Stoke City becomes latest gateway for Americans to the EPL
United States men's national team forward Juan Agudelo agreed Friday to a pre-contract deal with English Premier League side Stoke City starting January 1, 2014, the day his MLS contract with the New England Revolution expires.
Agudelo joins fellow Yanks Geoff Cameron, Brek Shea, and Maurice Edu (who is returning from loan with Turkish club Bursaspor) as members of Stoke manager Mark Hughes' new array of players heading into the 2013-14 EPL campaign. Stoke-on-Trent, England, the home of Stoke City FC, is quickly becoming the de facto stomping grounds for Americans to ply their trade abroad. Stokeamerica? Hughes-SA? Stokes and Stripes? Another nickname? It's déjà vu all over again.
Six years earlier, the 2007-08 EPL club Fulham FC featured five Americans on its roster: goalkeeper Kasey Keller, defender and then-USMNT captain Carlos Bocanegra, midfielder Clint Dempsey, and forwards Brian McBride and Eddie Johnson. 'Fulhamerica' was in full swing. For three of those players — Bocanegra, Dempsey, and Johnson — it was their first stint anywhere overseas, and of the current Stoke City Americans, all but Edu will have logged their first European minutes as members of the Potters.
Cameron has established himself in the left back role at Britannia Stadium making 35 league appearances last season, while Shea has yet to find his footing in a crowded midfield. Agudelo will have much to prove when he arrives in Stoke-on-Trent next January, as he will be competing for playing time up top with the likes of Kenwyne Jones, Peter Crouch, Jonathan Walters and Cameron Jerome.
So far, Hughes and Stoke City owner Peter Coates have liked what they've seen from the budding Americans and have refocused their efforts on plucking talent west of the Atlantic Ocean. "I've kept my eye on [Agudelo] for the last 18 months," Hughes told The Mirror. "And thankfully we were in a position where we were able to pull this deal off."
What does this mean for the future of young Americans? Prior to Dempsey's breakthrough numbers for Fulham, McBride, who even captained the Cottagers, had been the American with the most success abroad. Not coincidentally, McBride's success paved the way for other Yanks to enjoy an opportunity to test their mettle against some of the world's best in arguably the world's best league. Dempsey's success at Fulham led to a chance with Tottenham Hotspur, who narrowly missed out on a Champions League berth with its fifth-place finish in the Premier League last season. The same trend McBride started of building opportunities for Americans at Fulham now seems to be occurring at Stoke City as well.
Now more than ever, European suitors are turning to American youngsters in ways that would have been mocked, if even imagined at all, 20 years ago. Rising Americans with uncapped potential are being evaluated and seriously considered for big-time chances abroad. These broadened horizons fit nicely with USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann's stated desire for his players to challenge themselves at the highest possible level of club play.
From the looks of things, this trend is not going anywhere anytime soon, notwithstanding Dempsey's move back to MLS. Fulham and Stoke City are more than just hotbeds of USMNT talent; they have the potential to be a gateway, a roadmap for bigger clubs to follow. The only question remaining, then, is where will the Americans end up next?