U.S. 2, Russia 2: Michael Bradley Is the Best American Player Right Now

The U.S. got a stoppage-time goal from Mix Diskerud to tie Russia 2-2 in Krasnador today in one of the more undeserved draws in USMNT history.

The Americans struggled to connect passes, were prone to fundamental mistakes (especially coming out of the back), and gave up several golden chances to the hosts.

If not for a few routinely great saves from goalkeeper Tim Howard, they would have lost by several goals.

But there was this from New Jersey-born Roma midfielder Michael Bradley:

Mama mia, what a strike. But over all, this was not the U.S. team’s best work. Here are three thoughts on the game:

• Bradley was fine in the first half, but he simply took over the U.S. effort in the second, making himself available all over the field, winning balls, marshaling possession, and attacking. In addition to his goal, he played in the long ball that led to Diskerud’s late equalizer. He got stronger as the game went on, and, well, see header above.

Fabian Johnson once again confirmed that he’s the solution to the U.S.’s longstanding left-back problem. He’s skilled, he’s athletic, and he doesn’t panic. Several times in the first half he extricated himself from tricky situations where a turnover would have been costly, and he was also a threat going forward. Second-best U.S. field player today.

• It might be a mental issue with Jozy Altidore when it comes to playing for the national team. Either that, or the Dutch league is just not as good as it’s cracked up to be. (Could be a little of both.) He did do a lot of the grunt work that Klinsmann wants his forwards to do, and, in the first half at least, he held the ball up a few times and allowed his teammates to get involved. But his second half was a washout. He gave the ball away too often and way too easily, and he failed to control a terrific pass in the box from Johnson that would have been a great goalscoring chance.

Then Juan Agudelo and Terrence Boyd came in and helped create both goals with athletic knockdowns to teammates. Here’s the second one, from Boyd to Diskerud (and in off a Russian defender):

One final thought: Klinsmann needs more skill in his midfield. Williams had a poor game (and not just because of his blatant error), and Jermaine Jones, while he worked hard, is a blunt instrument in the final third. He initiated several offensive forays but then killed them with poor touches in the box. He should have scored late on a cutback from Altidore but skied his attempt. He’s not an attacking player.

Klinsmann doesn’t need both Williams and Jones in addition to Bradley. One will do, and free him up to add another, more dangerous piece to the U.S. attack.

U.S. vs Guatemala: Field-Level Highlights

These clips always provide an interesting perspective, and in this case, they actually shed new light on the game: As friend of BP Prison Mike pointed out, you can see that Clint Dempsey wasn’t just being safe when he punched in Michael Bradley’s chip for the third goal. The ball was probably heading wide; Deuce made sure it found the back of the net.

Check it out (third replay of the goal shows it best):

A couple of other thoughts:

• Steve Cherundolo’s ball that sprung Eddie Johnson for the second goal looks even better from this angle than it did on the TV broadcast, and that’s saying something.

• The U.S. really should have added a couple more goals. EJ had a good chance or two, and Herculez Gomez bothched two opportunities.

• You can see that after the third goal Dempsey tells Bradley that it was his goal, to which the midfielder replies, if our lip-reading skills are on point, “No way. That was your f****** goal.” He’s got a point, too, and not just because the ball may have been going wide. Dempsey has a great habit of crashing the goal when shots are taken. That instinct got him a lot of goals at Fulham, and it got him that one. While not one but two Guatemalan defenders stood and watched, he charged in and finished the play.

Michael Bradley: Making His Mark at Chievo

There’s a good read by Paolo Bandini over at The Footy Blog on U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley and his emergence as the engine of Serie A side Chievo’s midfield.

The locals have taken quite a shine to the young Yank, with one Verona journo praising his ability to both “destroy play and construct it.” They’ve also appreciated his effort to learn Italian, which he has done well enough to conducts postgame interviews in the language.

Bradley has quickly worked his way into an important starting role, and the club tied title contenders Juventus 1-1 their last time out.

It’s all good stuff, but, really, as one commenter points out, European fans need to come up with a better nickname for American imports than “Captain America.” Claudio Reyna had the tag back in his day, and it was sort of tired then.

MLS Exports Ruled the World this Week

With his fairytale goal against Leeds yesterday, Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry capped a tremendous week for Major League Soccer products playing abroad.

Over the weekend, former New England Revolution star and 2004 MLS Rookie of the Year Clint Dempsey scored a hat-trick against Charlton in the FA Cup, and current LA Galaxy attacker Landon Donovan set up a goal and hit the post with a 25-yard rocket during Everton’s 2-0 win over Tamworth in the FA Cup.

There were other players with MLS ties who stood out this week, but before we get to those, here are the highlights, via The FA Cup, of Henry’s triumphant return to Arsenal, the club where he forged his legend—and where they’ve erected a statue in his likeness. He entered the third-round match in the 67th minute with the score 0-0:

On first viewing, Henry appears to be offside, but subsequent replays clearly showed that the defender on the far side, at the top of the screen, kept him onside. Here’s a screen grab for proof:

Definitely onside, and definitely an indelible moment in global soccer, year 2012.

Former Revolution man Dempsey created his own career landmark against Charlton on Saturday, bagging his first hat-trick to power Fulham to a 4-0 win. Highlights below, also courtesy of The FA Cup. Note Costa Rican Bryan Ruiz, who is involved in three of the four goals:

After the game, Fulham coach Martin Jol , speaking to The Sun, had this to say about the kid from Nacogdoches: “He is an American boy so he wants to win every training session. He has the eye of the tiger.”

The MLS-export heroics were not limited to Henry, Donovan, and Dempsey.

Five days earlier, former New York goalkeeper Tim Howard made history by becoming just the fourth goalkeeper (and second Yank, after Brad Friedel) to score in the Premier League when his clearance from the top of his own area got caught in the wind and bounced high over the head of Bolton keeper Adam Bogdan.

In Italy, former MetroStars midfielder Michael Bradley earned raves for his play with Serie A side Chievo. He has nailed down a starting spot, and the team is on track for a solid mid-table finish this season. Bradley has also already mastered enough Italian to conduct his press interviews in the local tongue.

Bradley Debuts, Holden Sparkles, Altidore Do-Si-Do’s: Yanks-Abroad Weekend Wrap

On a weekend in which Wayne Rooney stole the show with what he called the best goal of his career—a bicycle kick into the top corner that gave Manchester United a 2-1 win over Man City—Americans in Europe made some key contributions of their own.

Leading the way was Bolton midfielder Stuart Holden, who set up Wanderers first goal in a 2-0 win over Tim Howard’s Everton on Sunday. Holden sent a 10th-minute free kick into the box, where it was headed home by Gary Cahill.

After Daniel Sturridge made it 2-0 for Bolton in the 66th minute, Holden thought he’d added a third in the 80th, burying a back heel from Sturridge. But the goal was waved off as the ref ruled that Sturridge had played the ball from beyond the endline.

Michael Bradley made his first appearance for Aston Villa, helping the 10-man Villans preserve a 1-1 tie against Blackpool with 18 minutes of defensive-midfield work.

U.S. keeper Brad Friedel started and went the distance for Villa.

Recently capped American midfielder Jermaine Jones played the full 90 for Blackburn in a scoreless draw with Newcastle on Saturday. In the early stages, Jones attempted to replicate Rooney’s golazo with a bike of his own, but … was whistled for a high kick on Newcastle defender Mike Williamson.

Jonathan Spector continued his recovery from a recent injury, logging 12 minutes in West Ham’s comeback from a 3-0 halftime deficit to West Brom. The Hammers got a second-half goal from Carlton Cole and two from Demba Ba—who was making his first start—to share the points.

Marcus Hahnemann dressed but did not play in Wolverhampton’s 2-0 loss to Arsenal on Saturday, and Clint Dempsey and Fulham host Fulham today.

In other Yanks-Abroad news, Aston Villa defender Eric Lichaj started and went the distance in the first appearance of his loan deal with second-tier Leeds United, helping his new team to a 2-0 win over Bristol City.

On-loan Villa keeper Brad Guzan played 90 minutes and made four saves in Hull City’s 1-0 win over Preston North End, which suited up U.S. striker Eddie Johnson for a goalless 90 minutes.

In Germany, 20-year-old U.S.-eligible attacker Timothy Chandler scored a goal and set up another in Nurnberg’s 4-1 romp over Stuttgart. It was the first professional goal for Chandler, who has yet to play internationally for any country, but is eligible for the U.S. and Germany, where his American father served for the U.S. military.

Steve Cherundolo played the full 90 on Sunday for Hannover 96—who are currently sitting fourth in the Bundesliga, one point shy of a Champions League berth—in a 1-1 tie with Werder Bremen.

DaMarcus Beasley did not dress for Hannover. (MLS return for Run DMB? We’d recommend it.)

Former Houston Dynamo midfielder Ricardo Clark did not suit up for Eintracht Frankfurt’s 3-0 loss to Bayer Leverkusen. He’s out with a fractured cheekbone.

Edson Buddle played 65 minutes in Bundesliga 2 side Ingolstadt’s 3-1 loss to Fortuna Dusseldorf on Saturday.

Finally, in Turkey, Jozy Altidore debuted for Bursaspor and helped create his team’s goal in a 1-1 draw with Eskisehirspor.

Picking up the ball in midfield, Altidore made a surging run and pulled off a Gretzky-esque spin-o-rama move around a defender before laying the ball off to a teammate on the wing. The ensuing cross was cleared to 25 yards, where Bursaspor’s Serbian midfielder Ivan Ergic met it with a drive into the back of the net.

Bradley to Make Premier League Debut against Dempsey and Fulham

New Aston Villa signing Michael Bradley has been named in the 18 for tomorrow’s home game against Fulham and fellow Yank Clint Dempsey, and you can count on seeing him on the field at some point.

Fulham enters the encounter on a hot streak, having won three of their last four matches, but the Cottagers haven’t won at Villa Park in their last nine trips to Birmingham.

Dempsey is leading the team in scoring with eight goals and three assists, and he could get some help up top tomorrow from new Fulham acquisition Eidur Gudjohnson, the former Chelsea and Barcelona man.

U.S. keeper Brad Friedel will start between the pipes for Villa, but Yank defender Eric Lichaj will not dress for the match. Villa’s other American, keeper Brad Guzan, is on loan at Hull.

The game is on Fox Soccer.tv at 10:00 a.m. EST, and on Fox Soccer Plus on delay at 6:00 p.m.

Other Yanks in Premier League action this weekend include Stuart Holden, who travels with Bolton on Saturday to take on Tottenham (10:00 a.m. EST, Fox Soccer.tv), Tim Howard, whose Everton side hosts Blackpool on Saturday (10:00, Fox Soccer.tv), and the reborn Jonathan Spector, lining up in midfield for West Ham against Birmingham City on Sunday (8:30 a.m., Fox Soccer.tv).

U.S. keeper Marcus Hahnemann and Wolves host Manchester United on Saturday (Fox Soccer Channel, 12:30 p.m.) but Hahnemann has been demoted to No. 2 at Wolverhampton.

Bolton’s game is also on Fox Soccer Channel, on delay, at 5:00, and Everton’s will be rebroadcast on Fox Soccer Plus at 4:00.

Enjoy the games.

Bradley Completes Move to Villa; Busiest Transfer Window Ever for U.S. Players?

As expected, U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley finalized a loan Monday from relegation-threatened Borussia Moenchengladbach of the Bundesliga to Aston Villa of the Premier League.

He watched as the Villans’ two-game winning streak came to a halt today against Manchester United, but he could debut for the Birmingham club on Saturday against Fulham and fellow American Clint Dempsey.

Bradley’s move led the way, but there was plenty of activity involving Americans during this transfer window. Take a look:

Jozy Altidore from Villareal to Bursaspor (loan). Bursaspor is the defending Turkish champion, and currently sits second in the Süper Lig at 12-2-5.

Oguchi Onyewu from AC Milan to FC Twente (loan). Much-needed move for Gooch, who couldn’t get a game for the Serie A leaders. He’s played three already for his new Dutch club.

Jermaine Jones from Schalke 04 to Blackburn (loan). He’d fallen out of favor with management at Schalke and needed a change of scenery. Named Man of the Match in his debut for Blackburn.

Eddie Johnson from Fulham to Preston North End (loan). Johnson started just one EPL game this year; now he goes to the club whose fans fondly remember previous Yanks Brian McBride and Eddie Lewis. If only they weren’t sitting dead last in the Championship (second level in England).

Freddy Adu from Greek side Aris (by way of Benfica, and several other clubs) to Rizespor of the Turkish second flight. Sigh.

Brad Guzan from Aston Villa to Hull City (loan). Brad Friedel’s apprentice at Villa was languishing on the bench while the ageless Friedel continued to shine between the pipes for the Villans (including today, when he stood on his head to keep it 1-3 vs Man U). Guzan is starting for Hull, which is in 13th place in the English second flight.

Robbie Findley from Real Salt Lake to Nottingham Forest (transfer). Forest is vying for promotion to the Premier League. Findley wasn’t a starter at RSL last season; how will he stack up in the Championship?

Clarence Goodson from Norwegian first-division club IK Start to Brondby of the Danish top flight. Lanky defender sealed this deal in November; it took effect in January.

Other moves of note:

Jonathan Bornstein from Chivas USA to Tigres of the Mexican top flight. Bornstein committed to this transfer a while ago, and joined his new team for preseason training in December.

Diego Restrepo, undersized but highly skilled former UVA goalkeeper, signed with America de Cali in the Colombian first division, while former St. John’s University midfielder Eric Opsahl signed with Reading in the English second flight.

Opsahl, 18, made just three appearances for St. John’s during his freshman season this past fall, but did enough in a two-week trial to earn a contract with Reading, former home of Bobby Convey and Marcus Hahnemann. Who says college soccer is no good?

For more on Opsahl’s interesting route to Reading, see here. And it may be worth asking why DC United, where Opsahl was an academy player, didn’t snap him up.

Finally, two American players came home this winter, as striker Kenny Cooper transferred from 1860 Munich of the Bundesliga 2 to MLS expansion side Portland Timbers, and defender Hunter Freeman departed IK Start of the Norwegian top flight to join the Houston Dynamo.

Cooper joins No. 2 draft pick Darlington Nagbe and Colombian speedster Jorge Perlaza in what could be a potent strike force in Portland.

Bradley on Verge of Villa Loan Deal

Aston Villa, a Premier League club with American ownership (Randy Lerner) and three American players on its books (Brad Friedel, Brad Guzan and Eric Lichaj), is poised to add a third Yank, Michael Bradley, who has been a starter at Bundesliga club Borussia Moenchengladbach since 2008.

Bradley is of course the son of U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley, who was rumored to be joining the Villans himself—as head coach—just last summer.

That story turned out to be more rumor than fact, but the reports involving 23-year-old Michael have the ring of truth. ESPN and others have reported that the young Bradley is in Birmingham, taking a physical in advance of processing the paperwork to make the loan official.

The deal will last until the end of the current Premier League season, when it could evolve into a permanent contract, depending on how well the U.S. workhorse does.

With the recent arrival of Jermaine Jones at Blackburn, we could see both of the U.S.’s first-choice central midfielders starting in the Premier League in the coming weeks, along with other U.S. midfielders Stuart Holden and Clint Dempsey.

But Bradley will have competition for a starting spot at Villa, which recently added Cameroonian Jean Makoun to a midfield corps that includes Englishman Nigel Reo Coker and Stiliyan Petrov of Bulgaria, the Villans’ captain.

Torres Hits Golazo; Bradley and Beasley Shine

We covered the FA Cup and the exploits of Eddie Johnson and Freddy Adu in Greece, but there were three other foreign-based Americans who turned in performances worth noting this past weekend.

Leading the way was U.S. midfielder Jose Francisco Torres, who shook off a recent hamstring injury to score the winner—on a gorgeous free kick six minutes from time—in Pachuca’s 5-3 victory over Puebla. Here are the highlights from that goal-fest (note the header for Puebla by MLS alum Carlos Ruiz):

Michael Bradley had a stellar game for Borussia Moenchengladbach as it downed relegation-battling FC Nurnberg 2-1. The American midfielder sprung Marco Reus behind the Nurnberg defense with a perfect through ball in the 27th minute. Reus rounded the keeper and cut the ball back for Roberto Colautti to punch in for the opening goal. Bradley went the full 90; the win moves the Foals into 11th place in the Bundesliga.

In Scotland, Yank winger DaMarcus Beasley returned to action for the first time since December, starting and playing the first half of league-leading Rangers’ 3-0 win over third-place Hibernian. According to Yanks Abroad, Beasley troubled Hibs with his speed in the early going, drawing several free kicks. Beasley’s teammate and fellow Yank Maurice Edu dressed but did not play.

On the downside, U.S. midfielder Benny Feilhaber picked up an ankle injury and limped out of a training session with his Danish club Aarhus today. He’s awaiting x-ray and MRI results for a clearer prognosis.