The Best US Soccer Players to Play in the EPL

| November 6, 2021 5:59 am PST
Clint Dempsey, Brad Friedel, Brian McBride, Tim Howard and Christian Pulisic

The English Premier League attracts some of the very best soccer players in the world, thanks to its incredible popularity and the high wages the clubs can afford. That means English soccer fans have been blessed with the chance to watch the best of Spain, Italy, and Brazil turning out for their favorite teams for quite a while.

That was not always the case with American players, though. Up until fairly recently, even the best US soccer players failed to get a chance of performing at stadiums like Old Trafford and Anfield.

But there have been a few.

Roy Wegerle was signed by Chelsea back in the 1980s – before the current EPL was even born. And John Harkes became the first American to play in the all-new Premier League for Sheffield Wednesday when it began in 1992.

Since then, there have been more of the best American players making the move to England’s top tier. There are not quite as many now as there were about 10 or 15 years ago, but there is still a decent US representation.

Here are five of the very best US players to star in the EPL.

Christian Pulisic – Chelsea

Fulham has always been a favorite landing spot for American soccer players wanting to play in England. But with the Cottagers being relegated last season, it is the bigger team in west London, Chelsea, that has kept the Stars and Stripes flying in the capital this year.

Christian Pulisic is regarded by many as the best American player there is at the moment – and has impressed since his arrival at Stamford Bridge.

Pulisic began his professional career in Germany with Borussia Dortmund, and after gaining rave reviews for his performances in the Bundesliga, Chelsea signed him for £58 million in 2019. He made an immediate impression and was nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Season award in his first year.

Although not a prolific goalscorer, Pulisic also chipped in with some memorable strikes and became the second American ever to score a hat-trick in the EPL.

Although Thomas Tuchel, his former head coach at Dortmund, has now joined Pulisic at Chelsea, the American midfielder is finding it more difficult to put together a consistent run of games and has been hampered by a number of injuries in that effort as well.

There is no doubt that Pulisic is one of the best ever American soccer players though – and he will be hoping to become an EPL legend in the coming years too.

Brad Friedel – Liverpool, Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur

For some reason there have been a number of American goalkeepers in the EPL over the years – and Brad Friedel is probably the most successful and most well-known of them all.

Friedel originally joined Liverpool from MSL outfit Columbus Crew in 1997 and, although he was never really able to nail down the starting position at Anfield, he went on to make over 450 appearances in the Premier League in a highly distinguished career.

He won the League Cup with Blackburn and still holds the Premier League with 310 consecutive appearances.

Friedel continued playing in the English top tier until his retirement in 2015 at the age of 44. He is regarded as a model of consistency and was a major factor in the change of image for Americans playing in the top leagues in Europe. He also played for his national team 82 times and represented the US at three separate World Cup finals.

Brian McBride – Everton, Fulham

He may not have been the first American to play in England or in the Premier League. Still, Brian McBride became a trailblazer for US professionals after becoming a fans’ favorite at Craven Cottage in the mid-2000s.

He actually first played in the EPL for Everton on loan after the then-manager David Moyes remembered how impressive he had been in a similar temporary stint at Preston North End.

It was at Fulham where McBride’s combative, never-say-die attitude endeared him to Premier League crowds.

Although he was never the top goal scorer in the team, he did manage to chip in with his fair share, and his impressive work rate earned him the Fulham Player of the Year award in both 2005 and 2006.

His popularity with the fans is probably best shown by the fact that the bar at Fulham’s Craven Cottage stadium was renamed McBride’s in 2009 in his honor.

McBride was relatively old when he made his name in the EPL – and may have done even better if he had been discovered earlier – but his name lives on at Fulham, and he is definitely one of the best American soccer players to play at this level.

Brian McBride EPL Career
Season Club Apps Goals
Goals Everton (on loan) 8 4
2003-04 Fulham 16 4
2004-05 Fulham 31 6
2005-06 Fulham 38 10
2006-07 Fulham 38 9
2007-08 Fulham 17 4

Tim Howard – Manchester United, Everton

Tim Howard was one of the first to play in Major League Soccer before being signed by a Premier League club. After impressing at the Metrostars, he made the move to Manchester United in 2003 and immediately won over the fans by saving a penalty in the Community Shield against Arsenal.

Although he played well in that first season – also being named in the PFA team of the year – his playing time at Old Trafford was intermittent after some costly mistakes during important games.

That is why Howard is remembered more for his performances at Everton. He originally joined the Goodison Park club on loan at the start of the 2006/07 season and signed permanently in February of that campaign.

He went on to make 414 appearances in ten years at the club and even scored a goal – only the fourth goalkeeper ever to do so in the EPL – against Bolton in 2012.

Howard is the most-capped keeper of all time for the USMNT, making 121 appearances and playing in both the 2010 and 2104 World Cup finals.

Clint Dempsey – Fulham, Tottenham Hotspur

Clint Dempsey is another one of the best US soccer players that made the move to Fulham after starring for the New England Revolution in MLS. Before Christian Pulisic, he was regarded as the best American player in the Premier League – and his goal-scoring record at both Fulham and Spurs might lend weight to the argument that he still is.

Dempsey joined Fulham in 2006 and teamed up with fellow Americans Brian McBride and Carlos Bocanegra.

He started slowly in England but went on to play in virtually every game over the next five seasons, becoming the first US player to score an EPL hat-trick against Newcastle in 2012.

It was his goals in that campaign that earned him the move to Spurs, where he played for just one season before returning to MLS.

Although he made a brief return to Fulham on loan at the start of 2014, Dempsey stayed with the Seattle Sounders until his retirement in 2008 and is regarded as one of the USMNT’s finest ever players.

He is still a favorite with Fulham fans, though, as he was part of the squad that made it all the way through to the Europa League final in 2010 – becoming the first American to take part in a major European final.

Americans in the EPL

Americans have tended to opt for the Bundesliga rather than the EPL in recent years but there are still players, such as Josh Sargent, who have made the jump and given English soccer a go. There may even be more if Fulham is promoted back to the top flight again soon.

There are some other US players of note that I didn’t profile here.

Landon Donovan is thought of as one of the greatest in US soccer history – and did actually play for Everton in two separate loan spells. But he played the majority of his career in a rejuvenated MLS for the LA Galaxy and didn’t quite light up the EPL in the same way as the five highlighted here did.

These players paved the way for future American soccer players to show their skills in England – and proved that the US could produce talent just as well as the rest of the world.

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Dan Roberts

Dan Roberts is an experienced freelance writer specialising in sports and sports betting. He is particularly knowledgeable about world soccer, but also writes about football, basketball and cricket.

As a fan of Nottingham Forest, New York Knicks, Minnesota Vikings and New York Mets, Dan has not had much to celebrate recently.

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