encouraging aspect of his consistent season, with breakaways, headers, shots from distance, shots with both feet. penalties and strong runs off the ball all becoming fine-tuned parts of his arsenal.
In contention: Brad Guzan, Aston Villa; Clint Dempsey, Tottenham; Michael Bradley, Roma; Tim Howard, Everton; Sacha Kljestan, Anderlecht
Breakout Player: Terrence Boyd, Rapid Vienna
It is easy to forget that this was Boyd's first season getting first-team minutes considering he's been with the U.S. national team's first-team setup for more than a year, but Boyd thrived at times with his Austrian club, netting 16 goals in all competitions and proving that his Dortmund reserve-team success translated to a bigger stage.
In contention: Brad Guzan, Aston Villa; Geoff Cameron, Stoke City; John Anthony Brooks, Hertha Berlin
Biggest Comeback: Stuart Holden, Bolton
Holden's comeback from a nearly 16-month injury layoff has the potential (temper the immediate expectations, U.S. fans) to be one of the more meaningful developments of the last year for the national team. Although he only played in eight games (four of which came while on loan at Sheffield Wednesday), Holden is in line to play a part in this summer's Gold Cup. Here's to a continued injury-free career for the talented midfielder, and for U.S. youngsters Will Packwood and Marc Pelosi to enjoy the same kind of comebacks from their respective broken legs.
In contention: Bobby Wood, TSV 1860 Munich
Transfer That Didn't Quite Pan Out: Carlos Bocanegra to Racing Santander
Bocanegra needed to get out of Rangers to avoid being mired in fourth-tier Scottish soccer, so the the fact that the U.S. national team captain was able to move to Spain's second division (to a team that had been top-tier the season before) was not a poor choice at the time. But look at what happened since: He was benched by Jurgen Klinsmann before the Honduras World Cup qualifier, he fell out of favor at Racing Santander during the winter ahead of World Cup qualifiers in March, and he has essentially fallen into the fifth position in Klinsmann's center-back pecking order. To Bocanegra's credit, he has handled everything with the class of a captain, and a move elsewhere this summer -- MLS or Europe -- could put him back in play ahead of the fall qualifiers.
In contention: Maurice Edu to Stoke City, Brek Shea to Stoke City; Oguchi Onyewu to Malaga
Young Player to Watch: John Anthony Brooks, Hertha Berlin
The 6-foot-4 center back was a stalwart for the 2. Bundesliga champion and will be a centerpiece of the club as it enters Germany's top flight next season. While he won't be playing with the U.S. Under-20 national team at the World Cup this summer, per comments made by U.S. coach Tab Ramos -- and he maintains German eligibility -- there might not be a more important dual-national name on the U.S. radar at the present time.
In contention: Andrew Wooten, Kaiserslautern; Josh Gatt, Molde; Alfredo Morales, Ingolstadt, Mix Diskerud, Rosenborg; Daniel Cuevas and Benji Joya, Santos Laguna
Lifetime Achievement Award: Steve Cherundolo, Hannover 96
No, Cherundolo isn't retiring. But The Mayor of Hannover certainly deserves a nod for signing on for his 16th season with the German top-flight club, for whom he already holds the team record for most Bundesliga appearances. Cherundolo suffered through an injury spell during the winter, but he will remain the club's captain for another season after signing his one-year extension and remains the example of professionalism and longevity for an American player overseas.
In contention: Brad Friedel, Tottenham (whose consecutive starts streak ended at 310)
Where will Jozy Altidore wind up?
AZ maintains that it wants to keep its leading scorer, but naturally former U.S. international and AZ director Earnie Stewart is going to say that in order to drive Altidore's value up. The bottom line is that AZ can make some serious coin on its leading scorer, and Altidore should have no shortage of suitors after the strong season he turned in from start to finish. In the final year leading up to the World Cup, though, the move has to be one in which Altidore can land in a great playing situation, not just for a team that either has the most recognizable name or is the highest bidder.
Who is coming to MLS?
The MLS allocation order typically gets put to good use over the course of a summer, and while there are not a host of major names who figure to return from abroad, MLS teams will have their eyes on the ones who may. The big name is Bocanegra, should he elect to return to the league where his career began. He would provide instant leadership, experience and defensive stability for teams in need (and there are a number of them). The fact that MLSers like Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler have seemingly passed him on the U.S. depth chart should dissuade him from thinking that a move to MLS signals the end of his time with the USA.
Frank Simek, a former Arsenal youth product and longtime defender for Sheffield Wednesday and Carlisle United with five caps to his name (all in 2007), is a free agent and in need of a club. The right back recently trialed with D.C. United, and even though it's been ages since he donned a U.S. jersey, he would be subject to the allocation order per league guidelines.
One who would not go through the allocation order but has been linked with a return to MLS is Herculez Gomez, whose rights remain held by Sporting Kansas City. Gomez has fared well at Santos Laguna after resurrecting his career over the last three years and has expressed an interest in once again playing in MLS.
How far can Tijuana go?
Club Tijuana was promoted to Mexico's top flight for the first time two years ago. Now, Los Xolos have a Mexican Apertura league title in their trophy case and are still alive in the Copa Libertadores, with a two-legged quarterfinal against Ronaldinho's Atletico Mineiro set to kick off this week. The club continues to defy the odds, first winning a league crown, then navigating through a group that contained defending Libertadores and FIFA Club World Cup champion Corinthians and then getting by Brazilian side Palmeiras in the round of 16. For Americans Edgar Castillo, Joe Corona and Greg Garza, the stage does not get much bigger.
Who else will be on the move?
Last summer's transfer deadline madness involved so many high-level Americans (Dempsey, Bradley, Bocanegra, Edu), that this summer is likely to take it down a notch, even with Altidore's potential big-money move. But there should still be plenty of player movement overseas. Alfredo Morales has already moved on from Hertha Berlin to FC Ingolstadt, forgoing a chance to be on a Bundesliga team where he might not have played in favor of staying in the second tier where playing time should be more fruitful. Elsewhere in Germany, Joe Gyau's loan to St. Pauli will expire, and Hoffenheim will have to decide what it wants to do with the young U.S. winger (much likely depends on its fate in the relegation playoffs). Should the club fall down a tier, then Fabian Johnson and Danny Williams would also be inserted into the transfer mix.
At Stoke City, manager Tony Pulis' sudden exit spells a period of uncertainty for the American trio under contract at Britannia Stadium: Geoff Cameron, Brek Shea and Edu. All remain under contract, but their fates sit in the hands of the incoming manager. Oguchi Onyewu's loan to Malaga, where he hardly played for the last half of the season, will expire, and he'll return to Sporting Lisbon, where he had fallen out of favor. As always, stay tuned when the European transfer window opens, because even though the games may have ended, the action should last through the dog days of summer.