Building His Net Worth
Brad Friedel of the U.S. has become the top goalkeeper in
On the proving ground of European soccer, American players have
long had a dream: to be judged not by their passports but by
their skills. That may finally be happening in England, where
U.S. veteran Brad Friedel is being hailed as the top goalkeeper
in perhaps the world's best league. With nine games left in the
Premier League season, Friedel's Blackburn Rovers are in a
respectable eighth place, not least because their big Yank is
leading EPL keepers in saves (120), save percentage (.810) and
penalty kicks stopped (two). Friedel's also leading in plaudits
from the usually harrumphing Brits.
"He's the best goalkeeper in the Premiership, bar none," says
Blackburn manager Graeme Souness, a verdict echoed by Bolton
Wanderers boss Sam Allardyce and a Sky Sports fan poll. The BBC
named Friedel one of its 2002 players of the year, ahead of
homeboys David Beckham and Michael Owen. As their national team
searches for a dependable netminder, Blackburn supporters have
even taken up cheers of "Friedel for England!"
"As each year goes by, you can anticipate some situations earlier
and make better decisions," says Friedel, 31, who's one of two
Yank keepers--along with Tottenham's Kasey Keller--among the EPL's
top five this season. "Kasey and I are over here because of hard
work and some luck and having people who believe in you."
March 17, 2003
That last part is never guaranteed, especially if you're from the
States. In 1998 Friedel earned the No. 1 job at Liverpool but
found himself in the doghouse after a subpar performance against
Manchester United. In November 2000, however, he was reunited
with Souness, who had first coached the 6'4", 202-pound Ohio
native at the Turkish club Galatasaray in 1995. Investing in an
American was easy for Souness, a legendary iconoclast who, while
coaching Scotland's Glasgow Rangers in 1989, enraged the team's
notoriously sectarian fans by signing a Catholic. Souness's
confidence in Friedel was rewarded when Blackburn earned
promotion to the Premier League in 2001 and won the Worthington
Cup final in 2002 behind the keeper's heroics.
"I don't think Graeme views me as an American," says Friedel. "He
just sees me as a goalkeeper he likes. We won the Turkish Cup
together [in 1996], and he remembers people who win with him. He
has a group of players he trusts, which everyone in the game
needs because there are a lot of people who just want to stab you
in the back."
After Friedel made two game-saving stops in a 2-1 Blackburn win
over Chelsea last month, opposing keeper Carlo Cudicini said, "He
was fantastic. A lot of strikers think they can just blast it
[past him], but his reflexes are excellent, and he's so big, you
have to try to place it." About the only thing harder to place
these days is Friedel's accent, a curious hybrid of Ohio and
England, sprinkled with Britishisms (lads, footballers), which
makes it easy to forget he's American. In this age of soccer
globalism, that may be precisely the point.
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It took five minutes for 13-year-old phenom Freddy Adu (SI, March
3) to produce his first magical moment in a U.S. uniform. Facing
Jamaica last week in the qualifying tournament for August's
Under-17 World Cup, Adu raced along the end line, turned his man
with a brilliant stepover and fed Corey Ashe for the U.S.'s first
goal. "I was nervous because it was my first international game,"
Freddy said, "but I played pretty well."
Adu led the U.S. to qualification with two goals and two assists
in three games, but what floored observers was his artistry. From
dipsy-doodling three Jamaicans on his first goal, to launching a
mind-bending bicycle kick against El Salvador, to beating six
Guatemalans before firing off the crossbar, Adu displayed all the
goods. Said coach John Ellinger, "Freddy was thrown into the
fire, and he handled it."