Johnson gets off the mark in English football
A roundup of notable U.S. players in action in Europe over the past three weeks:
Brad Friedel, Aston Villa: If Villa fails to qualify for next season's Champions League, Friedel & Co. no doubt will look back to the 2-2 draw at home against relegation contenders Stoke City on March 1. Nursing a 2-0 lead in the dying minutes and seeking three points that would have given the club an eight-point lead over fifth-place Arsenal, Stoke struck twice to level. Friedel had no chance on either goal between the sticks, especially Glenn Whelan's effort from the edge of the box in injury time.
Villa then lost to Manchester City 2-0 on March 4. Friedel narrowly missed saving Elano's penalty, though pulled off one of the saves of the season by thwarting the Brazilian late in the second half. Friedel started against Chelsea on Feb. 21, too, conceding the lone goal after some magic by Frank Lampard in the first half.
Season: 35 games played (0 substitute appearances).
Tim Howard, Everton: Howard had a relatively comfortable time in goal, collecting three clean sheets and helping the Toffees land in the semifinals of the FA Cup.
His only shaky moment came in Sunday's 2-1 FA Cup quarterfinal win over Middlesbrough at home. Holding a late lead, Howard spilled a long-range free kick. Luckily for him, the ball was cleared by a defender.
Howard didn't have to make a save against 10-man Newcastle on Feb. 22 and had to make only one against Blackburn on March 4. Ironically, he was busiest against last-place West Bromwich Albion on Feb. 28, twice denying Marc-Antoine Fortune. Luke Moore hit the bar and also had a shot go narrowly wide.
Season: 35 (0)
Clint Dempsey, Fulham: It was a busy -- and productive -- spell for the midfielder, who started all six of Fulham's games.
Dempsey excelled in a comeback 2-1 win over Championship side Swansea in a FA Cup round of 16 replay on Feb. 24, converting Simon Davies's corner kick in the 77th minute at Craven Cottage in London. Moments later, he was denied a second, as Dorus De Vries stopped him on a breakaway.
Days earlier against West Brom, he produced a stunning 30-yard shot that drilled the post, and played a role in the build-up to Bobby Zamora's winner. He almost found the net again against Hull City on March 4, though couldn't squeeze the ball in from a tight angle. Fulham utterly dominated the Tigers, only to lose 1-0 on an injury-time strike.
The Cottagers fully deserved to lose Saturday's FA Cup quarterfinal against Manchester United, the 4-0 score not entirely reflecting the Red Devils' dominance.
Season: 22 (8): 5 goals.
Brad Guzan, Aston Villa: Guzan started both of Villa's games in the round of 32 in the UEFA Cup against CSKA Moscow.
Tied 1-1 after the first leg in Birmingham, manager Martin O'Neill fielded a weakened side for the return trip. That meant no Ashley Young, Gareth Barry, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Emile Heskey, among others.
Guzan was beaten early in the second half by Yuri Zhirkov from the edge of the area and in injury time by impressive Brazilian Vagner Love. Fellow Illinois native Eric Lichaj, a defender still developing his craft with the reserves, earned a spot on the bench.
Season: 7 (0): 0
Jonathan Spector, West Ham: The injury bug shows no sign of relenting at Upton Park, and in this case, that's good news for Spector, who struggled with a hip problem himself for months.
Spector, a utility man à la Manchester United's John O'Shea, earned his first start of the campaign in a 2-1 loss at Bolton on Feb. 21. West Ham allowed two early goals, then piled on the pressure without much reward.
Spector was an unused substitute in a 2-0 F.A. Cup replay loss at Middlesbrough and played the final seven minutes March 1 versus Manchester City. In the latter, winger Valon Behrami sustained a serious knee injury and is out for the season.
Spector replaced top prospect Jack Collison on March 4 at Wigan when Collison also hurt his knee.
Season: 1 (3): 0
Jay DeMerit, Watford: DeMerit and central defensive partner Mike Williamson earned special praise from boss Brendan Rodgers after Watford downed Blackpool 2-0 away Feb. 21 for a second straight shutout.
"That's the Jay DeMerit I know, and I think he's more comfortable when he has a No. 1 center half alongside him,'' Rodgers told the club Web site.
Unfortunately, DeMerit limped off with a calf injury a week later against Crystal Palace and missed matches against fellow survival seekers Plymouth and Charlton. Watford suggests he could return this weekend against Nottingham Forest, a point behind Watford.
Season: 27 (1): 1
Marcus Hahnemann, Reading: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Reading manager Steve Coppell must be a believer, as he stuck with Aussie Adam Federici in goal even with Hahnemann recovered from a calf injury sustained in December.
Hahnemann backed up Federici in four games, rekindling memories of his time at Fulham.
"When I was on the bench at Fulham for two or three years because Edwin (van der Sar) came in, I still expected to play because otherwise you are not preparing yourself right,'' Hahnemann told reporters in late February. "You have to prepare yourself because even if you are not starting, you could have to come on in the first minute.''
Reading, stuttering in its bid for automatic promotion, snapped a six-game goalless streak by netting in a 2-1 win at Sheffield Wednesday on March 3.
Season: 23 (0): 0
Eddie Johnson, Cardiff City (loan from Fulham): Finally.
Johnson scored his first goal in English soccer Saturday against Doncaster, rifling a left-footed effort into the corner after cutting across the field in the second half.
The crowd erupted at Ninian Park, and Cardiff manager Dave Jones couldn't contain his excitement. Johnson entered in the first half as Jay Bothroyd departed with a calf injury.
"It couldn't have happened to a nicer man,'' Jones told reporters. "You could see by the reaction of everyone, the fans, the players, the staff and Eddie himself, just what it meant. Eddie has worked really hard in training, and in the last two matches, and this goal was things coming to fruition for him.
"When did you last hear the crowd here almost as one singing the name of one player like they did after he had scored? He will probably be voted the Prime Minister of South Wales after this.''
Johnson, who joined Fulham from Major League Soccer in January 2008, started and played all 90 minutes against Barnsley on March 3, too. Cardiff's Web site named him man of the match.
Cardiff rose to fourth, eight points behind Birmingham in the second automatic promotion spot -- with three games in hand.
Could Johnson be playing in the top flight next season?
Season: 6 (15): 1
Frankie Simek, Sheffield Wednesday: The right-back's up-and-down season continues.
Simek, who recently overcame a serious ankle injury, started and played all 90 minutes against Crystal Palace on Feb. 21 after recuperating from a hamstring strain sustained in December. However, he was an unused substitute in Sheffield Wednesday's next three outings.
"I've deliberated whether to play him because I still think it might be a shade too early," Wednesday manager Brian Laws told the club Web site in late February.
Season: 3 (1): 0
Jemal Johnson, MK Dons: Johnson, in fine form with the Dons this season, is hoping to get called up by the national team in the summer.
"There has been interest for a while now, but because of one thing and another it just hasn't happened," the winger, formerly at Blackburn, was quoted as saying. "I have trained hard to try and improve as many parts of my game as I can. I feel quite fresh and look forward to getting promotion with the lads. So if that means I'm called up to the squad, then it will have been an excellent year for me."
Johnson started all three of the team's games, which ended in ties. In the biggest of the bunch, the Dons allowed a goal in injury time against first-place Leicester and had to settle for a 2-2 draw at home Feb. 28.
They lie three points behind Peterborough for the final automatic promotion spot, though with three games in hand.
Season: 21 (9): 6
Spain, Primera Liga
Jozy Altidore, Xerez (loan from Villarreal): Still adapting to life at the second-division leaders, the striker didn't make the bench against Cordoba, Rayo Vallecano and Levante.
Season: 3 (4): 1
Italy, Serie B
Danny Szetela, Brescia (loan from Racing Santander): Brescia's inconsistent season persists. A 3-0 win against Ancona was followed by a 1-0 loss at powerhouse Parma. Brescia then triumphed away against Frosinone, only to fall to mid-table Rimini 1-0 at home Saturday.
Szetela was an unused substitute against Frosinone and came on in the 57th minute against Rimini.
Down to sixth, Brescia sits three points behind Parma for the final promotion spot.
Season: 8 (3): 1
Gabriel Ferrari, Perugia (loan from Sampdoria): Perugia won back-to-back games to rise to the middle of the standings; Ferrari, a forward, dressed but didn't feature against Potenza on Feb. 22 and Juve Stabia on March 1.
Season: 2 (8): 0
Steve Cherundolo, Hannover 96: Winning at home seems to be Hannover's only real chance of avoiding relegation.
Hannover lost 3-2 at Borussia Moenchengladbach, then in last place, on Feb. 21, bouncing back with a 1-0 win at home versus Bayer Leverkusen a week later.
Then came Saturday. Hannover took the lead against a fragile Bayern Munich in Bavaria before letting in five and losing 5-1. Hannover is only one of two teams in the division without a road win.
Cherundolo, recently returned from a hip injury, played the final four minutes against Moenchengladbach and started against Leverkusen and Bayern in defense.
Season: 16 (2): 0
Landon Donovan, Bayern Munich (on loan from L.A. Galaxy): Donovan played his final minutes with Bayern on Saturday, coming on as an 80th-minute substitute against Hannover. He failed to notch a maiden goal, denied by keeper Robert Enke.
The forward entered in the 77th minute against Werder Bremen on March 1 -- Bayern was held to a 0-0 draw despite playing with an extra man for 75 minutes -- and cleared a ball off the line, again as a sub, against Cologne in a 2-1 loss at home Feb. 21.
It's back to California for Donovan, who didn't sound like he wanted to leave Bayern when he joined during the Bundesliga winter break.
Season: 0 (7): 0
Michael Bradley, Borussia Moenchengladbach: Moenchengladbach finally escaped from last place after thrashing title contender Hamburg 4-1 at home over the weekend, a second victory in three matches. Bradley played all 90 minutes.
He scored from the spot in a 2-1 loss at leaders Hertha Berlin on Feb. 28 and had an early header saved in the win over Hannover.
Moenchengladbach, beaten once in its last five, is two points from safety.
Season: 15 (2): 3
Bryan Arguez, Hertha Berlin: Arguez didn't feature for Hertha, as he's currently competing at the U-20 CONCACAF Championships in the Caribbean.
Season: No appearances
Sal Zizzo, Hannover 96: Zizzo, a winger, made his first Bundesliga appearance since the end of November, getting the call in the 62nd minute against Moenchengladbach. He was an unused sub against Leverkusen and didn't make the bench against Bayern.
Season: 0 (4): 0
France, Ligue 1
Freddy Adu, Monaco (loan from Benfica): Adu didn't make the squad for three league games, his last appearance coming in late December. He was, however, on the bench in a 2-0 win over Ajaccio on March 4 in the French Cup's round of 16.
Season: 1 (9): 0
Carlos Bocanegra, Rennes: What a week for Bocanegra. Not only did he score his first goal in French soccer, but he was named Rennes' sexiest player.
First to on-field matters.
Bocanegra headed in Mickael Pagis' cross in the ninth minute Sunday as part of Rennes' 2-0 win over Auxerre. He almost opened his account a week earlier against perennial champion Lyon, though his header was disallowed because of a push in the box. Rennes scored in injury time for a precious 1-1 draw.
Bocanegra picked up a yellow card in a 1-0 win at Nice on Feb. 21, which ruled the left back out of a French Cup win against Lorient. Following a blip, Rennes has won three of four to move within three points of a Champions League spot.
Yes, Bocanegra was named the club's sexiest member in a Web vote.
"Thank you for not voting for Bruno Cheyrou," Bocanegra joked on Rennes' Web site.
And what is Bocanegra's ideal woman?
"I don't have an ideal woman," he added. "Each one is different and special in their own way."
Ahhh. No wonder the girls like him.
Season: 29 (1): 1
Belgium, Jupiler League
Oguchi Onyewu, Standard Liege: Standard had a disappointing three weeks, losing 4-2 to Anderlecht in a top-of-the-table clash Feb. 22 and exiting from the UEFA Cup.
Downing Everton early in the competition and finishing atop its group in the second round, ahead of sides such as Sevilla, Stuttgart and Sampdoria, Standard fell 4-1 on aggregate to Portuguese minnows Braga. The damage was done in the first leg, a 3-0 defeat in Portugal.
Four points adrift of Anderlecht following the head-to-head loss, Standard at least bounced back in the league by topping Cercle Brugge 4-0 and last-place Mons away 1-0. The gap narrowed to two points after Anderlecht dropped points against Mouscron a week ago.
Onyewu started five more games in the center of defense.
Season: 35 (1): 3
Scotland, Premier League
DaMarcus Beasley, Rangers: Beasley was the victim of a nasty challenge in a 4-0 Scottish Cup win over Forfar on Feb. 18, struck on the shin following a lunge by fullback Elliot Smith midway in the second half. Smith was issued a straight red.
"The fact that his foot was off the ground when he was hit saved him from a broken leg," Rangers said on the team Web site.
The winger missed Rangers' next game against Kilmarnock, though returned soon after and was an unused sub against Hamilton twice and against Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
Season: 5 (5): 0
Maurice Edu, Rangers: All of a sudden Edu, the young midfielder, is getting some playing time. He started against Forfar, Hamilton -- in the league -- and Inverness Caledonian Thistle, and saw action as a second-half sub against Hamilton in the sixth round of the Scottish Cup on Sunday.
Season: 5 (1): 0
Danny Califf, FC Midtjylland: The three-month winter break over in Denmark, Midtjylland, still with an outside chance of winning the title, only managed a 1-1 draw at home against lowly Esbjerg on Feb. 28.
Califf, a defensive stalwart, missed out because of a thigh injury and didn't play in Sunday's 1-1 tie against Brondby.
Season: 16 games played, 0 goals
Jeremiah White, Aarhus: White, a midfielder, contested the first 77 minutes of a 2-1 loss against Randers on March 1. Aarhus faces Vejle on Monday.
Season: 18 games played, 2 goals
Benny Feilhaber, Aarhus: Feilhaber, out about six months with a knee injury, played in a friendly in the Czech Republic at the end of February, Yanks Abroad reported. He didn't dress against Randers.
Season: 1 game played, no goals
Michael Parkhurst, Nordsjaelland: Parkhurst, a defender, made his Nordsjaelland debut on March 1, playing 90 minutes in a 1-1 tie at Vejle. He got another 90 minutes in a 1-1 tie at Aalborg on Sunday.
Season: 2 games played, 0 goals
Marcus Tracy, Aalborg: Tracy, like Parkhurst a former Wake Forest standout, has yet to see action for Aalborg. The forward was on the bench against AC Horsens and Nordsjaelland.
Aalborg meets Manchester City in the UEFA Cup this week.
Season: 0 games played
Season starts next month.
Ravi Ubha is a London-based freelance journalist covering Americans abroad for ESPNsoccernet. He also covers tennis for ESPN.com.