Elite keepers set tone for Americans
Another soccer season is over in Europe. Thankfully, the World Cup is around the corner.
In the final installment of Ravi Ubha's roundup of American players in Europe, he grades the key men.
Brad Friedel, GK, Aston Villa: Friedel isn't showing any signs of slowing down, having played every league game for Europa League-bound Aston Villa once again. His reflexes, presence in the box and instincts are up there with those of anyone in the division.
If he were English and still played internationally, the 39-year-old Friedel would be Fabio Capello's No. 1 in South Africa, easily.
Tim Howard, GK, Everton: Howard has been a workhorse for Everton, matching Friedel in league appearances this season. He has grown as a keeper since leaving Manchester United, working on virtually every aspect of his game, including the aerial component. The consistency is there. He'd be Capello's No. 1, too.
Howard has to maintain his form, because Slovakian international Jan Mucha joins Everton from Legia Warszawa in the summer.
Clint Dempsey, M, Fulham: Dempsey provides class in Fulham's midfield, and despite missing a spell because of a knee injury, he still scored seven league goals. That left the Texan tied for ninth among midfielders, and only two ahead of him (Matt Taylor and David Dunn) don't play for Arsenal, Chelsea or Liverpool. He also filled in up front.
One of the goals, against Stoke in January, was a contender for strike of the season, and his exquisite chip against Juventus clinched Fulham's spot in the Europa League quarterfinals.
At times, Dempsey keeps his head down and gets caught in possession, and he shoots a little too much. Still, could he make the move to a bigger club if he so chose? Yes.
Brad Guzan, GK, Aston Villa: Guzan was understandably excited after joining Villa from Major League Soccer in 2008. But the joy is turning into despair. Backing up Friedel, Guzan can hardly get a game.
Guzan sparkled in the Carling Cup for Villa; he was a hero in the penalty shootout against Sunderland in the fourth round. When push came to shove, Villa boss Martin O'Neill made the difficult decision of picking Friedel ahead of Guzan in the Carling Cup final against Manchester United.
Guzan needs playing time, so a loan next season would be ideal.
Jonathan Spector, D, West Ham: Spector played mostly at left back, replacing the injured (and more adventurous) Herita Ilunga. There were bright spots, such as his performance against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. There were a few more poor moments, with individual errors costing West Ham goals.
However, to be fair, the entire back four struggled, the Hammers hugely underachieved, and a headline-grabbing power struggle between the manager and owners didn't help.
Spector has expressed his fondness for playing in the center of defense in the past, and maybe that's where he and his good soccer brain belong. At fullback, his lack of pace is a liability.
He's still young, turning 24 in March.
Jozy Altidore, F, Hull (loan from Villarreal): Altidore is even younger, so he'll need much more time to develop. It's unknown whether the big striker will do it at Hull in the Championship next season, given that the financially stricken Tigers can't really afford to buy him.
Altidore showed flashes of brilliance -- not so much in scoring goals but in his hold-up play and fighting off of defenders, a la Bolton's extremely valuable Kevin Davies.
Negatives outweighed the positives, though. Altidore showed up late for a game, which is inexcusable; his season ended early when he was hit with a three-game ban for a head-butt; and he essentially admitted to not going full tilt in practice, an insult to his teammates -- and to fans.
Marcus Hahnemann, GK, Wolves: Back in August, no one quite knew if Hahnemann would make the World Cup squad. Now he should be the No. 2. That gives one an indication of how things went in his first season at Wolves.
Hahnemann took over from young Welsh international Wayne Hennessey in late November. Not long after, Wolves improved and eased their way to safety. Wolves boss Mick McCarthy, who doesn't hand out compliments lightly, praised the 37-year-old more than once.
Jay DeMerit, D, Watford: A major eye injury and several knocks limited DeMerit's appearances. He was always playing catch-up after he returned in December, following 3½ months out, and Watford struggled in the Championship.
DeMerit's tale of rising from nonleague football to Premier League regular at Watford inspired, but he has played his last game for the cash-strapped Hornets, according to manager Malky Mackay.
"Jay is out of contract, and financially we are not in a position to offer him a new contract," Mackay told the Watford Observer. "He goes with my best wishes."
DeMerit made more than 200 appearances for Watford after joining the club in 2004.
Steve Cherundolo, D, Hannover 96: Two straight wins to end the season maintained Hannover's topflight status. Job done. Besides battling relegation, Hannover had to deal with the suicide death of German international keeper Robert Enke.
Cherundolo didn't play a full schedule because of injuries. Coach Mirko Slomka, however, said the 31-year-old Cherundolo -- a fan favorite and the team captain -- is still an integral part of the squad.
Michael Bradley, M, Borussia Monchengladbach: At the tender age of 22, Bradley already has ample European experience. This season alone, he started 30 league games. Impressive. His versatility in midfield is an asset.
The physical Bundesliga is a world apart from the Eredivisie, but upping his goal tally should be doable next campaign.
Carlos Bocanegra, D, Rennes: An abdominal injury ended Bocanegra's season earlier than expected, and the veteran lost his spot midseason to 23-year-old Romain Danze. But he did well to get it back and was first choice from mid-January onward.
Bocanegra is likely still on the move after the World Cup, having been linked for a while to St. Etienne.
Eddie Johnson, F, Aris Salonika (loan from Fulham): A fresh start is exactly what Johnson needed following dreadful stints at Fulham and Cardiff, and that's what he got by leaving England for a good team in Greece. Guess what? He's scoring.
Johnson's upturn got him onto the preliminary World Cup squad.
Maurice Edu, M, Rangers: Edu, loved by Rangers fans, made his season debut only in December (thanks to a knee injury). It took until early April for Edu to become a starter.
Despite the late start, Edu scored the winner against archrival Celtic in late February and basked in the glory of the club's 53rd league title.
DaMarcus Beasley, F, Rangers: For a period of about a month, the winger excelled. Apart from that, Beasley couldn't get into the lineup and suffered from injuries and illness. His car got firebombed, too.
He'll leave the club when his contract expires in the summer.
Oguchi Onyewu, D, AC Milan: A knee injury sustained on international duty in October destroyed Onyewu's maiden season at Milan. He made a solitary substitute appearance.
He endeared himself to the Milan faithful by signing a one-year contract extension -- to play for free -- the club reported Monday.
Charlie Davies, F, Sochaux: An emotional Davies let rip on Sochaux after he was omitted from the national team roster by U.S. coach Bob Bradley this week.
As much as Davies -- who was involved in a deadly car accident in October -- wanted to play in South Africa, stepping up his fitness over the summer and starting next season 100 percent should now be his goal. It's little consolation for him now, but he'll be around for the next two World Cups.
Stuart Holden, M, Bolton: A broken right fibula meant Holden appeared in a paltry three games for Bolton after leaving MLS, but he made a good impression on manager Owen Coyle.
Much to look forward to next season.
Freddy Adu, M, Aris Salonika (loan from Benfica): Like Johnson, Adu is prospering from a move to Greece after unproductive stays at Benfica, Monaco and Belenenses. He needs to play regularly -- anywhere.
Ricardo Clark, M, Eintracht Frankfurt: Clark's debut with Frankfurt was delayed because of a calf injury, but the club liked what it saw in his three appearances and picked up the three-year option on his contract.
Alejandro Bedoya, M, Orebro: In his second year at Orebro (the Swedish season has just started), Bedoya is already a mainstay in midfield and impressed U.S. officials at camp in January. Getting onto the preliminary World Cup team was quite an achievement. His future is promising.
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.