Monday, April 9, 2012
Michael Bradley's 1st Serie A goal (& Dempsey scores 3)
Michael Bradley scored his first goal for Chievo Verona in the Serie A on Saturday in a 3-2 win over Catania with a 6th minute right-footer just inside the right post. Though it is just his first goal this year, he has been an instrumental part of lifting the team to 9th place in the top-flight Italian league. He's played in 29 games this campaign, starting 28 (all but his first match). Fans of Verona have taken to calling Bradley, "The General", for his hard-nosed and hard-working (and very American) style of play. It probably helps that he's fully immersed himself into learning the language, even conducting interviews in Italian.
If you only think of Bradley's 2010 WC performances, perhaps his play this season is as expected. However, you have to remember the circumstances around his transfer last offseason. Moving to Chievo Verona, a team just happy to avoid relegation in Italy's Serie A, was definitely a risky move. Though previously extremely successful in Holland and then Germany, he was coming off a year of being benched at EPL's Aston Villa. The questions around his true soccer ability in the great European leagues were left unanswered. His father has just been sacked as US coach in favor of Klinsmann and it wasn't even clear if Bradley would continue to be an auto-starter for the US. Then there was the "Americans in Italy" factor, or lack thereof. The last US player to try his hand in Italy, Onyewu, never saw a minute of Serie A playing time in 2 injury-riddled seasons. Before that, you have to go all the way back to 94-96, when Alexi Lalas capitalized on his WC 94 popularity by signing for 2 years with Padova to become just the first American in Serie A. (Rossi does not have the honor of being considered a US player).
So Bradley's stated goal coming in was simply to crack the starting lineup. The fact that he's started 28 of Chievo's 32 Serie A matches (sat out first 2 after Aug transfer, subbed off the bench the next game, then only missed a Feb match due to card accumulation) this season is quite something. In 2 years, Lalas managed to play 44 games and scored 2 goals. Considering there are still 7 games left in Bradley's first season, he will likely end up being the greatest American in Serie A history. Okay, okay, we're only talking about two people. But the fact remains, he is the lone American pioneer in a world class league. And The General is finding success by doing it his way. While he is not the scorer that Dempsey is, his role as an successful US player in a top-flight European league is massively important for US Soccer.
Clint Dempsey notably scored 3 goals this weekend in the Premier League. He had a brace vs Bolton on Sat, including one off a marvelous free-kick. Then today, he scored a game-tying 82nd minute header vs Chelsea to obtain a hard-fought result. On the season, he's scored 22 total goals for Fulham, 16 of which were scored in Premier League matches. He trails only Van Persie, Rooney and Aguero in EPL goals. This weekend's outburst also breaks Louis Saha's previous Fulham record of 13 goals in the EPL. What more can Dempsey do at Fulham? This coming offseason may perhaps be his greatest chance to move to a Champions League-level squad.