Editor’s note: A good, Connecticut-born friend of ours, who shall remain nameless, has been pestering us since Thanksgiving to compile a Yanks XI. So, here, for the man who likes to get halfway through a sixer of beer and then call up a radio talkshow, it is. Enjoy, Michael E Griffin, enjoy.
Americans these days, eh? You can’t move in Europe without bumping into some Yank plying his trade in a league somewhere across the continent. Some of them, and this is the galling fact, some of them are actually pretty good. First they take our language and now they’re trying to take our beautiful game, right? Right? It’s all a far cry from how we imagined it was going to be back in 1994.
As the MLS continues to go from strength to strength with USA! USA! USA! players spread out across the globe, to far flung destinations that your average English player would never imagine trying, impressing for their respective teams, we take a look at those players that made it all possible; the trailblazers and the ground-breakers who set the stage that allowed Clint Dempsey to score a 90th minute equalizer. The men that enabled Americans to become such household names that not even Barry Spinnaker gives two hoots about their nationality.
There are some familiar names in the XI, and some who are probably unknown to many, but all of them were the first to achieve something as an American soccerball player.
First: American to play in France
The goalie position was far and away the hardest choice to make. Perhaps with US sports being so reliant on hands it isn’t a surprise they have produced so many goalkeepers. From the wonderfully haired, and personal heroes of mine, Tony ‘The Mullet’ Meola and Kasey ‘The Mullet’ Keller to the fantastically bald Brad ‘Shiny’ Friedel, Marcus ‘Slaphead’ Hahnemann, Kasey ‘Chrome Dome’ Keller and Tim ‘Terrets’ Howard. Hatch, however, just pipped them to the post. Although pretending to be Canadian, perhaps to get better deals on hotel rooms and not upset the locals, Hatch was a true American. The first Yank to play in France and the only man to single-handedly win a war, in this case WWII, by saving a penalty. And from ‘The Mighty Baumann,’ no less.
First: American to play in Serie A
Chances are, if you come from any other country in the world and look like this, you’re not going to be a lynch-pin of anything other than a Spin Doctors tribute band. Perhaps that is the beauty of America? Lalas proved to be much more than the clown he looked at Padova, scoring against AC Milan during his time in Italy, as well for the US, nodding home the second in the infamous, for English fans anyway, Yanks vs Planks match of 1993. 96 caps for the US and a pocket full of kryptonite; not a bad haul.
First: American to win a UEFA Cup medal and play in and win the Bundesliga
The other goalscorer in the Yanks vs Planks game has a lot of explaining to do if he wants to keep his position in this XI. Born in Germany, to an American dad he never met and German mum, Dooley grew up as a German, not even speaking English, and didn’t assume US citizenship until 1992, a year after he won the Bundesliga with Kaiserslautern. He also won the UEFA Cup at Schalke in 1997 alongside fellow German born American, David Wagner, though neither appeared off the bench in the final. So, perhaps he wasn’t really the first to do either of these things, but the man who was desperate to be capped by Germany ended up winning 81 caps for the US and, to us, that sounds like an American.
First: American to reach 100 caps
Balboa never played in Europe, the furthest his club career took him was Mexico, but his appearances at three World Cups inspired a whole generation of
rednecks Americans to believe in one simple truth: even if you are born looking like a corrupt cop from a 1980s Arnie movie you can still achieve your dreams. And even have enough time to hit the gym. But not the barber. Plus, this. Mark Hughes eat your heart out.
First: American to win the FA Cup
Contrary to popular opinion, working on the basis that this opinion is popular, Tim Howard was not the first American to win the FA Cup when he did so with Man Utd in 2004. It’s not surprising many think he is considering the first American to actually do it did it back in 1873. Sturgis, born in Boston, arrived in England aged 7 months but didn’t take British nationality until 1877, making him the first American to play in, and subsequently win, the oldest association football competition in the world.
First: American born player to captain a European side
Thomas Dooley captained Kaiserslautern but we’ve already called his nationality into question so, Reyna takes the plaudits as the first real American to captain a side in Europe. Perhaps a tad harsh on Dooley but a player like Reyna deserves to be in this team. 111 caps for the US and a string of top flight clubs in Germany and England, as well as Old Rangers, cemented him as one of the best players America has ever produced and proof that an American born player could lead a team of Europeans.
First: American to play in the Premier League and win at Wembley
The common theme in this XI, apart from the whole ‘first’ thing, seems to be the flowing mullet. Witness its full glory as Harkes scores this screamer, the 1990-91 goal of the year, past Peter Shilton. As a young Nigel Worthington floats a ball out wide you wonder what exactly Tony Dorigo is doing at right back…and then you realise who it is. 1991 was also the year Harkes picked up a League Cup winners medal becoming the second American to appear at Wembley. With promotion for Wednesday, Harkes became the first American to feature in the newly formed Premier League during 1992-93 and, later that season, scored in the League Cup loss to Arsenal, becoming the second American to score at Wembley.
First: American to play at Wembley
The left wing is the reason John Harkes got so many seconds in his career. Admittedly the forward line is another, including some sloppy from Eric Wynalda, but that’s a different story. Back in 1949, Romford FC reached the Amateur Cup Final and turned up at Wembley boasting an American at left-half. The first Yank to grace the hallowed turf. Sadly, for Romford, they lost 1-0 leaving the door wide open for an American to grab the honour of winning and scoring at Wembley. Harkes did the winning business with the League Cup in 1991 but, prior to his goal in 1993, Mike Masters had popped up in 1992 to score in Colchester Utd’s successful FA Trophy final.
First: American born player to play in the Bundesliga
When Thomas Dooley first played in the Bundesliga he wasn’t American but when Wynalda did, he definitely was. Just like Claudio Reyna, Dooley, perhaps, got their first but Wynalda got there first as an American signing. 2 years before the US hosted the World Cup, Wynalda made a name for himself in Saarbrucken and, like Reyna later, proved that a ‘California lover boy’ could be the equal, if not the better, of those pesky, snobbish Europeans. Like Balboa, he played in 3 World Cups, but even that wasn’t enough to stop his wife playing away with John Harkes. Something he didn’t know when he said this!
First: American to play in the English top flight
Wegerle, like Thomas Dooley, who seems to have got a mention under every player, is a difficult case. He only became an American citizen in 1991, so should we discount everything up until that point? If no, he was the first American to play, and score, in the top flight of English football with Chelsea, Luton and QPR, bagging himself a Goal of the Season award for 1990-91. If yes, then all he had going for him was a pretty sweet mullet and John Harkes, much like with Eric Wynalda’s wife, gets all the plaudits.
First: American to score a World Cup Finals hat-trick
Bert, in fact, was the first player ever to score a hat-trick in a World Cup Finals. One in the eye, then, for the rest of the world. It was July 17, 1930 and the US were playing Paraguay in their second game. Bert had already scored once in the opener, against Belgium, and, for 76 years, it was considered he had only gone one better against the South Americans due a dispute over his second. With Argentina’s Stabile scoring a hat-trick two days later it seemed the record had been lost but, in 2006, FIFA confirmed Patenaude had, indeed, scored all three goals and the record was his. Sadly, it seems the goals are nowhere to be found, so here’s all the US goals since 1990. Rob Green, look away now.