Before Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams sparked bidding wars across the Atlantic, Europeans were wary of American footballers.
“Maybe 10 years ago, there were one or two [Americans] it would come and stick,” said Everton captain Seamus Coleman, who has been with the team since 2009.
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As early as the 1990s, however, Everton regularly featured players from the US men’s national team.
Tim Howard was with the club from 2006 to 2016 and is its official ambassador to the United States. Although big names such as Landon Donovan, Brian McBride, Joe-Max Moore and Preki have made a name for themselves elsewhere, they have also had some memorable moments wearing blue on Merseyside.
At a time when Americans were taboo, Everton was the American team.
“When you hear stories of so many modern things [American] Everton fans, it’s because of the time I spent there,” Howard said on Thursday during Everton’s open training in Alexandria. “The number of people who say, ‘I became an Everton fan because [of you]’ – it was very special for me.
Frank Lampard, Chelsea’s all-time top scorer who now manages Everton, remembers precisely the doubt that followed Donovan’s arrival at Goodison Park on loan in 2010.
“A lot of people in England, if I’m honest, were like, ‘Oh, let’s see if he can do it in the Premier League,'” Lampard said. “And he was great.”
When asked, Lampard easily compiled a list of American Premier League players: Howard, John Harkes, Ian Feuer, Brad Friedel and more. But Lampard also played and managed through a time of change for the Americans in Europe – they were no longer just odds and ends, but becoming real stars.
Lampard saw this change come during a stint with New York City FC in MLS. While managing Chelsea before his move to Everton, Lampard also experienced the growth of American football first-hand when he coached Pulisic, the United States national team’s biggest young star.
“I love Christian. Great kid. Great talent. It was a joy,” he said. The Chelsea legend also said that over the years he has noticed something different in the players Americans. “They all have a great candidacy, desire, and you know what I found? Politeness, real humility. I like that. They work hard.”
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Everton’s current squad has no Americans, but Howard, Lampard and Coleman all say the bond between the United States and the Toffees is both historic and indelible.
On the other side of the pitch, Saturday will be the next in a line of American Premier League keepers – Matt Turner, freshly signed from Arsenal from the New England Revolution. And he doesn’t want to hear any of the American skepticism.
“They wouldn’t have brought me here if they didn’t think I could compete,” Turner said. “So I’m going to take advantage of this pre-season, every opportunity I have to step onto the pitch and play to the best of my abilities.”
Howard said he spoke to Turner throughout the transfer process, saying he saw in him the same hunger and humility that Lampard noticed in American players. Turner called Howard “a huge mentor” and said he knew he was going to have to work for his minutes.
“Matt is no slouch,” Howard said. “He’s the kind of guy who has that mentality. He wants to get in there and fight and figure out what his role is and figure it out.
Turner has his work cut out for him as Arsenal put their faith in their No.1 keeper Aaron Ramsdale. But he is there to compete for a starting role, just like Pulisic and Adams and Brenden Aaronson and Antonee Robinson and Zack Steffen and the other Americans who are making a name for themselves in the Premier League.
And while Turner may be the only Yankee on the court, Saturday’s game in front of thousands of American fans is indicative of a bigger trend. As Americans get better at football, American fans are getting more invested in the Premier League. The 2021-22 season was the second most-watched Premier League campaign in the United States, according to NBC Sports.
“With the World Cup coming up in 2026 in the United States, it’s a really exciting time to be an American football player and fan,” Turner said.
But at the end of the day, there’s always that name – English Premier League. Howard knows that Americans will always have something to prove.
“American players will always have to prove their worth because that’s how it’s always been done,” Howard said. “And it will take a long, long time to change that. But slowly but surely it is falling into place.