Americans in the UK: Season Review Round 1

The Americans playing in the United Kingdom achieved some highly touted results this campaign, including league titles, cup finals, and European qualification.
By Matthew Braine

After Tim Howard and his Everton boys fell to Chelsea 2-1 in the FA Cup Final on Saturday, the season officially wrapped up. It was a rather successful season for most of the Americans in the UK, with crowning moments and milestones being reached during the closing weekends.

Some of this year’s highlights include Maurice Edu winning the Scottish Premier League title as a member of Rangers and Tim Howard leading the Toffees to the aforementioned FA Cup Final. Clint Dempsey and Brad Friedel led Fulham and Aston Villa to European qualification and Eddie Johnson captured the hearts of Cardiff fans with his inspirational play and love of the game.

Other Americans ended their seasons on sour notes, like Marcus Hahnemann, who battled his way back from a mid-season injury and helped to lead Reading to the Championship playoffs, only to be released at the end of the campaign due to lack of financial resources. Jemal Johnson of MK Dons and Mike Grella of Leeds both aided their teams in League One playoff pushes but both squads came up short in the end.

However, it will certainly be said that this year’s performances ranks up there with any season as the highs exceeded the lows by a sizable margin. Simply put, the Americans took a huge step forward this year and definitely put their imprint on the sport.

Premiership:

Tim Howard, Everton
48 Games, 20 Clean Sheets, FA Cup Final Appearance, 5th Place Finish.

Howard had possibly the most complete and successful season of any American this season. Apart from leading Everton to a fifth place finish in the Premiership, Howard also notched three clean sheets en route to an FA Cup Final appearance. Along the way to Wembley, the stalwart blanked Macclesfield Town, Liverpool, and Manchester United in that memorable semifinal round in which Howard stopped not one but two penalty tries, those two coming from United’s Rio Ferdinand and Dimitar Berbatov. The New Jersey-native played admirably in the final on Saturday, but a Didier Drogba equalizer would have been tough for any 'keeper and Frank Lampard’s blistering strike was unstoppable.

While Howard’s team accomplishments this season were impressive, his individual achievements were especially noteworthy. On May 9th, Tim Howard recorded his 16th Premiership clean sheet of the season, passing Goodison Park legend Neville Southall for the club record. Southall accomplished the feat during the 1995/96 campaign and although he holds a laundry list of records and titles at Everton, Howard managed to snag one away from him with his shutout performances this season. The 'keeper went one better two weeks later when he held Fulham in check 0-2 at Craven Cottage to close out the season and help his club pip Aston Villa for fifth place. All and all it was a very impressive campaign for the goalkeeper and with the European competition back on for next season, Howard will get the opportunity to set a few more records and maybe even grab a winner's medal. 

Brad Friedel, Aston Villa.
46 Games, 14 Clean Sheets, 6th Place Finish.

In his first season at Aston Villa, Friedel definitely had a solid campaign.  The club achieved European qualification once again and flirted with a top four position for the first half of the season. Although the club sputtered mightily the second half of the campaign, they still managed a sixth place result and progressed to the third round of the UEFA Cup. Questionable decisions by manager Martin O’Neil mired the club’s UEFA results as their third round affair with CSKA Moscow featured a mostly second team starting XI.  

Friedel’s individual highs on the season include a sparkling performance against West Ham United on December 20 in which he made eight saves as his club grabbed a late winner through an own goal. There was a stretch from late 2008 to early 2009 when the Villains went unbeaten for 13 consecutive Premiership fixtures, and during that time Friedel kept eight clean sheets. Overall, Friedel’s season was a very good one. He was certainly behind Howard as far as consistency and success goes, but was an elite 'keeper in the Premiership, a role that he has played for nearly a decade. His tenure alone is impressive in its own right but his ability to remain a formidable force between the posts is even more extraordinary.

Brad Guzan, Aston Villa
8 Games (7 starts) 1 Clean Sheet.

Guzan moved to England over the summer and immediately became Villa’s number two 'keeper behind Friedel. Knowing that his playing time would be limited, Guzan did his best to perform when called upon. He got his first chance on September 24 when Villa took on Queens Park Rangers in a Carling Cup fixture. Although the Villains lost 0-1, Guzan was steady, making four saves. He made his European debut less than two months later when Aston Villa visited Salvia Prague. Guzan was brilliant, stopping nine shots as his squad managed to squeeze out a 0-1 UEFA Cup victory. After the Birmingham club was eliminated from all Cup competitions in February, Guzan didn’t have many opportunities to shine, but did well enough to maintain his backup role for next season. Who knows, maybe he’ll get a few Premiership starts during the 2009/10 campaign.

Eric Lichaj, Aston Villa
16 Reserve Games, 1 Goal.

The 21-year-old defender spent the entire season with the reserves and was impressive on that level as he appeared in all but one fixture and helped lead the Villains to the Barclay's Premier Reserve League South Title. Lichaj’s best performance, and the team’s for that matter, was on March 10th when they destroyed the Portsmouth Reserves 6-1. Lichaj scored his only goal of the campaign during the rout and on the season helped contribute to seven clean sheets. There is a chance Lichaj sees some first team action next season or he could wind up being loaned out to another club in hopes of gaining some experience against stiffer competition. 

Clint Dempsey, Fulham
41 Games, 8 Goals, 3 Assists.

Dempsey’s campaign started off rocky, as the winger could not get any consistent playing time for the first two months of the season. However, on October 26, the Texan changed all that by scoring an 87th minute equalizer at Portsmouth to give the Cottagers a 1-1 draw. After that, Dempsey was a regular and an elite one at that. The midfielder’s penchant for theatrics continued on December 28 when he notched a double against Chelsea at Craven Cottage to once again snag a draw for Fulham. Throughout the season, Dempsey made statement after statement, scoring clutch goals and contributing vital passes. Dempsey scored the equalizer and helped set up the winner against Swansea City during a Fifth Round FA Cup tie. He also scored a double against Manchester City on April 12 as the Cottagers ran off 1-3 winners.

Despite Fulham being destroyed by Manchester United in the FA Cup quarterfinals, the Cottagers progression to that stage was admirable. In addition, the squad clinched a seventh place finish and, with that, a Europa League place for next season. Dempsey played a crucial role as evidence by his team leading seven Premiership goals. With his best season in England under his belt, Dempsey will look to take on some fresh European competition next season. Although there have been rumors of a club like Everton looking to pounce on the winger, remaining and succeeding with Fulham looks to be the likely future for Dempsey.

Jonathan Spector, West Ham
9 Games, 1 Assist.

Spector endured his most frustrating campaign in England thus far. After appearing in 28 games last season for the Hammers, injuries limited him to just nine appearances this year. Spector’s only real notable contribution this season came on February 21st when he fed Scott Parker for a 66th minute goal against Bolton. The Hammers went on to lose 2-1, but Spector gained a bit of confidence from the game and appeared in five of the Hammers next six Premiership fixtures. However, his inconsistency in the back four and injuries relegated him to the bench on most weekends but in just his second start of the season on the last day of the campaign, Spector helped lead the Hammers to a 2-1 win over Middlesbrough. There is only room for improvement next year for both club and player. After finishing ninth and just two points out of Europe, West Ham will hope to book their ticket for a European adventure next season, while Spector will look to get past his nagging injuries and do his part for the club.  

Next Week: Maurice Edu, DaMarcus Beasley, Marcus Hahnemann, Eddie Johnson, Jay DeMerit, Frank Simek, Zak Whitbread, Jemal Johnson, and Mike Grella. 

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Matthew Braine's feature "Americans in the UK" appears every Monday on Goal.com. He can be reached at matthew.braine@hotmail.com