Yanks Abroad Kick Ass, Take Names

It was a banner weekend for Americans abroad, with—who else?—Clint Dempsey leading the way. The U.S. attacker scored for Fulham just two minutes into their game against Norwich, then turned provider 10 minutes later, sending Damien Duff in with a perfectly weighted through ball.

Dempsey also hit the post just before halftime, and Fulham held on after the break for a 2-1 win against the Canaries. Click here for the highlights.

Dempsey now has 13 goals in the Premier League—tied for sixth among the top goal-scorers—and 19 in all competitions, a total topped only by Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie.

Handed his first Premier League start in more than a year, 23-year-old American Eric Lichaj matched Dempsey’s production from his wingback spot for Aston Villa. The Illinois native notched an assist with a long throw-in in the 77th minute, then scored himself three minutes later to lead a comeback for the Villans against Champions League contenders Chelsea. Lichaj’s outburst helped tie the game at 2, but Chelsea answered with two goals in the final 10 minutes to win 4-2.

At the Molineux, former Red Bulls centerback Tim Ream started and went the full 90 as Bolton defeated Wolves 3-2 in a pivotal match between the relegation-threatened sides. Bolton edged one point clear of the drop zone with the win, while Wolves fell six points south of safety with seven games to play.

U.S. keepers Brad Friedel and Tim Howard both backstopped their teams to victories, as Tottenham beat Swansea 3-1 and Everton blanked WBA 2-0.

In the Netherlands, U.S. striker Jozy Altidore buried his 15th goal of the year in all competitions, heading in the opener in AZ Alkmaar’s 2-2 tie with Vitesse Arnhem. The draw left Altidore and Alkmaar in second place in the Dutch Eredivisie, one point behind Ajax. They’re also in the Europa League quarterfinals, where they lead Valencia 2-1 after the first leg.

See Altidore’s goal here:

In Mexico, American winger DaMarcus Beasley set up the only goal of the game in Puebla’s 1-0 win over Queretaro.

In Serie A, U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley started and played 90 minutes in Chievo’s 2-1 win over Fiorentina on Sunday.

Yanks In England—Weekend Wrap

American midfielder Stuart Holden was a quality player in Major League Soccer. He joined the Houston Dynamo in 2006, gradually worked his way into a starting role and, by 2009 (his final year in the league), was an MLS Best XI selection.

But you couldn’t say that he ever dominated in the U.S. domestic league, and he was not a starter in either of the Dynamo’s MLS Cup victories, in 2006 and ’07.

So when did he make the leap to his current level? When did he find the form that would make him one of the most important players on a very competitive English Premier League team—a status confirmed by his spectacular game-winning goal for Bolton on Sunday?

If we had to pinpoint it, we’d say right here:

A last-gasp equalizer for the U.S., that was Holden’s second goal in the 2009 Gold Cup, and his performance in that tournament helped him make Bob Bradley’s 2010 World Cup team.

His career at Bolton was dogged by injuries out of the gate last winter, but this season he’s been mostly healthy and usually terrific, nailing down a starting spot in central midfield and scoring two goals in 15 appearances—including Sunday’s chest-trap-and-volley while running at top speed with two defenders on him.

That 88th-minute strike won the game 2-1 for 10-man Bolton, just moments after they’d given up an equalizer to Blackburn.

Elsewhere, Clint Dempsey started, played 90 minutes, and was frequently dangerous (but ultimately goalless) in Fulham’s 0-0 draw with Sunderland. It was Fulham’s 10th tie in 17 games, and they are only clear of the relegation zone via goal difference, tied on points with Wigan at 16.

Eddie Johnson played the last 18 minutes for the Cottagers, and there are reports that Fulham is bidding to bring a third Yank on board, one Landon Donovan.

We shall see.

Donovan’s former loan team, Everton, also played to a scoreless draw, against Wigan, with U.S. keeper Tim Howard making two saves to pick up the shutout.

At Villa Park, American keeper Brad Friedel started and went the distance in the home team’s big 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion.

Friedel’s American understudy, Brad Guzan, did not leave the bench, but U.S. defender Eric Lichaj got the start for Villa—his first in the Premier League—and played 90 minutes.

Marcus Hahnemann continued in his new role as the No. 2 keeper at Wolverhampton, sitting out his team’s crucial 1-0 win over Birmingham on Sunday.

Jonathan Spector got his third consecutive start in midfield for West Ham, going the distance in a 3-1 loss to Manchester City that left the Hammers alone in last place, three points behind Wolves.

The Sky Blues finished the weekend tied for second place with Arsenal, which lost 1-0 yesterday to top-of-the table Manchester United.

Chelsea sits fourth after a 1-1 draw with fifth-place Tottenham on Sunday, a game in which Didier Drogba both scored on a hammering shot that simply overpowered Spurs keeper Heurelho Gomes (it was right at him)—and had a potentially game-winning penalty saved by that same Gomes.

In sixth place, just one point behind Spurs, are Holden and Bolton.

At St. James’s Park, Newcastle stunned Liverpool 3-1, while at the Britannia Stadium, visiting Blackpool pipped Stoke City 1-0.

Blackpool manager Ian Holloway gets a belated entry into the quote-of-the-year race with this gem after the Tangerines’ game with Man Utd was snowed out on Dec 4:

“One mate was coming over from America and it was going to be his first game of football, or soccer as they call it. Unfortunately we had to take him to Wigan instead.”

Roberto Martinez cannot have been pleased.

U.S. 0, Colomb—zzzzzz—Huh? What? … Oh, Right: Colombia 0

Villa youngster Lichaj was the lone bright spot.

Last night’s dull 0-0 draw between the U.S. and Colombia at PPL Park yielded exactly one positive talking point for the Yanks: the assured debut of 21-year-old right back Eric Lichaj (that’s LEE-high).

ESPN’s Julie Foudy reported that she had spoken with Lichaj before the game and asked if he had any butterflies. He told her no, he wasn’t nervous, because he believed his time fighting up through the ranks at Aston Villa had prepared for occasions like last night.

Then he went out and proved it by playing with poise and energy. He swung in a great ball for Jozy Altidore to snap down on net (right at the keeper, unfortunately for the U.S.); he was solid defensively; and he did well in possession. It was a quality debut and Lichaj looks to have a bright future.

As for the rest of the game, well, here’s a telling fact: the U.S. didn’t get a shot on goal until the 53rd minute.

The Sons of Ben and the rest of the good folks who showed up deserved better.

Here are three quick hits on the forgettable game:

Brek Shea Was the Anti-Lichaj

It’s remarkable how much you can tell from a player’s body language and on-field demeanor. From the minute Lichaj stepped on the field it was clear that he was serious about playing well. He looked relaxed and determined—and he played the same way.

Shea was the exact opposite. He looked nervous and tentative, and every time he got the ball he seemed to want to play the safe option—back or square. He pinched in too tight, and he never once took on a Colombian one v one. The entire purpose of his presence on the field was to get wide and run at defenders.

No, not a great debut for the rangy Texan, but he’s a talented player, and he’s only 20—chalk it up to opening-night jitters.

How was that U.S. formation a 4-3-3?

ESPN introduced the starting U.S. lineup as a 4-3-3—calling Altidore, Shea and Holden strikers—and kept referring to it as such for the entire first half. Some of today’s reports on the game did the same.

What we saw was a 4-5-1 or maybe a 4-3-2-1; but however you slice it up, Shea and Holden were not playing as forwards last night. They were midfielders, wingers—the same position Shea plays for FC Dallas and the one Holden has played for the U.S. in the past (he plays in central MF for Bolton).

What was with the insistence that Bradley had lined up a 4-3-3? If we missed something, let us know in the comments.

Three Defensive Midfielders: Brought to You by Bad Idea Jeans.

It was mighty crowded in the U.S.’s three five-man midfield last night, and not only because Shea and Holden were pinching in too much.

The primary cause of the congestion was Bradley’s decision to start three holding midfielders—Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu. These guys are very similar players who look for the ball in the same spots and—no surprise—they got in each other’s way last night.

The U.S. coach scrapped the idea at halftime.

That’s it for the USMNT for about a month. Their next game is against South Africa in Cape Town on November 17.

Bradley Calls 20 for October Friendlies

FC Dallas’s 20-year-old winger Brek Shea and Aston Villa’ 18-year-old defender Eric Lichaj received their first call-ups to the U.S. national team as Bob Bradley tapped 20 Yanks yesterday for upcoming friendlies against Poland (Oct 9) and Colombia (Oct 12).

Schalke 04 midfielder Jermaine Jones, 28—who withdrew from the August friendly against Brazil to remain in preseason with his Bundesliga club—was also called, and has a chance to make his first appearance in a U.S. shirt.

Bradley noted that this is a critical stretch for MLS teams as they push toward the playoffs, so the roster is almost entirely composed of European-based players, the only exceptions being Shea and his Dallas teammate, Heath Pearce, both of whom are only on board for the Colombia game at PPL Park in Chester, PA.

An all-European group will face Poland at Soldier Field in Chicago (where there is a significant Polish population, led by Bob and Bill Swerski, and Carl Wollarski).

Here’s the entire roster:

GOALKEEPERS (2): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton)

DEFENDERS (8): Carlos Bocanegra (St. Etienne), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Eric Lichaj (Aston Villa), Oguchi Onyewu (AC Milan), Michael Parkhurst (FC Nordsjaelland), Heath Pearce (FC Dallas), Jonathan Spector (West Ham)

MIDFIELDERS (7): Alejandro Bedoya (Orebro), Michael Bradley (Borussia M’Gladbach), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Benny Feilhaber (Aarhus), Stuart Holden (Bolton Wanderers), Jermaine Jones (FC Schalke), Brek Shea (FC Dallas)

FORWARDS (3): Jozy Altidore (Villarreal), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Eddie Johnson (Fulham)

Three quick hits:

Any Surprises? Lichaj getting the nod, at 18, is a slight surprise, and a pleasant one. But why no other young defenders? The backline veterans—Cherundolo, Boca, etc—are not going to be around for Brazil 2014. The inclusion of the 6-3 Shea is also a nice surprise, and should give him a boost after his straight red against New York two weeks ago and subsequent two-game suspension.

Players to watch: Tops on the list is the much-ballyhooed Jones, the hard-nosed Bundesliga vet who couldn’t quite get healthy in time for SA 2010. Let’s see if the hype was true. Next up, for us, is Holden, who’s off to a terrific start with Bolton in the Premier League. Then there’s Bedoya, who scored, and got ejected, for his club team this week.

Where are all the U.S. strikers? With the absence of Bobby Zamora from Fulham’s lineup, Dempsey has been playing up top this season, but he’s not a pure forward. That leaves Altidore and Johnson, (who’s also been affected by the Zamora injury: he’s getting PT as a result).

Is that really all there is? As Jamie Carragher would say, “Shaw-keh.”

Guzan and Lichaj Start for Aston Villa in Hostile Vienna Encounter

U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan made several outstanding saves, and 21-year-old U.S. defender Eric Lichaj made his Aston Villa debut in a 1-1 Europa League tie at Rapid Vienna yesterday.

Lichaj, who did a brief, injury-marred stint at the University of North Carolina before enrolling in the U-17 residency program in Bradenton, Fla., turned in a steady performance at right back.

He signed with Villa in 2007 and has been loaned to Lincoln City and Leyton Orient. This year, it appears he has staked a claim to a place in the first team.

Guzan endured relentless taunting and several projectiles from the Vienna fans behind his goal.

Here is his account, as told to the Daily Mail:

“You try to do your best because the referee can’t go into the stands and literally remove people. There were some objects like lighters and coins and stuff. We knew it was going to be hostile, but this is a result we will be happy to take and go back to Villa Park.”