The five men chosen for U.S. Soccer’s Male Athlete of the Year were released yesterday and with bated breath we received these great players on the list: Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Herculez Gomez, Tim Howard, and Fabian Johnson. Without reading other soccer pundits ideas about who should be named the Athlete of the Year, here are my thoughts (as well as my pick for AOY):
Michael Bradley – AS Roma and U.S. Midfielder
Though he missed at two World Cup qualifiers this fall, he is back with the fierce persona of General Bradley on the pitch. When Klinsmann took over, many people were questioning if the former coach’s son would have a place in the team without his father as manager. Where are those people now? Probably drinking a nice cold glass of humility. This is because Bradley has become one of the USMNT consistent performers in the red, white, and blue, as well as for his club team at AS Roma. Although he is mainly a box-to-box midfielder with defensive tendencies, he has the tenacious spirit and an eye for the goal that would be intimidating for any opponent. I’m very pleased with the inclusion of Bradley on the top five list this year.
Clint Dempsey – Tottenham Hotspur and U.S. Midfielder/Forward
With a soap opera of a summer with his transfer from Fulham to London neighbors, Tottenham, Dempsey sure is trying to find his footing with both club and country. His mojo isn’t back just yet with the Spurs – he scored the historical game-winner for Tottenham at Old Trafford playing Manchester United, yet has not had his goal-scoring ways as habit at White Hart Lane as he had at them at the Cottage. Dempsey, however, can be seen as one of the veterans on the squad, especially with the likely turnover in the coming years of captain Carlos Bocanegra, the Mayor of Hannover Steve Cherundolo and fan favorite, Landon Donovan. With his veteran ways moving forward, Dempsey can prove himself as a U.S. legend, and maybe he already has, by his zeal for good, clean, and exciting football. His passion for winning, hopefully, will carry over to just that, winning.
Herculez Gomez – Santos Laguna and U.S. Forward
A somewhat under-the-radar player up until this past year, sometimes seen as a ‘breakout’ season for the Mexican league player, Gomez has shown his knack for finding the goal when needed. Gomez, though he did play at the World Cup in 2010, seemed somehow under-utilized until this year, in my opinion. He has a great air about him. He’s not showy or brazen but gets the job done. He has had a terrific season in Mexico by scoring eleven goals in twelve matches. His fancy (fancier than Dempsey, at least) footwork will hopefully lead him to continue his ‘eyes on the prize’ prowess (aka scoring goals), which will in turn help out the United States’ chances on getting past the Hexagonal and heading on that flight to Brazil for the World Cup.
Tim Howard – Everton and U.S. Goalkeeper
The New Jersey native has become a favorite in the English Premier League for not only goalkeepers but with players in general. He is likable and conversational in interviews and yet has a fire in his eyes that takes on a different persona on the pitch. The Everton keeper has been top notch in the games this year, whether friendlies or World Cup Qualifiers. The match that may have been most impressive for Tim Howard was the friendly at Estadio Azteca against continental rivals, Mexico. The August friendly accounted for one of Howard’s many shutouts but what is more commanding is the summary of stats with 6 shots with 3 shots on goal for the U.S. vs. the 15 shots and 3 on goal for Mexico as well as the 10 corner kicks for the Mexicans and no corner kicks for the Yanks. Howard has very much come into his own this year, and that’s very much a good thing.
Fabian Johnson – Hoffenheim and U.S. Defender
A steady workhorse has been found in German-American Johnson. Although he plays as if he has been a veteran on the USMNT for years, Johnson is still a young gun at 24, especially after being called up for the Senior National Team – after playing for the German youth teams during his childhood – in 2011. Johnson has steadily increased his stock for the USMNT in his vision of the field from the outside flanks, specifically the left back position, which has been a sore subject in recent years for the National Team. Johnson, though he has improved his performance, especially in big games like the Mexico match, still has yet to reach his potential, and let me say that when his time comes, he will be even more of a joy to watch.
Winner: Michael Bradley
Runner-Up: Clint Dempsey