ASN Awards: A Look at the Top Performances Abroad
May 04, 2016
As the 2015-16 season draws to a close for most of the best leagues in Europe, we decided to nominate, and give awards to, some of the top-performing Americans playing overseas.
Most Valuable Player
Gold: John Brooks
Silver: Fabian Johnson
Bronze: Bobby Wood
This year was all about John Brooks moving another step closer to realizing his talent. Last year Fabian Johnson was the best American player abroad, but this year the nod goes to Brooks who helped lift Hertha Berlin to the verge of a Champions League berth. Injuries hurt him over the past month but he has cemented himself as one of the better central defenders in the Bundesliga.
Johnson continued to be a very good attacking midfielder and Bobby Wood was a top forward in the 2.Bundesliga, and both deserve recognition. But Brooks put it all together this year andwas rewarded with a new contract.
Most Improved Player
Gold: DeAndre Yedlin
Silver: Fafa Picault
Bronze: Gedion Zelalem
Whether or not Sunderland avoids relegation, there is no question that DeAndre Yedlin benefited from his loan to the northeast of England. When the Seattle native arrived at Tottenham in 2015, he was a right back known for his speed but considered a defensive liability. Playing for a relegation-battling team like Sunderland, the only way Yedlin was going to get on the field was to play defense. And he has done just that. Yedlin still has a ways to go but he is made big strides this year. Even if Yedlin is not with Tottenham next year, he has demonstrated to the world that he can play right back at a high level.
Elsewhere, Fafa Picualt improved himself at St. Pauli and is now a starter for a 2.Bundesliga club that will contend for promotion next season. Gedion Zelalem’s first pro season on loan with Glasgow Rangers had its ups and downs but Zelalem found himself in a tricky situation at a big club trying to return to the Scottish top flight. He had to learn the responsibilities of first-team football while on a team that was expected to win—and in front of a frustrated fanbase. He gained invaluable experience this season. )Note: Bobby Wood would be on this list too, but we since he made the MVP list we kept him off this one.)
Best New Expatriate
Gold: Jorge Villafana
Silver: Omar Gonzalez
Bronze: Matt Miazga and Perry Kitchen
Jorge Villafana walked straight into Santos Laguna’s starting lineup and took over the left back position. He’s done very well and the club presently sits in fourth place in Liga MX.
Omar Gonzalez is a close second place to Villafana. The former Los Angeles Galaxy stalwart has started every game in central defense for Pachuca, which has conceded just 15 goals through 16 games—best in Liga MX.
Matt Miazga has only made a few appearances for Chelsea but his move was a bold one and deserves to be recognized for its ambition. Perry Kitchen moved to a league probably lower than MLS but to a team that is better than D.C. United. With Rangers back in Scotland’s top flight, the league should be more interesting next year and perhaps Kitchen can also make waves in the Europa League qualifying rounds this summer.
Most happy to have the season over
Gold: Joe Corona
Silver: Brad Guzan
Bronze: Timothy Chandler
Joe Corona has been a starter for a Liga MX champion and has also had nice moments for the United States national team, nearly making the 2014 World Cup roster. This season at Dorados, however, he has played in just seven games (two starts) for a total of 267 minutes. By all accounts he’s still a good player and a good teammate. Chalk this season up to just not being a good fit for a bad Dorados team.
What else is there to be said about Brad Guzan? He did not have a good year but Aston Villa could have started Manuel Neuer or Kasper Schmeichel in goal and still have been the worst team in the Premier League by a wide margin. It was just a terrible year for everyone associated with that club. The end cannot come soon enough.
Timothy Chandler was in favor for a while and then ended up in the doghouse. A coaching change brought about some hope but he didn’t play particularly well and then picked up a minor injury. All this happened while the club is in the middle of a tight relegation fight. After starting off his career well, he has not been able to find a better situation than one at a lower Bundesliga club where he floats in and out of the matchday 18. Despite that, you still have to think he’s capable of better.
Young player of the year
Gold: Christian Pulisic
Silver: Ethan Horvath
Bronze: Erik Palmer-Brown
Christian Pulisic wins this one in an absolute landslide. He’s playing regularly for Borussia Dortmund and is doing well with his chances. That is rare for an American of any age. For a 17-year-old, it is astonishing.
Ethan Horvath has also found success early in his career. Few 20-year-olds earn starting gigs in any league (domestic or foreign) so he is in a terrific situation.
Erik Palmer-Brown is perhaps the biggest surprise on this list. Ever since he made the move to Porto on a year-long loan from Sporting Kansas City, he has been a regular starter for Porto B—which is in first place in Portugal’s second tier. Porto B has never won that league and Palmer-Brown, 18, is a big part of that push. So far, the loan has really been successful.
Most likely to head home to MLS
Gold: Alejandro Bedoya
Silver: Brad Guzan
Bronze: Jerome Kiesewetter
Alejandro Bedoya was in discussions with MLS over the winter but could not reach a deal. Will another transfer window yield better results? Perhaps. He’d be a marquee signing for the league which lost some top American players in the offseason.
Guzan could be a target for an MLS team although after spending a fortune on Tim Howard, will the league find another team willing to open up its wallet on another goalkeeper? It all depends on what Guzan can find elsewhere and what his chances for starting could be. Guzan could build a case to be the U.S. No. 1 if he can find a starting job and, more importantly, play better than last year.
Finally, keep an eye on Jerome Kiesewetter who fell out of favor with Stuttgart but who impressed with the U.S. U-23 team. It could be that his value is higher on the domestic front.
Most likely to breakout next season
Gold: Russell Canouse
Silver: Mukwelle Akale
Bronze: Luca de la Torre
Russell Canouse is a player who has seemingly always been on the verge at Hoffenheim. This year he made his Bundesliga debut in a crucial win over Wolfsburg. Now it looks like the club will avoid relegation and next year could be one for more structural changes at Hoffenheim. With a first-team coach who has known Canouse since he was a youth player, perhaps there is a good fit.
Mukwelle Akale is one of the best youth American players in Europe. While small, he is technically gifted and very quick. He is continuing to climb the ladder at Villarreal and a debut next year would not be surprising.
There are a bunch of players who could also break through next year and find success. Josh Perez at Fiorentina, Brooks Lennon at Liverpool, Lynden Gooch at Sunderland, and even Haji Wright has picked up goals since joining Schalke’s U-19 team. But pay attention to Luca de la Torre at Fulham, who might sneak into Fulham’s plans next season as it looks to rebound after a poor 2015-16 season.
First to find a new club in Europe
Gold: Bobby Wood
Silver: Emerson Hyndman
Bronze: Julian Green
There is certain to be a lot of movement this summer among American players. But who will take a step up? The most likely candidate is Bobby Wood who is a near lock to move on after being one of the top 2.Bundesliga scorers (and four years younger than any player ahead of him). At this point, Hamburg SV seems to be the frontrunner.
Emerson Hyndman does not appear as if he will return to Fulham. With an EU passport, he can go anywhere in Europe and a move outside of England could be a strong possibility. Fulham’s head coach even admitted that he regretted not playing Hyndman more this year. Now the Texas native could leave on a free transfer.
Julian Green almost has to move on at this point. It was a poor decision on his part to not go out on loan again this past year since it was clear he was not going to break in at Bayern Munich. This year was another step down. Can he find a club where he can finally be a regular contributor for a first team?
Tough Luck Award
Gold: Aron Johannsson
Silver: Terrence Boyd
Bronze: Joe Gyau, Greg Garza, Josh Gatt
Injuries happen and that’s a fact of the sport. Some players, like Rubio Rubin and Desevio Payne, lost long stretches of the season. The players above lost nearly their entire seasons.
Here’s to hoping that Aron Johannsson, Terrence Boyd, Joe Gyau, Greg Garza, and Josh Gatt and find a way to resume their careers after each rose all the way to the national team.
Most underreported story
Most American soccer fans know about Bob Bradley’s success in Europe and Africa, but few talk about Joe Enoch's trajectory at Osnabruck. The California native established himself as a star player with the club before taking a job as the academy director. Now he’s the head coach. When he took the job in August, it was in the relegation zone. For most of the season, it looked like promotion was a possibility. While Osnabruck will likely come up just short, it was a remarkable turnaround and good things are on the horizon for the club which had fallen on hard times.
The story is only made better by the fact that an American and Osnabruck legend helped out the team in his 20th straight season with the club.
Lifetime Achievement award
Tim Howard’s run at Everton is coming to a close and he will return to the United States this summer to play for the Colorado Rapids. But it’s worth acknowledging what a stellar run he had at Everton—he was one of the Premier League’s best and most consistent goalkeepers in his prime. Well done.