April 25, 2008
By Robert Wagman (in Washington, D.C.) SoccerTimes
A pair of Americans and their teammates had reason to celebrate this week. Defender Oguchi Onyewu and Standard de Liège won Belgium’s Jupiler Legaue title for the first time in 25 years, while midfielder Michael Bradley and Heerenveen narrowly qualified for the post-season playoff for a spot in the Champions League by finishing fifth in the Dutch Eredivisie.
Onyewu was named to the Soccer America MVP team in 2001 and the NSCAA All-America team in 2001. He was named first-team All-ACC in 2000 and 2001.
With three league matches left, Standard used a 2-0 victory over second-place Anderlecht to sew up its first championship in a generation. Not one of the wealthier clubs in the Jupiler league, Standard refused to lose, going 20-0-11 for 71 points, an insurmountable 10 better than Anderlecht and Club Brugge, both 18-6-7.
It was Onyewu’s 100th Belgian league appearance. As he has all season, he marshaled a defense that has played at a very high level from the opening match. Not only has Standard clinched, but it would become the first Belgian team to go undefeated in league in 42 years should it not lose in its remaining three outings.
Onyewu was on loan to Middlesbrough in the English Premier League for the second half of last season and was disappointed he could not land a permanent contract in England. However, Standard’s unparalleled success this season has somewhat tempered that disappointment.
“Over the whole season we have proved to be the best team,” Onyewu said after the match. “Hopefully we can win the rest of our games, stay unbeaten and go on to challenge in the Champions League next season.”
The Champions League is very much on the minds of Bradley and Heerenveen after they closed their regular season with a 5-0 thrashing of last-place Excelsior. Heerenveen finished with an 18-10-6 record, same as Feyenoord Rotterdam, but Heerenveen took fifth with a plus-40 goal differential to plus-23 for Feyenoord. Heerenveen advanced to a four-team playoff for a Champions League berth,
Bradley assisted two goals in the 5-0 win. His 15 goals in 33 league games made him Heerenveen’s leading scorer and tied the 21-year old with four other players as the fifth place in the Eredivisie scoring table. The top scorer was Ajax Amsterdam striker Klas-Jan Huntelaar with 33 goals.
Heerenveen opens this weekend in the playoffs with a home game in the two-match, total goals series against Ajax with the home leg in two weeks. .
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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