After a dark moment not long ago, the USMNT has plenty of reasons to be excited about the future.
By Will Guthrie
When the US failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup – the first time they had missed out since 1986 – spirits were at an all-time low and questions were being asked of the national team set up. Fast-forward just two years however, and it’s a remarkably different picture. The past 12 months particularly has seen an influx of talented young United States players into German Bundesliga teams. Currently, there are more than 30 US nationals playing in Germany, whilst there are dozens of others in top leagues around Europe. This development has excited and given hope to fans of the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT). With the United States Women’s National Team being crowned World Champions last year, it’s more good news for a country with such a winner’s mentality.
Germany has been good for US football for a variety of reasons, with players making the move abroad earlier and earlier. For instance, German immigration laws are not as strict as in other European countries, so no work permit is required to gain residency. Players just need to be confirmed as competent athletes by the DFB (German Football Association) and earn a living wage. Additionally, up until recently, US Soccer was prohibited from receiving solidarity payments or training compensation for players who left prior to going pro. Having no transfer fee has definitely been a factor in German clubs raiding MLS clubs of their best young talent. With players basically being free, German clubs stand to make a huge profit if they succeed in developing the players into stars, whilst there’s very little downside, as most players are able to at least forge respectable careers. It also helps that most Germans speak English well and the systems in place for most Bundesliga clubs are very structured, which seems to aid young US players in settling into their new lives.
Finally, an athletic and fast paced game style suits US players, while the players adapting well means German clubs are more likely to want the next big thing out of the US. Additionally, seeing others become top level professionals likely encourages young players to make the transition as soon as they can.
This all goes a long way to explaining the productive relationship between US and German football. There are plenty of players worth noting, but below are perhaps the biggest standouts at the moment:
Gio Reyna – Borussia Dortmund FC
Perhaps the most exciting of the lot. Still just 17, an attacking midfielder capable of playing the wide positions, he’s been compared to Christian Pulisic and is the son of former USMNT legend Claudio Reyna. He’s played 15 times for Dortmund this season, no mean feat when Jadon Sancho, Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard all play a similar position and it’s also worth noting is he was only promoted to the senior team halfway through the season. His highlights include a stunning goal against Werder Bremen in the DFB Cup and laying on an assist in his CL debut versus Paris Saint Germain. Whilst he’s only scored once and assisted twice this season, he’s just 17 and has an absurd amount of talent. It’s not a stretch to imagine he can emulate Pulisic’s career trajectory and become a bonafide star.
Josh Sargent – Werder Bremen
At age 20, this promising forward had 15 starts whilst taking part in 28 games this season, for a return of four goals and two assists. Although that’s not quite setting the world on fire, he plays frequently and is still very young, the most crucial thing at his age is game time and he is seeing plenty of it. If he can take his game to another level, he could be a valuable asset to the national team. He’s already been capped 12 times and scored five goals for the USMNT. For Bremen, his goal against Augsberg, where he calmly juggled the ball over the onrushing keeper’s head before coolly slotting home shows he has the talent required to play at the top level.
Tyler Adams – RB Leipzig
At just 21 years of age, this midfielder has 14 games (including ten starts) this season, all the more impressive given he was injured for most of first half of it. Equally as impressive, he already has ten caps and a goal for the USMNT and made his Champions League debut against Tottenham Hotspur earlier in the campaign. Similar to Sargent, he hasn’t set the league on fire as injuries have hampered him, however he’s now playing regularly for club and country, which is crucial in his development. A big strength is his versatility, he can play as a fullback, winger or midfielder and use his exceptional passing ability to great effect. He definitely has the talent to be a top-level player and is one to watch for the future.
Weston McKennie – Schalke
This exciting young midfielder, at just 21 years of age is extremely versatile. He can play as both an attacking or defensive midfielder and even as a defender. This season saw him play 28 games, with head coach David Wagner calling him an “outstanding talent”. His 84.9% pass completion rating is impressive for such a young age, while he scored three of Schalke’s seven goals since March. Originally from Texas with a father in the military, he moved to Germany and took up soccer. He and his family would later move back to the US, where he maintained his dedication to the sport. At the age of 17, Schalke came calling after continuing to scout him and lured him back to Germany, where has gone from strength to strength.
Whilst Germany has been a great place for young US players to advance their careers, it’s not the only league that’s seen talented players from the States make waves. A couple of the most notable include:
Christian Pulisic – Chelsea
It wouldn’t be a piece on US footballers and Germany without mentioning perhaps the biggest success story. What more is there to say? The youngest player to get ten goals in USMNT history and youngest player to ever score for them, he’s shaping up to be the future talisman of the team. Whilst not the only attacking weapon available, he’s seems to be the one most likely make something happen and deliver a match winning moment when needed. His skills are sublime and he has the nous for getting into dangerous scoring positions. Whilst it’s tempting to wax lyrical about him all day, a more in depth analysis is at hand by 3attheback.
Sergino Dest – Ajax
Undoubtedly the US’ breakout star this season. At just 19 years of age, this fullback, who opted to represent the US over the Netherlands, has now been capped three times, and has also established himself in the Ajax starting line-up (20 appearances and five assists). His transfer value has skyrocketed and he’s been so impressive that giants Bayern Munich, Barcelona and PSG are sniffing around. He’s also made five appearances in the Champions League and scored twice in the TOTO KNVB Beker (the Dutch version of the FA Cup). Blessed with electrifying pace, quick feet and the calmness of mind to execute under pressure, it’s easy to see why the Dutch fought so hard to try and get him to commit to play for them, their loss is a huge gain for the USNMT.
Timothy Weah – Lille
This 20-year-old forward, who can also operate as a winger, is the fourth youngest player to score for the USMNT and is the son of former Ballon d’Or winner George Weah. That’s a pretty decent CV already. Leaving PSG for Lille in search of more game time, this season has seen him hampered by injuries, restricting him to just three Ligue 1 appearances. Whilst this is a setback, the maturity to search for more playing time, coupled with his undoubted talent, means that hopefully it won’t be long until he starts to fulfil his potential.
The old saying that it’s always darkest before the dawn seems to apply to the last few years of the USMNT. Now it would seem that the sun is well and truly rising on an exciting crop of youngsters, who are ready to try and make history for US men’s football and emulate the spectacular achievements of the women’s team.
Other US Nationals playing in Europe:
Alex Mendez – Ajax
Richard Ledezma – PSV Eindhoven
Sebastian Soto – Hannover 96
Josh Perez – ACF Fiorentina
Brooks Lennon – Liverpool FC
Cam Carter-Vickers – Tottenham Hotspur FC
Emerson Hyndman – AFC Bournemouth
Matt MIazga – Chelsea FC
Ethan Horvath (GK) – Club Brugge KV
Deandre Yedlin (still just 23) – Newcastle FC
Bobby Wood – Hamburg SV
Taylor Booth – Bayern Munich FC
Chris Richards – Bayern Munich FC
Travian Sousa – Hamburge SV
Federico Oliva – Atletico de Madrid
Indiana Vassilev – Aston Villa FC
Matteo Ritaccio – Liverpool FC
Bryang Kayo – VFL Wolfsburg
Cameron Harper – Celtic FC
Owen Otasowie – Wolverhampton Wanderers FC
Konrad De La Fuente – Barcelona FC (Youth team)
Uly Llanez – VFL Wolfsburg
Malick Sanogo – FC Union Berlin
Kobe Hernandez-Foster – VFL Wolfsburg