After a busy summer which featured World Cup qualifying, Euro 2012, several transfers, and a few loose ends, it’s time for the start of the season. The Barclays Premier League kicks off next weekend and with several Americans in the saddle for various clubs, we look at the top players heading into the 2012-13 campaign.
Clint Dempsey, Fulham. 2011-12 Statistics: 44 appearances, 23 goals, 6 assists
The 29-year-old is coming off a career year for Fulham in which he was the club’s leading goal-scorer. He helped the Cottagers attain a top-10 finish in the Barclays Premier League and became the all-time leading American scorer in Premier League history. He was also voted the Fulham Player of the Season for the second year in a row.
Despite his accolades at Craven Cottage, Dempsey has refused to sign a new deal with the London outfit. He has been linked to Liverpool throughout the summer but has not yet moved. The Merseyside club has reportedly offered Charlie Adam as part of any deal that would net Dempsey but so far, the Texan remains on the fence. The midfielder recently missed Fulham’s training camp in Switzerland, leading to additional speculation that Dempsey is closer to leaving London.
If Dempsey lands in Liverpool, he will form a dynamic midfield pairing with Steven Gerrard and have the opportunity to play in the UEFA Europa League once again, with the potential to finish in the top four. While a Fulham stay remains unlikely, he would certainly build his already legendary legacy there.
Geoff Cameron, Stoke City. 2011-12 Statistics: (with Houston Dynamo) 15 appearances.
The Stoke defender was granted his work permit last week, allowing him the right to play for the Potters this season. The 27-year-old defender spent the last five seasons with the Houston Dynamo, scoring 11 league goals over that period, while also helping the Dynamo reach the 2011 MLS Cup Finals.
In his first appearance for the club, Cameron nearly scored off a free-kick opportunity as Stoke drew 1-1 with German side Greuther Fürth in a preseason friendly. A versatile defender, Cameron can play center back along with an attacking and defensive midfield role. Although Stoke finished 14th last season, the club hasn’t finished inside the top-10 since rejoining the Premier League in 2008.
The Potters bolstered the back four by signing Dynamo Kiev left back Goran Popov on a season-long loan while also signing winder Michael Kightly from Wolves. Cameron should compete for a starting job and get solid minutes this season.
Tim Howard, Everton. 2011-12 Statistics: 44 appearances, 15 clean sheets.
The veteran goalkeeper is heading into his seventh season with Everton and is certainly one of the top goal-stoppers in the top flight. The Toffees finished seventh in league play in 2012 while making it to the FA Cup semifinal.
A noteworthy defensive stalwart, Howard actually did some offensive damage last year, becoming just the fourth keeper to score a goal in Premier League history.
Transfer wise, Everton re-acquired midfielder Steven Pienaar from Spurs and nabbed forward Steven Naismith from Rangers. However, the squad lost a key emotional piece in Tim Cahill and young upstart Jack Rodwell. While the Merseyside club usually lands in the upper half of the table, it rarely attains Champions League position. This year’s club looks to be a bit weaker on paper, which could lead to Everton’s first season outside the Premier League top -0 since the 2005-06 campaign.
Brad Friedel, Tottenham. 2011-12 Statistics: 38 appearances, 14 clean sheets.
At 41-years-old, Friedel has publicly stated that the upcoming season could be his last. In 2011-12, the keeper played exclusively in the Premier League, failing to make a single cup appearance. While his age may be rising, the quality has remained the same. His 14 clean sheets last season put him up with some of the best and although Spurs stumbled down the stretch, the London outfit is still in line for a Europa League appearance this season.
On the transfer front, Spurs brought in quality Icelandic midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson and Ajax defender Jan Vertonghen. Once again it appears as though Friedel will likely play most of his games in league play and if that’s the case, Tottenham should very well contend for a top-four finish once again.
Brad Guzan, Aston Villa. 2011-12 Statistics: 8 appearances, 2 clean sheets.
Guzan signed a three-year deal this summer with Aston Villa. The keeper was released at the end of the 2011-12 campaign but was courted once again as the summer dragged on. New boss Paul Lambert is an admirer of Guzan and reportedly was a big proponent in bringing the 27-year-old back. Lambert hopes to inspire a club that barely stayed in the Premier League last season as Villa finished 16th, just two points out of the drop zone.
Now that he has someone in his corner, Guzan could challenge Shay Given as the club’s top-choice keeper. In the past, he’s experienced a lack of playing time but this season could be a turning point in Guzan’s career. While the Villains haven’t made a ton of noise on the transfer market, the club recently signed Dutch defender Ron Vlaar to a three-year deal.
Eric Lichaj, Aston Villa. 2011-12 Statistics: 10 appearances, 1 goal, 1 assist.
Entering his fifth season in England, Lichaj’s future has never been brighter. After arriving at Villa during the 2008-09 season, the defender experienced loan spells with Leyton Orient, Lincoln City, and Leeds United. However, he started the final nine games of last season and even scored against Chelsea. All things considered, Lichaj appears ready to compete for a starting role at Villa Park.
Maurice Edu, Rangers. 2011-12 Statistics: 37 appearances, 3 goals, 4 assists.
Edu has spent the summer in limbo, and reportedly told Rangers manager Ally McCoist that he intends to leave Rangers. He was linked to clubs in Turkey but could be heading to England as Ipswich Town is rumored to have made a substantial offer to Rangers for the midfielder. The Championship club would be a solid stop for Edu, who would likely thrive as one of the top players in the league.
Former Rangers teammate Alejandro Bedoya has already departed the sinking club for Swedish club Helsingborg IF while Carlos Bocanegra has been linked to German clubs.
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