American Soccer Now contributing editor Brian Sciaretta found plenty to admire in this week's installation of "Americans in Europe." From Cameron to Bradley to Johannsson, things are looking up for U.S. fans.
AFTER A SERIES OF SUBPAR WEEKENDS
December 23, 2013
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for Americans in Europe, the past few days have been an early Christmas gift. Some of the best American players performed well in important games. Heading into a World Cup year, there is reason to be upbeat.
Suddenly, right back doesn’t look to be a weakness for the U.S. national team, and Michael Bradley is playing like a truly accomplished central midfielder. Meanwhile, Aron Johannsson is looking like he could threaten Jozy Altidore’s American record of 31 goals in a European season.
Most of the leagues in Europe will now be off for a few weeks and there won’t be as many Americans in action until then but 2013 is going out in style. Here are the top performances of the past few days.
No. 5: Steve Cherundolo
It has been a difficult season for Hannover and an even worse one for Steve Cherundolo, who has been plagued by injuries for most of the year. The 34-year-old “Mayor of Hannover” has had three knee surgeries this year which have sidelined him for most of Hannover’s games and all of the U.S. national team games of 2013.
On Saturday, Cherundolo was named to the starting lineup for Hannover for the first time since May. Hannover lost again and it now sits in 13th place in the 18-team Bundesliga. Cherundolo’s performance, however, was encouraging to both Hannover and the U.S. national team. He completed 72% of his passes and looked active getting forward.
Cherundolo was just named to the all-time U.S. national team starting XI but if the 2014 World Cup team were starting next week, he wouldn’t make it. Fortunately, he has five-plus months to make his case. The Rockford, Ill., native will turn 35 years old in February but does offer leadership and experience at a very high level.
No. 4: Aron Johannsson
AZ Alkmaar played Heerenveen twice in the last week, with mixed results. But Aron Johannsson delivered in both contests.
In midweek, AZ defeated Heerenveen on a shootout win following a 2-2 draw over 120 minutes. Johannsson scored both AZ goals and was successful in his penalty attempt.
On Saturday, things were far less successful for AZ who dropped a 5-1 decision to Heerenveen in Eredivisie play. Johannsson was the lone bright spot for AZ, scoring again for his 18th goal in all competitions. On the play he showed awareness to make a nice run, a good first touch, and flawless execution. It was a poor outing overall for AZ but whenever the club was dangerous, Johannsson was part of it.
So what is next for Johannsson? AZ Alkmaar now has a winter break and will not play again until January 18. There are rumors that indicate Celtic is interested him but it would be surprising to see him move only half-way into his first full season with AZ Alkmaar. It seems likely Johannsson’s value will only be higher after a full season and a likely World Cup appearance.
No. 3: Michael Hoyos
Three years ago Michael Hoyos was one of the rising young talents in South American soccer. He broke into the first team at Estudiantes and was playing for Argentina’s youth national teams. He even traveled with Argentina to the World Cup in 2010 as part of its practice squad. Born in California, he decided to play for Argentina at the time but always kept the door open to playing for the United States.
In April 2011, his career was nearly cut short when he was involved in a life-threatening car accident. It took him a long time to return to the field and the question was no longer Argentina or the United States, but rather would he find a club again where he can have a career.
Hoyos signed with OFI Crete in the Greek Super League, and initially struggled to earn minutes. Lately he has been seeing quite a bit of action and on Saturday he had his best performance since his car accident.
With OFI trailing Panaitolikos 1-0, Hoyos hit the equalizer in the 23rd minute (his goal can be seen at 0:27 of the video below) and OFI eventually went on to win 2-1. Hoyos played 73 minutes in the match.
Now 22, Hoyos would almost surely switch to play for the United States if asked. It is likely too late for him to burst into the picture for the 2014 World Cup but if he keeps up his success, the next cycle is not out of the question.
No. 2: Michael Bradley
It is not every season where an American player is at a club as powerful as the current Roma team. This year’s version of i Giallorossi
is loaded with talent and is in prime position to qualify for the Champions League.
Michael Bradley missed about a month earlier this season with his ankle injury but when healthy he has earned a healthy percentage of minutes. It required some period of adjustment but Sunday’s game was Bradley’s strongest of the season by a healthy margin.
Earning the start against Catania, Bradley was a rock playing in a more withdrawn midfield role in a 4-2-3-1. It is a position that fits him well and that was really obvious with the way he played. Roma dominated the match and cruised to an easy 4-0 win. Bradley completed 71 out of 74 passes—many of which were of an aggressive and attacking nature. Defensively, he was also effective as he forced turnovers and limited Catania’s ability to create dangerous chances.
Earning playing time at Roma is a challenge but Bradley’s performances suggest that it will be hard to take him out of the lineup.
No. 1: Geoff Cameron
Last year Geoff Cameron was a make-shift right back in the English Premier League and he proved to be a serviceable option for Stoke City. His improvement, however, into this season has been staggering. In recent weeks he has been among the better right backs in the Premier League.
On Saturday, Cameron may have been the best player on the field in Stoke City’s 2-1 win over Aston Villa. He was dangerous moving forward and was a rock defensively. With the improvement he has shown over the past five months, it is impossible for American fans to not be excited over his future.
To understand just how highly regarded Cameron has become, this is what Stoke City manager Mark Hughes said about his American defender in this week’s press conference.
“Geoff has done really well,” Hughes said. “I think he's shown everyone that he's an accomplished football player first and foremost—and he has the ability to play in different positions. He's played mostly for me in a fullback position. He's done that very, very well as a real part of our attacking threat as well with his ability to join in high up the field. He's done very well in that regard. We're pleased.”
Cameron has made no secret about the fact that he believes central defense is his best position, and with recent injuries to Stoke’s back line, some expected him to move to the middle of the Stoke defense. Hughes admits that he has thought about it and that in the future he “might have to.” But he believes Cameron is playing so well at the right, he doesn’t want to change a player who is performing well.
“I just felt it would have lessened our attacking threat,” Hughes said about why he decided against moving Cameron to central defense. “I wanted to keep him in that wider position. His versatility is great from my point of view. You can move Geoff around and know you're not going to lessen the ability of people in other positions because Geoff can come in and make an impact wherever you pick him.”