Dempsey wins award for top American export

Fulham ace raises bar in 2010 and nets magical goal vs. Juventus

The editorial staff at MLSsoccer.com is looking back over the year with our "Best of 2010" awards, running Dec. 13 through Jan. 2. Each day we'll hand out an award from a variety of categories culled from the storylines of Major League Soccer and the North American soccer scene.

Former New England Revolution and current Fulham star Clint Dempsey ran away with the Export of the Year, recognizing the American who made the biggest waves outside the United States. 

Around the time America's all-time greatest export, Brian McBride, was mulling retirement, countryman Clint Dempsey was ensuring his name would remain as legendary at Craven Cottage as McBride's.

Former Fulham captain McBride may have a stadium bar named after him, but Dempsey etched his name deep into the memories of Fulham fans when he helped lead the Cottagers to the Europa League final earlier this year.

It was Dempsey's audacious chipped goal against Italian giants Juventus that completed an unlikely comeback and thrust Fulham into the quarterfinals of the competition. British newspaper The Guardian said the effort "might become the most famous goal in Fulham history." Ergo, Dempsey's legend was secured.

But that goal was simply the highlight of yet another memorable year for the forward — even though, early on, 2010 looked to be a lost cause.

Days after being named among the top 11 EPL players by Italian daily Gazzetta dello Sport, Dempsey damaged his ACL on Jan. 17. The injury threatened to derail his season and even put his World Cup aspirations into doubt.

However, he was back on the pitch for the final minute of the first leg of Fulham's round-of-16 match against Juventus on March 11, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Despite the injury, Dempsey finished the 2009-2010 season with seven goals in all competitions, and the Texan-born 28-year-old has tallied five in this campaign. In fact, his improved play this year has led to speculation about his future, linking him with a winter move to everyone from Liverpool to Bayer Leverkusen.

But it's not necessarily the goals that have earned Dempsey MLSsoccer.com's Export of the Year nod — it's his durability, his tenacity, his toughness and his ability to bring the drama when needed.

Simply put, Dempsey has demonstrated all those traits American sports fans hold dear.

Second Place: Stuart Holden

Just like Dempsey, Holden's entire year — including his World Cup dreams — looked to be shelved after Holland's Nigel de Jong broke the American's leg in an international friendly on March 3.

Just days before, Holden had impressed in his full league debut, and his EPL future looked promising. However, following the injury, many assumed he would have to move on from Bolton after his short-term contract expired in the summer.

Instead, Wanderers offered the former Dynamo midfielder a new contract only days after the injury and he has done plenty to repay that faith by becoming one of EPL's most valuable players.

Third Place: Hérculez Gómez

Gómez seemingly appeared out of nowhere in 2010 to secure a place on Bob Bradley's World Cup team. The former Kansas City striker tallied 10 goals for Mexican side Puebla in the last Clausura to become the first American to win or tie for a scoring title in a foreign league.

Perhaps more impressive, though, is that the quintessential role player achieved this feat despite starting the majority of the season on the bench.

His early year heroics also earned him a higher profile move to perennial contenders Pachuca and an appearance in the FIFA Club World Cup in December.

Honorable Mentions: Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Steve Cherundolo, Michael Bradley, Carlos Bocanegra, Jose Francisco Torres.