American players, once dismissed as merely athletic and eager role players on the old continent, have been heading across the Atlantic in their numbers of late. It seems Europe - and her biggest leagues - are increasingly recognising the value of the USA’s ever-improving talent pool. Join FIFA.com for a closer look at an intensifying migration of Americans abroad.
Landon Donovan – arguably the best American player of his generation – is currently in his second big-league European loan stint in as many years, lining up alongside international team-mate and goalkeeper Tim Howard for Everton in the vaunted English Premier League. The playmaker, LA Galaxy star and all-time top scorer for the US national team has wasted no time finding his legs at Goodison, either, slotting right into the starting eleven and grabbing his first goal against Sunderland after strong performances in a draw with Arsenal and a 2-0 win over Manchester City, in which he received a standing ovation.
“His [Donovan’s] work ethic fits in perfectly with the team's and that of David Moyes, and his never-say-die attitude has added some much needed grit to the side,” Simon Paul, editor of NSNO.co.uk – an independent Everton fans website - told FIFA.com. “He has natural ability on the ball and many Evertonians are hoping that his move could become permanent.”
Donovan’s move is proving a happier one than his short loan journey to German giants Bayern Munich in 2009, where he failed to get much first team action or impress the demanding Bavarian faithful. “It’s not always the best idea for American players to go abroad; it’s really up to the individual player to make sure the move is right for him. If you go abroad, you need to play. You don’t help yourself or the national team by going to Europe and sitting on the bench,” he said at the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa in June, where the US turned more than a few heads by beating reigning African champions Egypt and world number-one Spain before stretching Brazil in the final.
Another alumnus of the famous Confederations Cup team currently trying his luck overseas is Ricardo Clark, whose last-gasp tackles and tireless work rate in the shock semi-final win over the Spaniards in Rustenburg caught the eye. The holding midfielder, 26, formerly of two-time MLS champions Houston Dynamo, was snapped up by Bundesliga outfit Eintracht Frankfurt at the tail end of the January transfer window, joining up with international team-mate Steve Cherundolo – who plays at Hannover 96 – in Germany’s top league. “You’re always hoping to raise your game, every time you play,” Clark told FIFA.com in June at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium, still glowing from the foraging performance against the European champions. “You do your best and hope that a big move to a big club in Europe will come your way. That’s all you can do.” Unfortunately for the Atlanta native, his first chance to strut his stuff had to be postponed as he picked up a calf injury and is expected to be out of action for four weeks.
One of injury-hit USA coach Bob Bradley’s young guns who is looking to sidle into the first team is Stuart Holden. A versatile midfielder who can play out wide or in the middle of the park, the Scottish-born Holden, 24, headed for English Premier League strugglers Bolton last week. “He did well in America, had a break, then came here and did some training,” manager Owen Coyle said of the Houston Dynamo man, who will stay with Bolton through to the end of the 2010 Premier League season. “There is no doubt when he is fully fit he is a talented kid. He will get his opportunity like the rest of players."
A steady movement
This latest trio of American players setting sail out for foreign shores is by no means the start of a new trend, but one established and steadily picking up steam over the last two decades as US Soccer grows in stature. After John Harkes broke into the English top flight with Sheffield Wednesday in 1990, more and more American players have been taking their chances abroad. Oguchi Onyewu and Charlie Davies – two of Bradley’s big injury worries for South Africa – recently signed deals with Italian giants AC Milan and French side Sochaux respectively following glowing performances in South Africa last year.
National team stars Clint Dempsey (Fulham), goalkeepers Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Marcus Hahnemann (Wolves), Jay Demerit (Watford), Jonathan Spector (West Ham) and Jozy Altidore (Hull City) are all excelling alongside Donovan in England. Stars and Stripes captain Carlos Bocanegra is in France with Rennes after a time at Craven Cottage with Fulham, while winger DaMarcus Beasley and up-and-coming centre-half Maurice Edu feature for Glasgow giants Rangers. Eddie Johnson and Freddy Adu – who have had tricky times of late in England and Portugal respectively – have both headed out on loan to Greek club Aris Thessaloniki in the hope of putting their names to the fore before the USA boss finalises his squad for the trip to the biggest show on earth this June.