Photo by ISIphotos.com
As the calendar gets set to turn to 2012, it's an obvious time to reflect and look back at the year that was for U.S. Soccer.
While the year provided the ushering in of a new coaching era, a 6-8-3 international record and a breakout stage for a number of players, it also saw some of the more familiar names rise to the occasion on both the club and international levels.
Clint Dempsey exemplifies that, as he continues to get even better while playing for Fulham, and he was a standout performer for the United States during its Gold Cup run and in the subsequent friendlies as well.
Playing in a roving supporting forward/attacking midfield role, Dempsey broke the record for all-time goals in the Premier League by an American and has nine goals in all competitions for the Cottagers this season. He also found the net a U.S.-best five times in international play this year, including a decisive finish in the Gold Cup semifinal against Panama.
Then there's goalkeeper Tim Howard, who continues to be a steady anchor in the back for both Everton and the national team. His shot-stopping ability preserved results for the United States on a number of occasions in both friendlies and the Gold Cup, and it also prevented other games from getting out of hand. With a revolving crew of defenders in front of him, the 32-year-old Howard continues to be the constant presence in the back.
It wasn't a traditional dominant year for Landon Donovan, certainly not for the national team, where his absences were more notable than most of his performances save for his goal against Mexico in the Gold Cup final.
Even so, the MLS Cup MVP played through various injuries to score 12 goals this season and lead the Galaxy to the promised land, and he is headed back to the Premier League for two months to try and reprise his role as Everton savior. Five months into Jurgen Klinsmann's tenure as head coach, we still have yet to see how Donovan and Dempsey work together under the new system, and all eyes will be on that dynamic going forward.
For Jozy Altidore, 2011 presented a year of opportunity. Finally receiving consistent time as a starter for AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands, Altidore's game has improved, and he has become a valuable scoring threat on the club level, where he has managed nine goals in all competitions this season.
He's still not scoring at a prolific rate for the national team, though he tallied three times in 2011 including a cracker of a finish against Guadeloupe in the Gold Cup. His improved touch and finishing accuracy has left the door open for a big 2012.
As for Michael Bradley, his place in the national team's starting lineup is no longer a given, but there's no questioning his continued productivity and growth. Playing in his fourth major European league at age 24, Bradley has become a fixture on the right for Chievo Verona in Serie A, helping the team to a mid-table standing.
He also managed to score his third-career goal against Mexico, giving the United States an early lead in the Gold Cup final. All of that combined with his play in recent U.S. friendlies lends reason to believe he'll be back in the starting XI when the U.S. games start to matter again in the coming months.
With all that being said, who gets your vote for American Player of the Year? Cast your vote here:
How did you vote? Who is your American Player of the Year? Anybody not listed in the poll that you think is a deserving winner?
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