BEST YEAR IN US SOCCER
While most American soccer fans I know are still griping about the poor performance by the Red, White and Blue in Germany this summer, as an eternal optimist, but admittedly a bit of a pessimist about American soccer, I see this year as the greatest year in American soccer history.
I think that it is worth stipulating that I feel assured making such a bold statement about the significance of this year, acknowledging wholeheartedly that the US made a poor showing on the world's biggest stage and without knowledge of the national team's future coach and thus what to expect in the next few years as a country internationally.
The lower English divisions began play this week, and as a result I restarted writing my weekly game previews. This fact became even clearer to me as I was only writing about four players.
This might have caused some initial alarm considering that at the end of last year I was tracking eight clubs across the Coca-Cola Championship, League One and League Two featuring nine different American players.
Thankfully, I was ready to recognize that the greatest reason for this sudden loss of players in the lower divisions was not canceling of contracts or transfers back to the US, but rather a return or promotion to the Premiership.
The population of Americans in key positions from last year has more than doubled to 10 players across eight teams through the aforementioned promotion and other transfers. To supplement that, there are rumors circulating, if not by the end of this summer transfer window - then surely by the winter window - that population will only increase.
This is the first time in history 10 Americans should feature as regular starters, and in doing so only a handful of weeks will pass this winter where there is not an "All-American Derby". This American invasion of the English top ranks is easily to me the greatest symbol of American success in the world's game.
This is even more encouraging for the fans back in the United States who have generally not been able to watch there heroes play in winter, as Americans have in the past played for lesser teams with less international coverage, so while none of the 10 play for one of the big four in English soccer, the overall saturation will be impossible to miss.
In no particular order Tim Howard, Brad Friedel, Marcus Hahnemann, Cory Gibbs, Carlos Bocanegra, Jay DeMerit, Jonathan Spector, Claudio Reyna, Bobby Convey and Brian McBride are these ten players and while they certainly do not make up a fieldable team, they are American soccer's greatest milestone.
Perhaps even more encouraging is the mixture of player types amongst those ranks.
Those ten include both the future and past of American soccer. Players that had to scrape their way into the league. Players that came through European and American youth development. Players with no or little experience on the national stage and players that have been with the team through three World Cups.
All of these factors encourage me only more about where American soccer has been and where it is going.
If these 10 individuals are the indicator that I believe them to be, then surely the USA is not one of those countries that have a "Golden Generation" and then stagnate for decades. Instead, top quality American soccer players are appearing exponentially on the scene through all channels and that will only improve the national game.
To supplement the aforementioned 10, more Americans are already in England waiting and nearly ready for their chance to be called into the first team regularly.
Last year you may recall that Jemal Johnson of Blackburn impressed on loan at Darlington with his blistering speed to nearly take the Quakers into contention for a promotion spot. Meanwhile, Johann Smith of Bolton impressed for the US U-19 team this past week at the Milk Cup in Northern Ireland playing in all three games to help the Americans make it to the final for the second year.
To think that these players only represent those coming through in England is even more heartening.
One cannot forget the next generation growing up in the academies on the continent: Chris Lancos, Lee Nguyen, Preston Zimmerman and Benny Feilhaber all should become household names in the coming years.
So while I know that this past summer's disappointment in Germany still occupies the minds of American soccer fans the world over, I appeal for optimism over the future and acknowledgement of other great accomplishments that are apparent as we look forward to the upcoming season.