CONCACAF stars take cross-pond leap
Several stars from the North, Central America and Caribbean region have been taking a leap of faith as of late, travelling across the Atlantic to sign on with European clubs. It was only back in 1992/93 season in which the English Premier League first welcomed an American international into their ranks, with former USA midfielder John Harkes laying the early groundwork for a new wave of CONCACAF players willing to test their talents abroad.
While Harkes enjoyed a short, but fine stint in England as he became the first American to score in a League Cup final with Sheffield Wednesday – a 2-1 loss to Arsenal in 1993, it wasn’t until over ten years later that a Mexican player finally joined up with an English club. Perhaps initiating the latest wave in talent from the globe’s most-Western parts, Mexican forward Jared Borgetti signed on with Bolton Wanderers in 2005, coinciding with the now-retired Stars and Stripes striker Brian McBride and the then relatively-unknown USA international Tim Howard joining Manchester United just two years prior.
And, the influx of players from the region did not stop there. More and more Premier League clubs are warming up to the idea of dipping into the CONCACAF talent pool, with Fulham forward and American international Clint Dempsey certainly the guiding light this season. FIFA.com takes a further look at the form and contributions of such players who have recently taken the transatlantic trip to England.
American quartet lead the way
When speaking on the growing influence of new world players in England, versatile Fulham forward Dempsey certainly comes to mind first. The Cottagers tireless workhorse has enjoyed an incredible six-year spell in London, however, no year has been as brilliant as the current. The American international has since eclipsed McBride’s lauded stint with the club, and sits only behind Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, and Sergio Aguero on the goal-scoring charts this campaign. A personal-best 16 goals so far this season, and 22 in all competitions, has North America, as well as England buzzing over the USA stalwart. In fact, just this season, Dempsey became the first American to hit a hat-trick in the Premier League, bagging three in an impressive 5-2 win over top-four hopefuls Newcastle United. Scoring clutch goals and inspiring Fulham to victory are just a few reasons rival clubs have their eye on Dempsey, with his latest form helping spur the once bottom-dwellers to midtable status.
While Dempsey has been grabbing the headlines of late, USA goalkeeper Tim Howard, and attacking midfielder Landon Donovan are also among the American elite to meet the English standard. Howard made his way to Europe three years prior to Dempsey, signing on with Manchester United from the now-defunct MetroStars of Major League Soccer. After becoming the first American to clinch a winner’s medal in the FA Cup final in 2004, Howard endured a drop in form at Old Trafford before going out on loan to Everton. Since then, Howard has never looked back, with Everton coach David Moyes keeping the faith in his New Jersey-born shot-stopper as he has become a consistent and reliable leader among the Everton backline. Perhaps, one of the more memorable moments for the USA goalkeeper this season was a 102-yard clearance turned goal against Bolton Wanderers. Of course, though, the US keeper remains praised for his merits in between the sticks, and just recently, signed a deal which will keep him at Goodison Park until 2016.
Howard isn’t the only US goalkeeper setting up shop in England, though. Although retired from the international scene, at 40-years-old Brad Friedel has become a fixture in goal for Tottenham Hotspur, playing in every Premier League match for the club this season. In fact, Friedel made his Premier League debut all the way back in 1998 with Liverpool before a long-term period with Blackburn Rovers. A leading player in his position, Friedel holds the record for the most consecutive appearances in the English top-flight with over 300, a sequence that stretches all the way back to the 2004/05 season.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles Galaxy captain Donovan, made a temporary transition to England, agreeing a ten-week loan deal with the Toffees this season. It marked the Southern California-native’s second stint with the club, after a successful loan stretch in 2010. In January, the men on Merseyside welcomed Donovan with warm reception, and the American playmaker served up an impressive seven assists before returning to the states for the new-MLS season.
With American internationals making a huge impact among their respective Premier League sides, it is certainly Mexican forward Javier Hernandez turning attention to the talents from south of the border. Endearingly nicknamed Chicharito after his father, the 23-year-old made the swap from hometown club Guadalajara to Manchester United in July 2010 in relatively discreet fashion. Upon making his competitive debut in a 3-1 FA Community Shield victory over Chelsea in August that year, Hernandez duly scored his first goal for the Red Devils. After a breakout first season, primarily coming off the substitutes’ bench to score an incredible 20 goals in all competitions, expectations have been high for the poacher. While he lies second on goals scored to Wayne Rooney this season with ten, nearly matching his 13 goal-haul in the league last season, has come under increased pressure to produce more in a squad full of attacking options.
However, as things have gone incredibly well for Chicharito, time on the pitch has been a little harder to come by for Mexican compatriot Giovani Dos Santos. Since signing with Tottenham in 2008, Dos Santos has been dished out to a series of clubs on loan before vying for Harry Redknapp’s attention only to notch a meager four league appearances this season.
Hoilett puts Canada on the map
Meanwhile, Blackburn Rovers winger David ‘Junior’ Hoilett is on several English clubs radar after putting up impressive displays on countless occasions for the relegation-threatened side. Hoilett caught Blackburn’s eye at just 13-years-old, and after a fruitful phase at youth level, was integrated into the first-team ranks in 2009 after two seasons on loan in Germany. The Ontario-born striker was in fantastic form last season, notably scoring the winner in a FA Cup success over Queens Park Rangers, and has continued to be ever-present in the Blackburn line-up this campaign, hitting seven goals thus far.
Fellow Canadian international Simeon Jackson has been making his case at Carrow Road, first helping Norwich City to promotion before taking his first Premier League bow last August. Still battling to clinch a regular place, Jackson has appeared more often than not from the substitutes’ bench.
Elsewhere, Stoke City have banked on Honduran midfielder Wilson Palacios, whose knee injury has primarily held him back from competition this season, and Trinidad and Tobago forward Kenwyne Jones. Signing from Sunderland for a club-record fee of £8 million, the T&T striker made a big splash in Stoke-on-Trent last season, but has now fallen out of favour to Peter Crouch. Finally, Costa Rica’s Bryan Ruiz made the move from the Eredivisie’s Twente to become an integral part of Fulham’s attack this season, but was just recently sidelined with a fractured foot.