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.

Dempsey Bags Two, Spector One, Jones Is Man of the Match: Yanks-In-England Weekend Wrap

It was a big weekend for Americans in the Premier League as Clint Dempsey scored both goals in Fulham’s 2-0 win over Stoke City, Jonathan Spector buried one in West Ham’s 2-2 draw with Everton, and new U.S. national teamer Jermaine Jones went the distance and was named Man of the Match in his debut for Blackburn, which downed West Brom 2-0.

Jones is on loan from German side Schalke 04, and his first performance in England drew praise from Blackburn manager Steve Kean, who said of his new signee, “He’s not even fully fit, but he’s got everything.”

Dempsey’s goals were his team-leading eighth and ninth of the season. They pulled the Cottagers further out of the relegation zone, and got us wondering—as rumors of Deuce transferring to Liverpool resurfaced this week—how productive Dempsey might be if he played for a “big four” team. We may find out before he’s done over there.

Erstwhile defender Spector continued to shine in a midfield role, scoring his fourth goal in all competitions from that spot this season. He beat U.S. teammate Tim Howard with a side footed shot into the roof of the net to give the last-place Hammers a 1-0 lead in the 27th minute.

West Ham held a 2-1 lead into injury time and were on the verge of a desperately needed three points—until Everton midfielder Marouane Fellaini found a late equalizer.

Click here to see Dempsey’s and Spector’s goals.

At Villa Park on Saturday, U.S. keeper Brad Friedel, who is facing bankruptcy after investing millions in a soccer academy in his native Ohio, put aside his personal woes to make several key saves and preserve Aston Villa’s huge 1-0 win over third-place Manchester City.

Friedel backstopped Villa to another win today—a 2-1 victory at Wigan that put more distance between the Villans and the drop zone.

Yesterday at the Reebok Stadium, U.S. midfielder Stuart Holden and Bolton fell to Chelsea 4-0. Holden started and played 87 minutes. Bolton has tumbled to 10th in the standings after their bright start, having claimed just eight points from their last 10 games.

Yanks in England: Dempsey Scores, Helps Fulham Bag Crucial Three Points

U.S. midfielder Clint Dempsey scored his team-leading sixth goal of the season (in 19 starts) on Tuesday, burying the second for Fulham in a 3-0 win over West Brom.

Click here for the highlights.

And check out Fulham fans serenading the man from Nacogdoches:

(All together now: “He scores with his left!/ He scores with his right!/That boy Clint Dempsey/ Makes Drogba look shite!”)

The win lifted the Cottagers out of the relegation zone and all the way up to 14th place. That’s a helpful boost, for sure, but the bottom half of the table is absurdly crowded: just five points separate Everton in 11th place and West Ham in 20th.

Speaking of those two clubs, Everton snatched a valuable three points from visiting Tottenham yesterday, winning 2-1, while West Ham was thrashed 5-0 at Newcastle.

U.S. keeper Tim Howard made several saves in Everton’s win, including a brilliant denial of Rafael Van der Vaart from six yards. The game was a cracking, back-and-forth affair, won by Seamus Coleman’s diving header in the 75th minute.

Jonathan Spector dressed but did not play for West Ham, which plunged further into relegation trouble with the loss. The Hammers have played one more game than all of their fellow drop-zone denizens, yet trail all on points as well.

Aston Villa and Brad Friedel fell 1-0 at home to Sunderland, on Phil Bardsley’s 80th-minute winner. Friedel started and went the distance. Young U.S. defender Eric Lichaj dressed but did not play, while Yank keeper Brad Guzan is on loan to Hull.

Villa fell into the drop zone with their loss to the Black Cats, thanks to Wolverhampton’s stunning 1-0 upset of Chelsea on Jose Bosingwa’s fourth-minute own goal. Wolves jumped over Villa on goal difference with the shocker. American netminder Marcus Hahnemann dressed but did not play for Wolves.

Hey, when you’re missing the best player in the league from your lineup, your results are going to suffer, and that’s just what’s happening to Bolton following Stuart Holden’s injury in the Chelsea match at the end of December.

The U.S. midfielder missed Bolton’s next game, a loss to Liverpool, and yesterday, he sat out his team’s home match against Wigan, and Wanderers produced another underwhelming result: a 1-1 tie against the relegation battlers.

Bolton did dominate the game, but couldn’t finish the several chances they created after 19-year-old Rodrigo Moreno’s 54th minute opener. (Dutchman Ronnie Stam tied it for Wigan ten minutes from time.)

The Premier League is off this weekend for FA Cup third-round matches.

Top Ten Stories We Missed as 2010 turned to 2011

Timbers fans will be ready for their April 14 home opener. Count on it.

A lot went down while we were up North. Here are the top ten items we would have posted about had we not shuttered the BP for the past 12 days:

10. Philadelphia Signs Homegrown Player Zach Pfeffer

The 15-year-old Upper Dublin, Pa., resident became the fourth-youngest signing in league history. Pfeffer is the 23rd player signed as part of MLS’s recent ‘Homegrown Initiative.’

9. Stuart Holden Hurt in Chelsea Match, Misses Liverpool Tilt

The newly minted Best Player in the Premier League picked up a knock in Bolton’s 1-0 loss to the Blues on Dec 29, then missed the next game, versus Liverpool, on New Year’s Day. Not surprisingly, Bolton, which was also without defender Paul Robinson (suspension), lost, 2-1.

8. Brads Friedel and Guzan Enjoy Big Weeks

Friedel stood on his head to preserve a see-saw 3-3 tie for Aston Villa vs Chelsea on Jan 2, while his backup, Guzan, was loaned out to second-tier Hull City on Dec 30. He immediately stepped into the starting lineup and went 1-1 in his first two games with the Tigers.

7. Dwayne De Rosario Goes AWOL to Celtic

Toronto FC’s deadliest attacker hopped a plane to Celtic Park on Boxing Day (Dec 26) for a few kickabouts with the (original) Hoops. When asked about it, TFC first insisted the player had done no such thing, then said he did not have their permission. De Ro swore that he did have his employers’ OK. Upshot: Toronto worked out an arrangement with Celtic after the fact, and this story is developing.

6. Silly Season of (Aging) Foreign-Stars-to-MLS Rumors Kicks In

While rumors of Ronaldinho-to-LA Galaxy cooled (and he was chased by several Brazilian clubs, and Blackburn), they were replaced by reports that Nicolas Anelka, Adrian Mutu, and Guillermo Franco all had designs on eventual Stateside moves, along with Patrick Vieira, Roberto Carlos, and Marco Materazzi. These reports are always fun and to some extent flattering for the league, but, well, let’s just say that they—and the players’ fitness for MLS—should be taken on a case-by-case basis.

5. Portland Timbers Breach 10,000 Mark in Season Tickets Sold

Think they’re fired up for MLS in the Northwest? Hell and yes. The team surpassed 10,000 in 2011 season ticket sales on Jan 3, and says it will cap the sales at 12,000. The club’s newly renovated stadium, PGE Park, seats 20,000. According to this story, the Timbers’ Cascadia Cup rivals the Vancouver Whitecaps have accepted more than 13,000 season-ticket deposits for 2011, but haven’t said how many of those have been turned into season ticket sales.

4. Purported Beckham Loan Deals Verge on Farcical

More than half a dozen Premier League teams, along with several sprinkled across Europe, were linked to loan deals involving MLS’s most famous player in the past couple of weeks. Most of them turned out to be nothing more than rumors, but this past week Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp said he and Spurs were serious about acquiring the 35-year-old winger. Why they would want to disrupt the excellent season they’re having by bringing in a player who is a sideshow in and of himself is an open question—as is why the aging and recently injured (Achilles tendon, last March) Beckham would want to do it, and why Los Angeles or MLS would allow it.

3. Generation adidas, MLS Combine Names Announced

Rising futbol factory the University of Akron provided five of the first nine 2011 Generation adidas players (a 10th player, UCSB defender Michael Tetteh, was added today), and five non-college foreign players were included in the MLS Combine list, a first for the league. Those five, led by Wayne Rooney’s brother John, will be available in the Jan 13 SuperDraft alongside the NCAA candidates. Combine rosters here, Generation adidas players here.

2. Toronto FC Hires Former Dutch International Aron Winter as Coach

The 43-year-old former Ajax midfielder, who will be unveiled tomorrow will also act as Technical Director, with a staff that will include former New England assistant Paul Mariner and Winter’s fellow Dutchman Bob de Klerk, though their roles are as yet unclarified. The trio will try to get an overhauled TFC to the playoffs for the first time in its five-year existence.

1. Robin Fraser Lands Chivas USA Coaching Job

When this announcement was made, some MLS fans tweeted that they’d never heard of Fraser—enhancing our belief that the former rock-solid centerback is one of the most underrated players in MLS and USMNT history. A key assistant coach at Real Salt Lake the past few seasons, Fraser was a five-time Best XI selection and two-time defender of the year as a player in MLS, and always performed well in a U.S. shirt (he had 27 caps). Like TFC, Chivas is in a severe rebuilding mode, so Fraser has his work cut out for him. He will reportedly hire former Galaxy and U.S. teammate Greg Vanney as an assistant.

All right, we are more or less caught up. Next: Clint Dempsey continues to tear it up for Fulham, and MLS Combine news.

Best Player in the Premier League This Season? That Would Be Stuart Holden

About two months ago, former Liverpool star Jamie Redknapp called Fulham attacker Clint Dempsey “the best American” ever to play in the Premier League.

Today, readers of the British daily The Guardian saw Redknapp’s praise for Dempsey and raised it for U.S. midfielder Stuart Holden, rating him the best player, period, in the English Premier League this season.

And they didn’t arrive at that designation through a nebulous opinion poll, but rather through the more objective means of their weekly player ratings: Guardian editors analyzed all the match ratings awarded by their readers after each Premier League game this season, and Holden came out with an average mark of 7.4 (out of 10), the highest of any player in the league.

Not too shabby.

Click here for the Guardian story.

PS: And again, we say this right here was the moment Holden started becoming a player worthy of these kinds of accolades.

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.

Holden, Bolton, Getting Better and Better: Yanks In England Weekend Wrap

While MLS dropped the curtain on its 15th season, one MLS alum continued the remarkable second act of his career.

U.S. midfielder Stuart Holden is proving to be a critical component of Bolton’s midfield, while Bolton, after Saturday’s 5-1 demolition of Newcastle, is establishing itself as an early contender for a place in Europe.

Holden got the start and played 90 minutes. Wanderers got two goals each from Johan Elmander and Kevin Davies in the rout, which moves them up to fifth place in the league. Click here for the highlights Holden posted to Facebook.

Clint Dempsey started and went the distance in Fulham’s 4-1 loss to Manchester City on Sunday.

Eddie Johnson did not dress for the Cottagers.

Brad Friedel started, played 90, and made two saves in Aston Villa’s 2-0 loss to Blackburn on Sunday.

Brad Guzan and Eric Lichaj both dressed but did not play for Villa.

Marcus Hahnemann started, went the distance, and made two saves in Wolverhampton’s 2-1 loss to Blackpool on Saturday in a matchup of Quote of the Year candidate managers Ian Holloway and Mick McCarthy.

Let’s see what they had to say about the game. …

[scouring Internet] …

Hmm …

Nothing to scintillating—just Holloway being kind to under-pressure Wolves:

“I thought Wolves were very hard done by. They made it really difficult for us. I made a few changes but because they had more of the ball than I anticipated it didn’t really work for us. It is the first time at this level when we have got something probably unjustly.”

Wolves are mired at the bottom of the table with nine points from 14 games.

Speaking of….

Jonathan Spector dressed but did not play in West Ham’s 3-0 loss to Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday. The Hammers are tied with Wolves, trailing them on goal difference.

Tim Howard started and went the distance in Everton’s 2-2 tie with Sunderland today. The Black Cats’ 19-year-old striker, Danny Welbeck, on loan from Manchester United, scored both of Sunderland’s goals.