Saturday, August 14, 2021

The End of the AAotY Road

As promised, the final chapter of this retrospective exercise brings us three proper old-timers who got the ball rolling for Americans enjoying success in Europe.

A quick side note: I went back and forth on whether to put Ed McIlvenny (Manchester United and Waterford 1950-57) in this list. On one hand, he captained the US at the 1950 World Cup. On the other hand, he never actually became a citizen despite that being his original intention. Because of that other hand, it just seemed like I couldn't fairly put him in. If you feel differently, by all means consider him in this "hall of fame" group.

And now, on to the last three AAotY nods...

39-43 Armando Frigo

An Indiana native whose parents relocated to Venice as a kid, Frigo came up as a star man for Venezia, who were then in Serie C. The midfielder earned a move to top flight Fiorentina, where he bagged seven goals in 46 games before ending his career with Spezia in Serie B. Frigo then joined the Italian army and was eventually killed by Nazi soldiers.

34-38 Alfonso Negro

Hailing from Brooklyn, Negro scored eight goals in 77 total games for Fiorentina and Napoli. Some places have him listed as a forward, but I was told he was usually more of a midfielder. Either way, he was the first American to play in Serie A, the first to play for Italy (he scored in his only cap) and the first to win an Olympic gold medal (that cap came in the semifinal of the 1936 Olympics). I debated whether to pull his AA card because of the Italy cap, but it was a far different time, and a kid can't help it when your Italian parents move back home from America. And thus, he stays to earn this saluto.

22-30 Eddy Hamel

Finally, we reach the original American Abroad, a figure so gallant he actually had a fan club that would switch sides of the stadium at halftime to be nearest to his flank. Believe it or not, Hamel never celebrated a Dutch title during his Ajax years (twice a runner-up, though). Nevertheless, he was a tornado blazing down the right side in true Amsterdam style. Sometimes he was up the wing, sometimes he was at right back, but he always played from end to end. Sadly, Hamel - the first Jewish player in Ajax history - was murdered in a Nazi concentration camp. The story of his death made for an emotional excerpt in Simon Kuper's book Ajax, The Dutch, The War (yes, I've read it and you should too).

- Greg Seltzer

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