American Invasion Continues in Europe
Marcus Hahnemann’s two sons prefer cricket to baseball.
Hahnemann, who will be in goal for Reading when the club makes its Premier League debut Aug. 19 against Middlesbrough, is about to start his eighth season in English soccer.
“They like to play cricket in the backyard,” the Seattle native said of 7-year-old Hunter and 6-year-old Austin. “The boys call Reading home. The boys next door love to play cricket, so my boys want to hang out with them. But we still get out the baseball once in a while and smack that.”
Hahnemann and Bobby Convey -- his teammate on Reading and the U.S. World Cup team -- are among a dozen Americans in England’s top league. Midfielder Claudio Reyna returns at Manchester City, Brad Friedel will again be Blackburn’s No. 1 goalkeeper and Tim Howard is vying for that role at Everton.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra and forward Brian McBride return at Fulham, with lesser-known names such as Jonathan Spector at West Ham, Johann Smith at Bolton, Jemal Johnson at Blackburn, Cory Gibbs at Charlton and Jay DeMerit at Watford.
Others, including World Cup midfielder Eddie Lewis at Leeds, play in the League Championship, the division just below the Premier League.
A dozen more are in other top European leagues, mostly in Germany: Casey Conor (Mainz), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover), Kasey Keller (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Neven Subotic (Mainz) and Benny Feilhaber (Hamburg). Keller became his club’s captain earlier this month.
DaMarcus Beasley returns to PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands, defender Oguchi Onyewu is back at Belgium’s Standard Liege, and goalkeeper Quentin Westberg joined the French club Troyes.
“There’s enough of us over here now that people around the world know American players are good,” Convey said.
The United States has yet to produce a world-class scorer and despite Howard’s past with Manchester United, American players haven’t cracked top English clubs like two-time defending champion Chelsea or Arsenal. None play in the top Spanish or Italian leagues.
After reaching the World Cup quarterfinals in 2002, the Americans were knocked out in the first round of this year’s tournament, totaling just four shots on goal in three games.
“When we start doing really well in consecutive World Cups, as a team we’ll have more respect,” Convey said. “Now it’s just individual players who have respect.”
Hahnemann represents the one position where Americans have world-class status -- goalkeeper.
“We grew up playing basketball, American football and lot of other sports that require hand-eye coordination,” Hahnemann said. “I think it’s more a respected position in the States than it is in a lot of other places in the world. Over here it’s like: ‘He’s just the goalie, he’s not even a player.’ ”
The 34-year-old Hahnemann was the No. 3 goalkeeper on the U.S. World Cup team. He has bounced around from Fulham to Reading to Rochdale -- and back to Reading. He was a key part of Reading’s 33-game unbeaten string last season, which won the club promotion to England’s top flight for the first time in its 135-year history.
“This is the league you want to play in, particularly if you are an American,” Hahnemann said. “This is the most watched league in the States. It’s everybody’s dream if you play this game. I spent years trying to do it and when you finally achieve it -- it’s almost surreal. Even when the fixture list came out. You’re kind of laughing because you still don’t believe it.”
At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Hahnemann mixes a big frame with a big smile. A few years ago he began giving away his jersey after every match, making him a crowd favorite. It’s more than a gesture. He pays for every gift shirt.
“When you look at what you make per game and your appearance money, it’s nothing,” he said. “When you have to write one check, it’s a good chunk.”
The 23-year-old Convey is a left-sided midfielder and part of the new wave of American talent. Playing with D.C. United, he was set three years ago to move to Tottenham Hotspur but failed to get an English work permit because he hadn’t played enough games for the U.S. national team.
He got the permit and moved to Reading in 2004. At one point last season he was the most highly rated player in the League Championship.
“This is my first season in the Premiership; it’ll be a learning experience,” said Convey, who grew up in Philadelphia and lives in Charleston, S.C. “I’ve played in the World Cup, played with the national team and I’ve played against lots of the guys I’ll face this year. It was a dream of mine when I started playing to make the Premier League, and now I’m here. I didn’t think it would be this quick.”