There's a saying in American Football that "offences win you games, defences win you championships." It's an expression that actually rings true - for instance this year's Super Bowl champs, the Denver Broncos, had a relatively lacklustre attack, but a fearsome defence that was at times unplayable.
It would come as no surprise to find out that Marcus Hahnemann is an American Football fan. Although not just because he's your classic All-American Hero - right down to the firearms and love of loud rock music - but because few prove the above rule better than our former goalkeeper.
Who was he and where'd he come from?
Hahnemann started his 'soccer' career in the States, and was pretty much an immediate success. His first professional team was also his local one - the Seattle Sounders - and in his first season he was named the best goalkeeper in the league. Season two saw Hahnemann lead the team to A-League champions. And he repeated the feat in season three.
So as I say, not a bad start. And things would stay on an upward trajectory for the keeper as he moved to the Colorado Rapids (which keen readers of this series may recognise as Kevin Doyle's current club) in 1997. The Denver-based team made the MLS final in Hahnemann's first year between the sticks, and he followed that up with an even more impressive season, where he would win the MLS defensive player of the year award and set a club record for most minutes played by a goalkeeper.
Even in a league still finding its feet, those types of performances don't go unnoticed, and Fulham (then newly promoted to the Championship) came calling for Hahnemann's services. At the time there weren't a huge amount of Americans playing in English football, but those that were seemed to be goalkeepers. Hahnemann moved to Craven Cottage for £80,000, and with his track record so far, you couldn't blame him for being optimistic for what was to come.
Unfortunately, Fulham wasn't all it cracked up to be for Hahnemann. The big American failed to wrestle the first team place from established number one Maik Taylor, and when the Cottagers made an audacious move for Edwin Van Der Sar, his chance of getting game time became even slimmer.
Hahnemann would have to look elsewhere for action. He'd make two loan moves in the 2001/02 season, the first being Rochdale, where he'd play five games, and the second to the Madejski Stadium. Reading were searching for a new first choice goalkeeper to replace the ageing Phil Whitehead, and as well as trying back up Jamie Ashdown and another loanee in Ben Roberts, it was Hahnemann who really fit the bill. He only played six loan games during his initial stint at the club, but Reading remained unbeaten in that time and he kept four clean sheets. And so, with the American's contract coming to an end at Craven Cottage at the conclusion of the season, it was great news for all parties. The Royals signed him on a free transfer that summer, and would have their number one secured for six of the most successful years in the club's history.
His 2005/06 golden moment
Hahnemann quickly established himself in the Reading side, playing a pivotal role as the club solidified themselves in the Championship. He featured 46 times in his first season at the club, with Reading making the play offs, and continued to expertly marshall a back four that was evolving into the one that helped make the 2005/06 season so special.
By the time that year came around, Hahnemann was one of the most influential players in the squad. A big personality, he had strong relationships with the rest of the team and an aura on the pitch that scared opposition strikers and gave his own defence more confidence. His distribution - which initially had been groan-inducing as seemingly every other goal kick went directly out for a throw - suddenly became one of Reading's most potent weapons, with fast throws a trademark of a side that counter-attacked fearsomely.
But I'm going to cop out a bit when picking Hahnemann's top 2005/06 moment. In this section I usually select a goal or game that summed the player's year up, but rather than enjoying one particular stand out match (a keeper only seems to have one of those when his team are under the cosh for 90 minutes, and that Reading side was far too good for that), I'm going to celebrate Hahnemann's overall contribution here. So if I do have to select a date, it's going to be 23rd April 2006, when our US stopper was unanimously picked as goalkeeper in the PFA's Championship Team of the Year.
Only five Reading players made that team - a decent amount, sure, but you could almost have made a case for any of our starting eleven that year - and for Hahnemann it was just reward for a season where he really did 'lead from the back'. 22 clean sheets tells its own story, as does a run of seven league games in November and December in which Hahnemann only conceded one goal (and even that was a late consolation in a 5-1 win).
And I'll sum up his season with one final award-based fact. Doing research for this series I came across a Guardian article that asked fans of each Championship team from the 2005/06 season to name the best five players they faced that year. More than a few selected Hahnemann. For a sport obsessed with playmakers, where goalkeepers really only get recognised for making mistakes, this is some achievement. It goes to show the impression 'USA' made on the pitch and in the stands.
What happened next?
There was little doubt that Hahnemann would be a busier man the following season. And he was an even more vital cog as we battled to a top half Premier League finish. In another memorable year, Hahnemann pulled off vital saves during early wins against Man City and West Ham, which were key to building the momentum that established ourselves as a force to be reckoned with that year. Indeed, the American was in goal for all 38 matches of our inaugural Premier League season, only missing the final 68 minutes after coming off injured in the year's final game at Blackburn.
We all know what happened the season after. Hahnemann was even busier still in 2007/08, but this time for the wrong reasons. His individual performances were actually still strong - according to statistics he made more saves than any other goalkeeper that year - but by then our defence was so disjointed and spine of the team so fractured that he was also picking the ball out of the net more times than most too. Hahnemann was between the sticks during our 7-4 defeat at Portsmouth and the 6-4 at White Hart Lane, games our whole back line never really recovered from.
Despite being one of Reading's most saleable assets following relegation - you sensed he could get one last decent contract elsewhere, and was actually linked with a move to Tottenham - Hahnemann stuck with the Royals as the club tried to make an immediate return to the top flight. That season sticks in the throat as another wasted opportunity, but a 4th place finish wasn't actually a terrible return, and Hahnemann played another 35 games in a year that had a lot of bright moments.
His final games, however, were more frustrating than most. Reading never really got going in either play off semi final legs against Burnley, and as the final whistle went at the Madejski Stadium, there was a real 'end of era' feeling. Hahnemann would follow Steve Coppell and club captain Graeme Murty out the door that summer.
As the Royals got comfy back in the Championship, Hahnemann went back to the big time, joining newly promoted Wolves as a back up to Wayne Hennessey. Wolves were naturally one of the favourites to go straight back down and started the season poorly - so poorly in fact that Hahnemann got his chance in the first team sooner than expected. His experience helped him take to the role well, and he was integral in dragging the club out of the mire and keeping them up in a dramatic climax.
Hahnemann's second year at Molineux was less positive though, and a couple of months of tricky results was all it took for him to lose his place and be marginalised from the team. He wouldn't play another game for the club after November.
You might think that a release from Wolves might have spelt the end of Hahnemann's Premier League career, but he had one final swansong left in him, joining Everton in 2011. The American couldn't expect a first team place ahead of fellow compatriot Tim Howard, but his professionalism and work ethic made him an able understudy at Goodison Park.
Hahnemann wouldn't play a single game for the Blues, but few would begrudge him one last contract in England's top flight. And after a season where he failed to make a Premier League start, it came as no real surprise when the Yank returned home to his childhood club of Seattle in 2012.
By this time the MLS looked a lot different to when Hahnemann left it more than a decade earlier. The league had grown in popularity and was attracting some well-known stars. Hahnemann would therefore slot comfortably into his new squad, and made 11 appearances as the club made the MLS Cup play offs.
Where is he now?
Hahnemann hung up his gloves in December 2014, calling time on a career that encompassed more than 400 appearances. What did he do next? Those who knew him wouldn't be surprised to find that much of his post-football career consists of hunting, skiing and fishing. As we said earlier, we really do have an All-American hero on our hands.
Regarding the game itself, Hahnemann still keeps his hand in with punditry, providing analysis on radio and TV for MLS games - particularly those featuring his Seattle Sounders. I'd say it's a shame that someone so pivotal in our history is now really quite removed from football, but that's always been a quirk that Hahnemann had, even during his playing career. The press loved his passion for guns, fast cars and rock music as much as they did his love for stopping shots. It was, after all, an angle that made the Royals worth covering.
For Reading fans though, we'd take Marcus Hahnemann the goalkeeper all day long. Sure, it was great to see him acknowledge the drummer after every home game, and we loved the passion and endeavour that he showed after a win, but it was the confidence and skill not to concede that we'll really remember Hahnemann for. The 'thou shall not pass' feeling that encapsulated most Reading games in 2005/06 was thanks to him. He built the foundations. And so, if our offence won plenty of matches that year, then it was he who really won the Championship.