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Americans Abroad

American Right Backs Shine in European Leagues

All in all, there was some familiar faces doing well this weekend and there were surprisingly good performances as well. Here was the best from American abroad this weekend.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
March 24, 2014
11:02 AM
If Americans are worried about the right back position, it won’t be because Jurgen Klinsmann lacks options. Fabian Johnson and Geoff Cameron each put in terrific efforts that may land both on the Premier League and Bundesliga teams of the week.

Elsewhere it was a weekend where some players who were on the bubble of the World Cup roster to help boost their case. Edgar Castillo was solid for Tijuana. Tim Ream has been one of Bolton’s most valuable players this season.

No. 7: Bobby Warshaw
Warsaw is pretty popular among MLS fans these days. Following Deadspin’s self-serving and arrogant take on the league, Warsaw wrote a stirring defense. But you know what? The guy can play soccer as well.

Last year he went on loan from FC Dallas to Angelholms of Sweden’s second tier and scored eight goals in nine games. This year he is still in the second tier with promotion favorites GAIS. On Saturday, GAIS took on perennial Swedish power Helsingborg on the road in the quarterfinals of the Swedish Cup. Warshaw scored in the opening minutes to give GAIS a ray of hope, but Helsingborg would prevail 2-1.

No. 6: Aron Johannsson

Aron Johannsson is probably not satisfied with his performance on Sunday but is surely happy with the result in which AZ Alkmaar earned three valuable points with a 2-1 win over PEC Zwolle.

On AZ Alkmaar’s opening goal, a cross from Steven Berghuis to Johannsson went into the PEC goal. Officials credited the tally to Berghuis, then Johannsson, then finally Berghuis again. It was probably the correct decision although it was very tough to tell. Later in the game, Johannsson drew a penalty but had his effort saved for the first time in recent memory.

So why does Johannsson belong on this list having a penalty saved and failing to score or pick up an assist? The answer is his hold-up play was strong and he was very difficult for PEC to defend.

He finished the game with an impressive 89 percent pass completion percentage and an attacking mindset that freed up others in the AZ attack. He didn’t score but he helped AZ earn three valuable points. The road ahead isn’t easy with Ajax awaiting in the Dutch Cup and Benfica next week in the quarterfinals of the Europa League.

No. 5: Tim Ream

It’s been a rough year overall for Bolton, but Tim Ream has been a consistent strong performer at many different positions including central defense, defensive midfield, right back, and left back.

On Saturday, Ream went the distance for Bolton in a 2-2 draw against Yeovil. He wasn’t responsible for either of the goals conceded but he was instrumental in passing out of the back and helping in possession. His pass completion percentage was at a healthy 81 percent and was a solid in winning the areal game—an area which has been considered a weak spot in his game. Whoscored.com’s statistics also credit Ream with five interceptions which equal the rest of Bolton’s team combined.

If American fans want to start listing potential dark-horse candidates for the World Cup roster, Ream should be on the list with his strong season and his versatility which gives his coach options.

No. 4: Will John

Will John is a journeyman player who has made a habit of traveling to clubs in leagues where you rarely see American players. As a 28 year old, he has played for clubs in MLS, Denmark, Serbia, Slovakia, Croatia, Israel, Ukriane, and now he is in his most remote location playing for AZAL of the Azerbaijan Premier League.

While the team is struggling overall sitting in eighth place in the 10 team league (but nine points clear of relegation), John is the team’s leading scorer with seven goals in 25 games. On Sunday, the midfielder scored in his second straight game in a 2-1 loss to Baki.

His goal, by the way, was a terrific left footed volley from 20 yards that is impressive no matter what league. In fact, it is one of the nicest American goals of the season. John’s career is a testament to perseverance. A former regular with the U.S. U-20 team, he never quite settled into a high level of soccer. But he has managed to take the road less traveled and carved out a unique career in a place where you rarely see Americans. For that he deserves a shout-out on this list.

No. 3: Edgar Castillo

If Tijuana wants to make the Liga Mx Clausura playoffs, it will need a series of performances like Friday night’s 3-1 win over Puebla. The win moves the club into ninth place but several teams are even on 17 points and the club is actually only three points out of third place.

Castillo in the game did his part with a nice assist on Fidel Martinez’s 67th minute goal which put Tijuana up 2-0. On the play, Castillo beat his man on the left side and controlled the ball with a header as he moved into the box. His pass to Martinez was pin point and allowed the Colombian to have an open shot (see at 0:59 of the video below).

American fans are just hoping the effectiveness that Castillo has brought to Tijuana can translate over the national team soon as the World Cup draws closer.

No. 2: Geoff Cameron

There is no doubt Cameron should have done more on Aston Villa’s opening goal on Saturday. But the rest of the game he was fantastic and he even scored the final goal of the game to complete Stoke’s 4-1 rout over Villa. His passing was superb at the right back position completing 80 percent of his 49 attempts. After his miscue on Villa’s goal, he shut down his side of the field defensively. His goal at the end was just icing on the cake.

No. 1: Fabian Johnson

With all the excitement over Julian Green joining the American system, Fabian Johnson might still have a claim to being the best dual national recruit to have joined the United States. He can play so many different positions well that he can help cure so many areas of concern for a coach.

It’s amazing to think that Cameron’s performance wasn’t the best among American right backs in Europe. In fact, it is very likely that many analysts will have Cameron on the Premier League team of the week and Fabian Johnson on the Bundesliga team of the week—both at right back.

Johnson has been playing right back the last several weeks for Hoffenheim and he has been improving with each passing week. His performance on Sunday in Hoffenheim’s 3-2 win over Bayer Leverkusen was just the latest in his steady progression.

Throughout the game, Johnson was moving steadily into the attack and causing problems for Leverkusen’s defense. With the scored tied at 2-2 in the 88th minute, Johnson assisted on Anthony Modeste’s game winner (at 0:40 of the video below). Most have figured Johnson as a either a left back or left midfielder for the U.S. national team but he has played right back for Klinsmann twice before. It makes sense given that he is actually right footed. Maybe the solution is Johnson at right back and Cameron in the middle? Either way, Johnson gives Klinsmann a ton of options in his ability to play anywhere.

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