2014 Review: #1 Bradley Wright-Phillips

2014 REVIEW - Wright-PhillipsIt was not difficult to choose the Englishman abroad who had the best 2014. Who could argue with a season which yielded 31 goals?

In his first full season with the New York Red Bulls, Bradley Wright-Phillips equalled the record for the highest number of regular season goals in a year and also guided his side to the MLS Cup conference finals.

The half-brother of Shaun Wright-Phillips and the son of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, Bradley is of a serious football pedigree and began his career alongside his sibling at Manchester City.

After leaving the Citizens, the forward had spells with several Football League sides, most noticeable with Charlton, where he fired 22 goals in a single season and won the League One title.

However, the following season with the Addicks was not as successful and after nine seasons as a senior pro in England, Wright-Phillips joined MLS side New York Red Bulls in July 2013, partway through the club’s season.

Although on a personal level the remainder of the season saw the English striker contribute just two goals in nine games, the Red Bulls did win their first MLS Supporters’ Shield – awarded to the side with the best regular season record.

Last year though, the former Manchester City striker took his game to the next level.

After scoring in the first game of the season against Vancouver Whitecaps, the striker had to wait six weeks until he found the back of the net again but it was worth the wait. He signalled his intentions for the rest of the season as he fired a hat-trick in an impressive 4-0 win over Houston Dynamo.

After his treble against the Dynamo, Wright-Phillips did not look back and his free-scoring exploits continued from then on.

Another hat-trick followed a month later before notching against European heavyweights Arsenal and Bayern Munich in mid-season friendlies, the latter scored whilst featuring for the MLS All-Stars.

A return to competitive action saw the 29 year-old sustain his goal scoring ability adding a third hat-trick of the season in the 4-1 September victory over Seattle Sounders.

His goals saw the Red Bulls make the MLS Cup playoffs, after the side finished 4th in the Eastern Conference.

The first round of the playoffs saw Wright-Phillips single handedly guide his side to victory over Sporting Kansas City as he scored both goals in a 2-1 win.

The forward then went on to score in both the semi-final aggregate victory over DC United and in the conference final against New England Revolution – but could not prevent a narrow 4-3 aggregate loss.

Wright-Phillips finished the year with 27 regular season goals and four in the playoffs. 31 goals in a remarkable year.

His performances saw him rewarded with an improved contract as he became one of the Red Bulls’ designated players (DP) for the 2015 season, allowing his wage to be considered outside the club’s salary cap.

2014 was the pinnacle of Bradley Wright-Phillips career so far. A record breaking year justifiably rewarded with a DP slot made him the most impressive Englishman abroad last year.

This year will see greater expectations resting on the forward’s slender 5’8″ frame, especially after Thierry Henry’s retirement, but all signs are saying a repeat of last year’s exploits would not be a surprise.

 

 

2014 Review: #2 John Irving

2014 REVIEW - IrvingIn 2014, New Zealand club side Auckland City surprised everyone by finishing third place in the FIFA Club World Cup and English defender John Irving was a key part of their success.

Irving joined the Everton academy at the age of seven and was a stalwart of the Everton youth sides throughout his time at the club, captaining every age group he featured for.

However, despite spending more than fourteen years with the club and twice being named Reserve Player of the Year, he was released from the side in 2009, without making a senior appearance.

Then, at the age of 21, Irving joined Welsh Premier League side Bala Town.

The defender became a crucial member of the squad and was part of the side which qualified for European football for the first in the club’s history in the 2012/13 season.

However, before he had the chance to get his first taste of continental football, Irving took the bold step of moving across the world to further his football career, as he joined New Zealand Premiership side Auckland City.

He was yet again a regular and quickly settled into his new side. Last year saw the culmination of several significant achievements.

First, after missing just two league games all year, Irving helped his side to the ASB Premiership, defeating Team Wellington 1-0 in the playoff final.

Then, after achieving league success, the former Everton defender played in all seven matches as his side won the OFC Champions League, defeating Vanuatu domestic side Amicale 3-2 on aggregate in the final.

Irving, now 25, didn’t stop there as he soon added the OFC President’s Cup title to his growing list of achievements.

However, his best success came arguably in a tournament which he did not even win. Having won the OFC Champions League, Auckland City represented the Oceania Football Confederation in the annual FIFA show-piece, the Club World Cup.

In the first round, Irving scored from 12 yards as Auckland defeated host side Moghreb Tétouan on penalties.

Then, in the next round the defender scored the only goal of the game as his side defeated African champions ES Sétif 1-0 in the quarter-finals.

Although Auckland would go on to lose in the semi-finals to South American side San Lorenzo, Auckland finished on a high as they defeated Cruz Azul on penalties in the 3rd/4th playoff match.

2014 was a superb year for John Irving. Three trophies and a very impressive bronze medal made it a year he will never forget.

This year, the Englishman will try and do it all again, with Auckland looking good to retain their Premiership title.

 

 

2014 Review: #3 Dom Dwyer

2014 REVIEW - Dwyer

 

2014 has been a real breakthrough year for Dom Dwyer, who went from fringe player to Sporting Kansas City’s MVP and the MLS’ second top scorer.

Having been born in West Sussex, Dwyer began his career at Norwich City’s academy before moving to joining a scheme which saw him feature for Conference side King’s Lynn.

His early career was full of setbacks. During his time at college, he suffered three breaks to his right foot.

However, the injuries could not prevent the forward from being drafted by Sporting Kansas City in the 2012 MLS Superdraft, having  come through the American college system. He was offered the chance to do so by former Chelsea player Joe McLaughlin, whose company “specialises in scouting top young footballers to play soccer in America”.

The English striker managed just two appearances in his debut season before being loaned out for the 2013 season to third tier side Orlando City. Here, he fired 22 goals in just 15 games, enough to earn him a recall in time to help Sporting KC to the MLS title.

Despite a goal in the Eastern Conference final, 24-year-old Dwyer was far from a guaranteed starter, but last season, he became exactly that.

23 goals in 34 MLS appearances last season saw him earn cult status in the US, becoming a firm fans’ favourite with the Kansas City crowd. This is not just down to his countless goals, it is only due to his eccentric goal celebration exploits, whether it be a backflip or taking a ‘selfie’ on the pitch after scoring yet another goal.

His exploits also saw him called up to the MLS All Star team, where he featured in the 2-1 win over Bayern Munich in the annual star-studded exhibition match.

Last year culminated in the playoffs for Sporting KC, who were looking to defend their MLS Cup. In the first round, KC travelled to New York Red Bulls in a match which saw the MLS’ two top scorers go head to head – Dwyer and his compatriot Bradley Wright-Phillips.

The match would end in disappointment for the former Norwich youngster as, despite giving his side the lead, Wright-Phillips fired two late goals to knock KC out at the first hurdle.

Despite failing to retain their title, Dwyer could be more than proud of what he achieved last year.

At 24, he still has the best years of his career ahead of him and a move back to England or elsewhere in Europe is still a possibility in the future. The experience in the MLS, will have only benefited his talent, proving a move abroad can be a superb platform for aspiring English players.

The 2014 season has been the stuff of dreams for Dwyer. He finished as the league’s second top scorer and achieved national recognition with a call-up the the MLS All Star team.

This year will see him come back stronger, as he attempts to guide his side to his second MLS Cup title.

2014 Review: #4 Luke Boden

2014 REVIEW - Boden2014 will be a year Luke Boden will never forget. Although his side, Orlando City, did not achieve USL Pro playoff success, the English defender will forever remember last year as the year he became an MLS player.

Boden began his career at his local club Sheffield Wednesday, making fifteen league appearances in a five year period which included three loan spells to Chesterfield, Rushden & Diamonds and Northampton Town respectively.

After failing to secure a place in the Owls’ starting line-up, Boden terminated his contract with the, then, League One side and made the move to the States to join USL Pro side Orlando City (USL Pro is technically the third tier in the US but with no promotion or relegation in place, all divisions act on separate basis).

Despite the significant change in scenery, swapping Sheffield for Florida, Boden took instantly to his new surroundings, becoming a regular for his new side.

His first year with Orlando was the definition of success. He started 22 games as his new side won both the USL Pro title and the USL Pro playoffs, making the club’s inaugural season an unprecedented success.

Boden followed this up with a further title in 2012, as well as another playoff win in 2013.

However, 2014 was by far the Sheffield-born defender’s best ever, if not on a team level, then certainly on a individual level.

He started 26 games in all competitions, contributing three goals (including one against MLS side Colorado Rapids in the US Open Cup) as Orlando won the USL Pro title.

Although his side failed to win in the playoffs, Boden’s performances did not go unnoticed.

First, he was named in the USL Pro team of the year, earning recognition as one of the best defenders in the league.

Then, after four years with Orlando, his spell in Florida would be extended as he was offered a contract to continue with the side as they enter the MLS this year.

This means 2015 will see Boden compete amongst the likes of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard in the US’ top tier. He will also take to the field with the former FIFA World Player of the Year Kaká, who joined Orlando earlier this year.

2014 was an individually brilliant season for Luke Boden. He won the USL Pro title, earned a place in the league’s team of the year and secured an MLS contract. This year we will see if he can do the same in America’s premier football league.

 

 

 

 

2014 Review: #5 Thomas Beattie

2014 REVIEW - Beattie

 

2014 saw Thomas Beattie help Warriors FC to their first S. League title since 2009.

In just his second season in Singapore, the Goole-born midfielder lifted silverware, helping to end Tampines Rovers’ three-year domination.

Beattie started his career at English side Hull City before moving to the US in 2005 to take up the opportunity of a football scholarship.

During his studies, he featured for Canadian sides Forest City London and London City SC.

After completing his studies, Beattie joined Ottawa Fury who played in America’s fourth tier, the US Premier Development League (PDL).

Following a year with the Fury, the midfielder decided to a change of scenery would benefit his career as he agreed to join Singaporean side Hougang United, who were then managed by English coach Alex Weaver.

Beattie was a regular starter throughout the season and even when his compatriot Weaver resigned to take the top job at fellow S.League side Warriors FC, the Englishman continued to feature for Hougang. His first season of S. League football saw him contribute two goals from midfield in 23 league matches.

One of those goals was a sensational strike from outside the box, which secured 1-0 victory over Home United. His other goal also grabbed three points for Hougang, a close range finish in the 2-1 win over DPMM FC.

At the end of the year, the then 27-year-old had impressed enough to secure a move to Warriors FC and be reunited with his former coach Weaver.

2014 was significantly more successful at Warriors FC for Beattie , whose Hougang side had finished in 10th in his first season in Singapore.

Instead of competing in the relegation round when the league split into two like in the previous season, the English midfielder was this time battling for the S. League title as the championship went down to the final game of the season.

Beattie played the full ninety minutes as his side managed a 1-0 win on the final day of the season to claim their first S. League title in five years, pipping Steve Kean’s DPMM FC side to the silverware in the process.

2014 was a triumphant year for Beattie. He was reunited with fellow expatriate Alex Weaver and rewarded his faith by guiding Warriors FC to their first title since 2009, especially impressive seeing as the same side had finished 7th the season before.

This year, Beattie will be looking for continental success as Warriors FC compete in the AFC Champions League for the first time since 2010. His side begin their campaign in the preliminary rounds next month, when they take on Burmese side Yadanarbon FC.

 

 

 

2014 Review: #6 Billy Ions

2014 REVIEW - Ions

2014 saw Billy Ions guide PS Kemi Kings to promotion from Finland’s third tier into the country’s second tier.

In his second season in Finland, Ions missed just one league game all year as he finished with an impressive thirteen goals.

Born in Ashington, Northumberland, he emigrated with his family to Spain as youngster and subsequently joined local side Tenerife.

However, he returned to England in 2010 when he joined boyhood club Newcastle United. After a couple of years back in his native north-east, the forward moved to Leeds United.

After struggling to make the breakthrough into first team football back at home, Ions decided to try and establish a career abroad.

In 2013, he made the move to Finland to join PS Kemi Kings, a side in their second season in the country’s third tier, having been previously relegated after four years in the second tier.

Another Englishman had also just made the move to Kemi. Former West Ham United defender Tommy Taylor had just been appointed manager of the Finnish side.

Ions settled in instantly as Kemi Kings won their league but fell at the final hurdle in the promotion play-offs. The then 19-year-old finished with nine goals in his first season of senior football.

Last year, saw Ions build on his first season in Finland and take a pivotal role in Kemi Kings’ line-up, as he led the line following the departure of the side’s top scorer from the previous season.

Playing ninety minutes in virtually every match, the former Newcastle trainee repaid his manager’s faith with goals – and plenty of them.

A regular goal scorer throughout the season, his best performance came in September last year. With Kemi at home to relegation battlers JBK. Ions fired his first career hat-trick to ensure his side avoided any embarrassment against a lower ranked side, as they cruised to a 6-0 win.

Ions and his striker partner, former Crawley player, Jonte Smith, fired 35 goals between them as they managed to win the league for a second consecutive season.

The league success was only half the job though, as Kemi needed to make it count in the promotion play-offs.

A comfortable 4-0 aggregate win over two legs against VIFK, in which Ions played both matches, meant Kemi Kings did exactly that, securing promotion back to the country’s second tier, the Ykkönen.

2014 has been a successful year for Billy Ions. His goals helped his side earn promotion and his partnership with Jonte Smith was the most prolific in the league.

Now set to play in Finland’s second tier, the 20-year-old will get to test himself at an even higher level, and that is testament to the dedication he has shown throughout his career. Despite several setbacks in England, Ions continued to pursue his dream and proved that a move abroad can sometimes be hugely beneficial.

You can see Billy in action here.

2014 Review: #7 Mark Anderson

2014 REVIEW - Anderson

2014 saw Mark Anderson play a pivotal role as the Fort Lauderdale Strikers came agonisingly close to lifting their first North American Soccer League (NASL) title.

Last year was the Durham-born midfielder’s third season as a professional at the Strikers, having joined the second-tier club in 2012.

After moving to the States in 2008 to study at Barry University, Florida, Anderson played college football and also had a stint at fourth-tier side Balton Rouge Capitals in 2010 – before graduating in 2011.

Following graduation, he impressed in the NASL combine and was selected by the Fort Lauderdale Strikers to join their roster for the 2012 season.

Two years on, and Anderson has had his most impressive season to date.

He made 27 appearances, 26 of which were starts, missing just two matches all season.

His performances, which saw him contribute six goals from midfield, helped the Strikers to equal their best ever finish in the NASL. He was also named in the the league’s ‘Team of the Week’ on three occasions.

After reaching the post-season playoffs, the Strikers saw off Minnesota United in the semi-finals on penalties, with Anderson converting his effort from the spot.

The Englishman’s side then took on San Antonio Scorpions in the final, which is known as the Soccer Bowl. Despite assisting his side’s goal, Anderson was unable to prevent defeat, as the Strikers fell to a narrow 2-1 reverse. Although his side lost, the 25-year-old could be pleased with his performances and the NASL runners-up medal.

After three seasons with the Strikers, Anderson is amongst the club’s record holders. The club have only been known as the Fort Lauderdale Strikers since 2011, having previously been known as Miami FC before relocating.

With the side only four seasons old, Anderson is currently the club’s all time goal scorer, with 19 goals, and has also made the third highest amount of appearances for the club.

During his time in the States, the English midfielder has picked up a reputation for scoring speculative goals. In 2012, he wowed spectators with a goal from his own half, before doing it a again a month later, when he scored from virtually the corner flag.

At 25, Anderson still has the best years of his career to come and after a season which so very nearly brought silverware, there’s nothing to say he cannot do it this year.

2014 was a good year for Anderson. He has contributed six goals, four assists and showed composure where it really matters, with his performances in the post-season playoffs. This year will see the attacking midfielder try and do it all again and, maybe, go one step further and lift the NASL title.