Yanks at Rangers suddenly riding high
Things are looking up for both Americans at Rangers and Tim Howard at Everton, while the Christmas period wasn't so festive for Villa stopper Brad Friedel. And Freddy Adu is back in no-man's-land. Here's a brief roundup of notable Americans playing in Europe.
GK, Brad Friedel, Aston Villa: Villa's bubble finally burst.
After four straight wins -- and clean sheets -- Friedel & Co. lost two huge games this week. Both had top-four implications.
Villa was thoroughly outplayed by Arsenal in a 3-0 loss at the Emirates on Sunday, thanks in large part to second-half substitute Cesc Fabregas, who beat Friedel with a stunning free kick to open the scoring. Friedel had no chance on Fabregas' second and Abou Diaby's low drive into the corner.
Two days later, Villa fell 1-0 to Liverpool at Villa Park. A thoroughly drab game slightly intensified midway through the second half, and Liverpool hitman Fernando Torres settled the affair with a great finish three minutes into injury time. Friedel earlier foiled Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, making a fine fingertip save.
Villa slumped in the second half of last season to miss out on a Champions League spot, and will now be hard-pressed to finish in the top four this campaign given the depth at Manchester City and Tottenham.
Season: 20 games played (0 substitute appearances): 0 goals
GK, Tim Howard, Everton: With the hectic holiday fixture list looming, Howard and most of the other regulars were rested in a dour 1-0 Europa League loss to BATE Borisov at Goodison Park on Dec. 17. In Howard's case, it was his first missed game of the season.
He returned and had a quiet day in goal Dec. 20, when the Toffees held surging Birmingham City to a 1-1 tie.
On Saturday, he kept Everton in the game at Sunderland. Trailing 1-0 within 20 minutes, Howard pulled off a fine save to repel Paulo da Silva's header in the second half. Everton subsequently equalized in the dying minutes.
The Toffees stretched their domestic unbeaten run to five Monday, downing 10-man Burnley 2-0 thanks to a pair of late goals. Howard got a bit of luck (David Nugent hit the post early in the second) and registered his first clean sheet in league play since Sept. 26.
Beaten finalists last season, the Toffees host League One Carlisle -- unbeaten in seven -- in the first round proper of the FA Cup this weekend.
Season: 28 (0): 0
M, Clint Dempsey, Fulham: Dempsey couldn't mark his 100th Premier League appearance with a goal, although he and teammates almost ended Chelsea's unbeaten home record Monday.
Zoltan Gera gave Fulham a 1-0 lead in the fourth minute in the west London derby, only for the nervy-looking Blues -- whose lead atop the table has shrunk recently -- to score twice in a two-minute spell midway in the second. Dempsey, you might recall, scored two against Chelsea last December.
Dempsey was unlucky not to score on Boxing Day against Tottenham, denied by the crossbar on a 25-yard free kick. Keeper Heurelho Gomes, starting to show the form he exhibited in the Netherlands with PSV, also stopped him twice at Craven Cottage.
In another big one, Fulham crushed Manchester United 3-0 on Dec. 19. Dempsey played a part in the second goal, setting up the hot Bobby Zamora with a headed lay off.
Only Dempsey, on as a sub, knows how he failed to put away a free header late in a 3-2 win at Basel on Dec. 16 that sent Fulham to the next round.
Season: 22 (2): 6
GK, Brad Guzan, Aston Villa: Guzan predictably didn't get any playing time in the league, but he'll see action next week when Villa faces goal-shy Blackburn in the two-leg Carling Cup semifinals.
The winner of the tie faces either Manchester United or Roberto Mancini's Manchester City.
Guess who Villa meets in the FA Cup: Yes, Blackburn.
Season: 5 (0): 0
D, Jonathan Spector, West Ham: Spector's up-and-down season continues.
He was an unused sub against Bolton on Dec. 15, Chelsea on Dec. 20 and Portsmouth on Dec. 26.
Spector saw time at Spurs on Monday only after left back Herita Ilunga limped off in the 19th minute. He held his own facing speedy winger Aaron Lennon, although relegation-threatened West Ham lost 2-0 to end a brief two-game unbeaten streak.
Given Ilunga's injury, Spector figures to start against Arsenal in the FA Cup.
Season: 9 (3): 0
F, Eddie Johnson, Fulham: Johnson, almost certain to leave Fulham in the January transfer window, didn't make the bench against Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester United or Basel.
Season: 1 (2): 0
F, Jozy Altidore, Hull (loan from Villarreal): After not dressing against Arsenal on Dec. 19, Altidore put in a good shift up front in a 3-1 home loss to Manchester United on Boxing Day.
Rooney made amends by setting up the next two goals.
As Altidore wrote on his Twitter account: Rooney is class, I must say. Tough game to win, still, though, we stayed with them for most of the game.
Altidore started against Bolton on Tuesday and lashed a ball well wide from a free kick. He was subbed early in the second half as the Tigers rallied for a 2-2 draw.
Season: 9 (7): 1
GK, Marcus Hahnemann, Wolves: As most predicted, Wolves lost to Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City over the holidays -- despite playing well.
But Hahnemann and Wolves won the game they really needed to, against fellow relegation contenders Burnley.
Hahnemann was the lone regular in the lineup at Old Trafford on Dec. 15, and Wolves missed a good chance before a passive United opened the scoring from the spot in the 30th minute. They added two more for a flattering 3-0 win.
Undaunted, Wolves eased past Burnley 2-0 on Dec. 20, and held out for 62 minutes at Anfield on Boxing Day. Hahnemann did well to stop Gerrard's effort from the edge of the box, but Gerrard soon scored with a thumping header. The Reds looked out of ideas before Wolves defender Stephen Ward was sent off in the 53rd.
"It was really disappointing because it changed the game," Hahnemann told the club Web site, speaking of the dismissal.
Wolves then controlled play for long spurts against ultra-rich City on Monday without any joy. Hahnemann had no chance on Carlos Tevez's deflected shot in the 33rd minute and was beaten by Javier Garrido's stunning free kick in the 69th. Tevez added a second in the 86th, sending his shot into the corner. Hahnemann might have done better.
Hahnemann also picked up a yellow card, throwing the ball in the direction of the linesman after an offside call went against Wolves, leading to Garrido's goal.
Season: 9 (0): 0
D, Jay DeMerit, Watford: DeMerit quickly regained his starting spot for the cash-strapped Hornets after coming back from an eye injury in early December, playing full games against Peterborough, Nottingham Forest and Bristol City.
His slip against Bristol City on Monday gave David Clarkson a scoring chance -- which he failed to convert -- and mid-table Watford netted in injury time for an uplifting 2-2 away draw. Holding high-flying Nottingham Forest to a 0-0 draw at Vicarage Road was another good result, although losing 2-1 to relegation favorites Peterborough wasn't.
DeMerit, meanwhile, reflected on his World Cup chances on Watford's Web site.
"At the moment, it's a one-day-at-a-time attitude for me, and of course it would be fantastic to get there. But ultimately, I'm not going to have the success I want unless I play for my club," he said. "That's the No. 1 goal at the moment."
Season: 9 (1): 0
D, Frankie Simek, Sheffield Wednesday: The longer that caretaker boss Sean McAuley is in charge, the better for Simek. He played substantially under McAuley, formerly manager of the reserves, recovering from multiple injuries.
Simek came off the bench in a 2-0 loss to Swansea on Dec. 20, replacing Lewis Buxton at right back in the 54th minute.
"If we're going to do well for the remaining 24 games, he needs playing time," McAuley told the Sheffield Telegraph.
Sure enough, Simek started against Newcastle on Boxing Day and the Owls got a morale boost by tying the league leaders 2-2 at home.
Wednesday, winless in 11 and second-to-last in the standings, had its game at Blackpool on Monday postponed because of a frozen pitch.
Season: 7 (1): 0
F, Jemal Johnson, MK Dons: Since recovering from a calf injury, Johnson has struggled to crack the lineup.
The winger was an unused sub against Brentford, and wasn't in the squad against Stockport County and Huddersfield.
Season: 14 (5): 1
F, Mike Grella, Leeds: Three straight wins extended Leeds' lead atop the standings to eight points over Charlton, although Grella was an unused sub against Southampton, Hartlepool and Stockport County.
He did, however, contest the first 60 minutes of Leeds' 2-0 win against League Two Accrington Stanley in the Football League Trophy on Dec. 15.
Grella hopes to be in the squad when Leeds visits Old Trafford in the FA Cup.
Season: 7 (9): 4
Italy, Serie A
D, Oguchi Onyewu, A.C. Milan: Onyewu continues to rehab his injured knee. The goal is to be ready for the World Cup.
Season: 0 (1): 0
D, Steve Cherundolo, Hannover 96: Slumping Hannover must have relished the prospect of facing Bochum on Dec. 19, the final round of games before a nearly monthlong break. And sure enough, the home team took a 2-0 lead within 33 minutes. Cherundolo, at his usual right back, assisted on Jan Schlaudraff's second with an accurate chip.
But Bochum, in the drop zone with only one victory in its previous nine and coming off a 5-1 thumping by Bayern Munich, netted three times in the second half to secure a 3-2 victory.
Cherundolo & Co., now winless in six, rest only a point above the relegation places.
Season: 17 (1): 0
M, Michael Bradley, Borussia Moenchengladbach: Moenchengladbach almost pulled off the upset of the season, leading table-toppers Leverkusen 2-1 -- away -- in the second half.
Leverkusen, though, rallied for a 3-2 win, with Bradley getting outmuscled in the buildup to the home team's second goal. Unbeaten in five not long ago, Moenchengladbach has lost two of three to sit 11th, five points above the relegation zone.
Season: 14 (1): 2
M, Sal Zizzo, Hannover 96: The midfielder continues to recover from a serious knee injury sustained in October.
Season: 0 (1): 0
F, Kenny Cooper, 1860 Munich: Cooper, still nursing a knee injury, played no part in Munich's 1-1 tie at Union Berlin on Dec. 20. His last appearance came Nov. 8.
Goal-shy Munich, resting precariously above the relegation zone, needs him back.
Season: 10 (4): 3
G, Luis Robles, Kaiserslautern: Robles is the undisputed No. 2 at Kaiserslautern and backed up Tobias Sippel, a German under-21 international, again in a 4-1 loss at FC Augsburg on Dec. 21.
A return to the Bundesliga appears likely for Kaiserslautern, which leads the division by six points despite the defeat.
Season: No appearances
France, Ligue 1
F, Charlie Davies, Sochaux: Davies, who suffered serious injuries in a car accident in October, is trying to return in time for the World Cup.
Season: 6 (2): 2
D, Carlos Bocanegra, Rennes: Bocanegra can't get his spot back after returning from a suspension. Instead, Romain Danze started in a 1-0 loss to Monaco on Dec. 16, a 1-0 win at PSG three days later, and a 2-0 defeat at Sochaux on Dec. 23.
Sochaux won despite playing with 10 men for 80 minutes.
Season: 12 (2): 0
M, Freddy Adu, Belenenses (loan from Benfica): Adu continues to drift.
According to reports, he is being sent back to Benfica in the wake of Toni's appointment as Belenenses manager -- replacing Joao Carlos Pereira.
A recent tweet from Adu: Don't worry, my friends, this was agreed upon a while ago. Never even met this new coach at Belenenses.
He was an unused substitute in a 1-0 loss at Uniao de Leiria on Dec. 20.
Season: 1 (3): 0
Scotland, Premier League
M, DaMarcus Beasley, Rangers: Beasley just might have to reconsider his plans to move during the transfer window: He scored two goals and is now getting ample playing time.
Beasley netted for the first time since the 2008 Scottish Cup final -- and how -- belting a 20-yard shot into the corner to open the scoring against Dundee United on Dec. 15. He later assisted on Kenny Miller's strike.
Not surprisingly, Beasley got another start, and scored Rangers' fifth goal in a 6-1 win against Motherwell four days later, a close-range effort.
"We had three months from him before he got injured, but now he's showing how good a player he is," Rangers manager Walter Smith told The Herald. "We'll need to see what he wants to do, but given how well he's playing right now, and providing he continues to play like this, then of course you'd want him to stay."
Unfortunately for Beasley, he then sustained a thigh injury in training and missed the game at Hibernian. He hopes to be fit for Sunday's showdown at Celtic.
Beasley tweeted: The injury is not as bad as we thought. So with rest and extra treatment, hope to be back by the end of the week! Fingers crossed!
Season: 5 (3): 2
M, Maurice Edu, Rangers: Edu finally made his first appearance of the season after recovering from an ankle injury, playing the final 16 minutes of the league leaders' 4-1 win at Hibs on Sunday.
Rangers bounced back after conceding the opener within 12 seconds.
"It's always a hard thing when the team is doing well to break in, but hopefully I just get some time here and there and gradually work my way back in," Edu told the club Web site.
He could be in line for a start against Dundee United on Wednesday.
Season: 0 (1): 0
Season resumes in March.
M, Jeremiah White, Aarhus:
League: 6 (7): 0
M, Benny Feilhaber, Aarhus:
League: 16 (1): 1
D, Michael Parkhurst, Nordsjaelland:
League: 14 (0): 0
F, Marcus Tracy, Aalborg:
League: 3 (3): 1
Ravi Ubha is a London-based freelance journalist covering Americans abroad for ESPNsoccernet. He also covers tennis for ESPN.com.