AMSTERDAM — Having seen so many of the other staffers at MLSsoccer.com offer up various teams in honor of this or that, I felt it was time to get into the game. And what else would I start with, but a lineup of American players who had the best-ever seasons in Europe?
I kept this selection exclusively to top flight leagues, which obviously rules out some big recent second division campaigns from Americans such as Conor Casey, Bobby Convey, Clarence Goodson and Marcus Hahnemann.
Explanations out of the way, let’s get to our illustrious team sheet:
GK - Brad Friedel - Blackburn (2002-03)
One could also easily go for the prior season, when Friedel earned Man of the Match honors in the Worthington (now Carling) Cup final win, but I say this was his best of many fine seasons. Working behind a Rovers defense that scared no one, Friedel led the Premier League in saves and shutouts. Blackburn finished with the fourth-best defensive record and sixth in the table to earn a UEFA Cup berth, and their 'keeper was named to the PFA Team of the Year.
RB - Steve Cherundolo - Hannover 96 (2004-05)
The wingbacks on this list don't have a great deal of competition, to be frank, but this campaign could stand some. Cherundolo was arguably the second best field player on a side that allowed just 36 goals (third best in the Bundesliga that season) and featured the likes of Per Mertesacker, Julian de Guzman and Michael Tarnat. Rated by Germany's Kicker magazine as the third-best right back in the league that year, the US ace also added two goals and three assists.
CB - Oguchi Onyewu - Standard Liège (2007-08)
Picking up his second Jupiler League Best XI nod was fully earned, but it paled in comparison to Onyewu rear-guarding les Rouches to their first league title in a quarter-century. Some players might have sulked after an unsuccessful loan spell in the big time, but Gooch returned from his Newcastle loan disappointment to enjoy a monster season. Just ask any of the attackers that tried to get by him back then; Standard allowed 19 goals in 34 games, 11 fewer than anyone else.
CB - Thomas Dooley - Kaiserslautern (1990-91)
Having already helped the Red Devils break a 28-year hardware drought with a German Cup crown the season before, Dooley marshaled the back line for the club's first Bundesliga title. Not only did the team rise up from 12th place the prior term, they went from a minus-13 goal differential in '89-90 to a plus-27.
LB - Heath Pearce - FC Nordsjælland (2005-06)
Yes, it's Denmark and yes, this has become a perennially thin position for exported Americans, but make no mistake: Pearce was sublime this season. Playing for a generally overmatched Wild Tigers side, the American notched a goal and seven assists, shut down all comers and nabbed Defender of the Year in Denmark over Brøndby's dominating Daniel Agger, who moved to Liverpool at season's end.
RM - Earnie Stewart - Willem II (1990-91)
After leading the Tricolors to Eredivisie promotion, Stewart actually raised his game a notch or two to bag 17 goals, finishing third in the chart behind some guys named Dennis Bergkamp and Romário. That year, Willem II finished a respectable 11th, had the fourth most productive attack in the league and made it to the Dutch Cup quarters, where they were bounced in extra time by PSV. Much of the credit for a good season goes to Stewart's buzzing play.
CM - Michael Bradley - Heerenveen (2007-08)
In his first season-and-a-half in Friesland, teen Bradley was mostly a student, and did not score in 22 matches. Then, he turned 20 and tore up the Eredivisie for 16 goals in 30 games. Working from a more advanced position, the US midfielder added two more in the Dutch Cup and two in the UEFA Cup to hit the magic 20-mark for a second time that year.
CM - John Harkes - Sheffield Wednesday (1991-92)
Long before everyone and his mother was turning up in European lineups, Harkes was a real American hero overseas. Many remember the previous campaign, which saw him win Goal of the Year and help the Owls upset League Cup final foe Manchester United. He was actually better in '91-92, helping promoted Wednesday finish an astounding third to earn a UEFA Cup place.
LM - DaMarcus Beasley - PSV Eindhoven (2004-05)
In Run DMB's first Eredivisie campaign, he was fifth in games played and third in goals scored across all competitions on a fantastic Farmers side. Beasley led the team in Champions League scoring, though, and PSV came within a whisker of the final. He also rescued his side with a sublime last-gasp equalizer in the Dutch Cup semis as they went on to win the double.
AM - Clint Dempsey - Fulham (2009-10)
By now a consistent force in the Cottagers offense, MC Deuce racked up seven goals and three assists in league play to record another typically fine season. What sets this campaign apart are his Europa League exploits. Dempsey helped his team to the final, scoring an unforgettable rally-capping winner against Juventus along the way and became the first American to feature in a UEFA championship match.
F - Roy Wegerle - QPR (1990-91)
In his first full season at Loftus Road, the South African-born American stamped his legacy on the team's No. 10 shirt. Wegerle finished third in the goal chart, won Goal of the Season against Leeds at Elland Road, and lifted the relegation-fighters up to an 11th-place finish. Toss in a derby winner against Chelsea and a few monster cup performances, and you have a season QPR fans still talk about.