The mounds of snow that blanketed Europe over the last few weeks brought an earlier start than expected to a few leagues' respective winter breaks and forced the postponement of numerous matches, but they hardly prevented one American soccer player from receiving the gift of much-needed playing time.
Brad Guzan was mercifully sent out on loan to Hull City last week, freeing the United States national team goalkeeper from the shackles of his current situation at Aston Villa.
Stuck behind fellow American Brad Friedel during league play, stripped of his domestic cup starting duties and seemingly out of Aston Villa's future plans as the club reportedly seeks goalkeeping help in the transfer window, Guzan will spend at least the next month in England's League Championship getting the match time he has undoubtedly craved.
Guzan has already benefited from the transaction by starting twice for the Tigers in a three-day span after starting three times all season for Aston Villa. Guzan made five saves in Hull City's 1-0 loss to Leicester City on Saturday, and he made seven more stops -- including a few clutch ones in stoppage time -- in a crucial 3-2 victory for Hull over Portsmouth on Monday.
Depending on Aston Villa's loan terms with Hull City, and barring a loan extension, Guzan could have as many as three more matches with the Tigers. Hull's next match is an FA Cup tilt against Wigan Athletic on Saturday, and if Aston Villa has any FA Cup plans in the future for Guzan, then the parent club likely wouldn't want him cup-tied to Hull and could prevent him from playing. After that, Guzan could face Barnsley and Reading in Hull's final two league matches of January as the club continues its quest for promotion to the Premier League.
For Guzan, though, the quest to receive regular playing time has temporarily been achieved.
Here are some of the other highlights involving Americans playing soccer abroad throughout the holiday season and into the new year:
• Charlie Davies returned to FC Sochaux's first team, making the bench for the Dec. 20 match against Bordeaux. Though Davies did not play, and team officials have suggested that a loan may be his best bet at getting first-team minutes, just dressing for the match was a landmark moment in his continued recovery from the October 2009 car crash that threatened his life and claimed the life of another passenger.
• Stuart Holden's ceiling keeps rising at Bolton after he earned the highest ranking of all Premier League players in The Guardian's (UK) reader-powered mid-season Best XI, which was released Dec. 21.
• Tim Howard turned in perhaps his finest performance of the season, coming up with six saves to help Everton fend off Premier League title chaser Manchester City in a 2-1 victory on Dec. 20.
• Eric Lichaj earned two more starts at right back for Aston Villa in place of the injured Luke Young, and he did a masterful job in neutralizing Tottenham's dangerous left winger, Gareth Bale, in a 2-1 loss to Spurs on Dec. 26.
• Defender Zak Whitbread made his return from a season-long injury spell for League Championship side Norwich City, making a late cameo in a victory over Sheffield Wednesday on Dec. 28 and earning just his second start in his two seasons with the club in a 1-0 New Year's Day victory over league-leading Queens Park Rangers.
• Jozy Altidore could see an up-tick in playing time at Villarreal after starting forward Nilmar, the team's leading scorer in league play, returned to his native Brazil for a knee operation to repair damaged cartilage. Altidore, now the third forward on the Villarreal depth chart, played the last seven minutes in the team's 2-0 victory over Almeria on Monday.
• Ricardo Clark earned his first start of the season for Eintracht Frankfurt against Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund, turning in a solid 90-minute shift in Frankfurt's 1-0 upset victory on Dec. 18. He got the start again four days later in Frankfurt's penalty-shootout loss to Alemannia Aachen in the DFB Pokal (German Cup).
• Kenny Cooper returned from an ankle injury and made his first appearance of the season for TSV 1860 Munich, entering as a 71st-minute substitute in his team's 1-0 loss to SC Paderborn 07 on Dec. 19.
• Dominic Cervi and the Scandinavia-based trio of Alejandro Bedoya, Ryan Miller and Mikkel Diskerud were among the 24 players called into the United States men's national team's January training camp ahead of friendlies against Chile and Egypt.
• Conor Doyle, Greg Garza and Gale Agbossoumonde were among the 26 players called into the United States Under-20 men's national team's January training camp. Also included in the 26 was Fabian Huerzeler, a Houston-born, Germany-raised Bayern Munich youth midfielder who will represent the United States for the first time after previously captaining the Germany U-17 side.
Below are the season statistics to date for the Americans playing abroad as the calendar turns to 2011 (statistics encompass all competitions):
Clint Dempsey, M/F, Fulham: 22 games, 19 starts, 6 goals.
Brad Friedel, GK, Aston Villa: 21 games, 21 starts, 70 saves, 38 goals allowed, 4 clean sheets.
Marcus Hahnemann, GK, Wolverhampton: 14 games, 14 starts, 45 saves, 25 goals allowed.
Stuart Holden, M, Bolton: 18 games, 17 starts, 2 goals.
Tim Howard, GK, Everton: 20 games, 20 starts, 46 saves, 24 goals allowed, 5 clean sheets.
Eddie Johnson, F, Fulham: 11 games, 1 start.
Eric Lichaj, D, Aston Villa: 8 games, 6 starts.
Jonathan Spector, M/D, West Ham: 7 games, 6 starts, 2 goals.
Conor Doyle, F, Derby County: 11 games, 4 starts.
Brad Guzan, GK, Hull City: 5 games, 5 starts, 24 saves, 8 goals allowed.
Zak Whitbread, D, Norwich City: 2 games, 1 start.
Mike Grella, F, Carlisle United: 12 games, 7 starts, 3 goals.
Jemal Johnson, M, Milton Keynes Dons: 16 games, 5 starts, 1 goal.
Anton Peterlin, M, Plymouth Argyle: 5 games, 4 starts.
Frank Simek, D, Carlisle United: 25 games, 25 starts.
Jozy Altidore, F, Villarreal: 12 games, 6 starts, 2 goals.
Oguchi Onyewu, D, AC Milan: 0 games.
DaMarcus Beasley, M, Hannover 96: 4 games.
Michael Bradley, M, Borussia Monchengladbach: 20 games, 20 starts, 4 goals.
Steve Cherundolo, D, Hannover 96: 17 games, 17 starts.
Ricardo Clark, M, Eintracht Frankfurt: 5 games, 2 starts.
Jermaine Jones, M, FC Schalke 04: 16 games, 15 starts, 1 goal.
Daniel Williams, D, SC Freiburg: 5 games, 2 starts.
Kenny Cooper, F, TSV 1860 Munich: 1 game.
Luis Robles, GK, Karlsruhe SC: 11 games, 11 starts, 43 saves, 18 goals allowed, 3 clean sheets.
Dave Yelldell, GK, MSV Duisburg: 20 games, 20 starts, 50 saves, 17 goals allowed, 8 clean sheets.
Matt Taylor, F, Rot Weiss Ahlen: 11 games, 11 starts, 7 goals.
Carlos Bocanegra, D, St. Etienne: 16 games, 16 starts, 1 goal.
Charlie Davies, F, FC Sochaux: 0 games.
Sacha Kljestan, M, RSC Anderlecht: 21 games, 18 starts, 3 goals.
Liga de Honra
Bryan Arguez, M, G.D. Estoril Praia: 1 game, 1 start.
Greg Garza, D, G.D. Estoril Praia: 1 game.
Tony Taylor, F, G.D. Estoril Praia: 13 games, 2 starts, 4 goals.
Maurice Edu, M, Rangers FC: 17 games, 15 starts, 2 goals.
Dominic Cervi, GK, Dundee FC: 0 games.
Freddy Adu, F, Aris Salonika: 0 games.
Avi Creditor is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.