European big six: Eye on USMNT stars ahead of new season

No players are more critical to the U.S. national team's success than the six starters -- John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson, Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood and DeAndre Yedlin -- who were given the summer off to prepare for the new European season.

Five have been rewarded with new contracts in 2017, underscoring their value to their clubs. Here's how they look at the start of their new seasons, just weeks before the Hexagonal resumes.

JOHN BROOKS (Wolfsburg, 1st season).
Contract: Five-year deal signed through the 2021-22 season when he was transferred from Hertha Berlin for a fee of 20 million euros (almost $23 million), a record for an American player, in a transfer in May.

Big picture: After five seasons with the first team at hometown Hertha Berlin, the 24-year-old Brooks surprised everyone when he requested a transfer and moved to Wolfsburg. He had been linked with a move to the EPL but said Wolfsburg fits with his short-term plans. "When Wolfsburg showed interest," he told Sport Bild, "I soon knew that I wanted to make that step because the perspective at Wolfsburg is in line with my plans."

Club role: Wolfsburg manager Andries Jonkeris high on Brooks, whose ability in the air will be used as an attacking weapon. The pressure will certainly be on Wolfsburg, which went from reaching the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League in 2016 to avoiding relegation when it won the promotion-relegation playoffs in 2017.

GEOFF CAMERON (Stoke City, 6th season).
Contract: Extended in May through the 2019-20 season.

Big picture: Injuries limited Cameron to just 19 games in 2016-17, the fewest since he joined Stoke in 2012, but that didn't prevent Stoke manager Mark Hughes from extending the 32-year-old Cameron's contract. He is valued for his versatility, having played at center back, right back and in center midfield.

Club role: Cameron has been playing on the left side of a three-man backline but might have to find another position if Bruno Martins Indi completes a permanent transfer, joining newcomer Kurt Zouma and captain Ryan Shawcross in the back.

FABIAN JOHNSON (Borussia M'Gladbach, 4th season).
Contract: Extended in May through the 2019-20 season.

Big picture: Johnson's best game of the 2016-17 season came in March, the day after his wife gave birth to son Sean, when he scored twice in a 4-2 win over Schalke 04. Ten days later, he suffered a thigh injuries that kept him out of the March qualifiers. Injuries limited the 29-year-old Johnson to just 21 Bundesliga games and 12 starts, the fewest in six seasons. Still, Moenchengladbach added two years to his contract rather than allow him to become a free agent in 2018.

Club role: Johnson plays on the outside in midfield for Gladbach, the same role he plays for Bruce Arena on the national after being moved around -- right back at the 2014 World Cup, left back at the 2016 Copa Centenario -- under Jurgen Klinsmann. Johnson said this summer that the 2017-18 season, hopefully ending with a trip to Russia, might be his last season with the national team as he wants to spend more time with his son.

CHRISTIAN PULISIC (Borussia Dortmund, 3rd season).
Contract: Extended in January through the 2019-20 season.

Big picture: No one expected the 18-year-old Pulisic to play such a prominent role in his first full season with Dortmund, but he scored three goals and made eight assists in 29 Bundesliga games and helped BVB reach the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League and win the German Cup.

Club role: A coaching change has brought some uncertainty, but Pulisic fits nicely into Dutchman Peter Bosz's pressing attack and scored just 12 minutes into Saturday's German Super Cup after stealing the ball from Bayern Munich's Javi Martinez. Pulisic is starting in Bosz's 4-3-3 alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ousmane Dembelethough both frontline mates are transfer targets.

BOBBY WOOD (Hamburg, 2nd season).
Contract: Extended in June through the 2020-21 season.

Big picture: No forward is more important to HSV than Wood, who scored just five goals in 28 games but had several big goals and assists as Hamburg again staved off relegation. He also added four more in four games as HSV reached the quarterfinals of the German Cup. Just how important Wood is to HSV became evident when it gave him a new contract, which the Hamburger Morgenpost reported will pay him 3 million euros ($3.5 million) a year.

Club role: Hamburg coach Marcus Gisdol praised the 24-year-old Wood for playing through injuries requiring him to take painkillers late in the season. Wood should continue as Gisdol's lone striker up front, a lot of pressure for a player in just his second Bundesliga season.

DEANDRE YEDLIN (Newcastle United, 2nd season).
Contract: Five-year deal signed through the 2020-21 season when he was transferred from Tottenham for a $6.6 million fee in a transfer in August 2016.

Big picture: Yedlin, 23, broke in slowly at Newcastle United, alternating with incumbent Dutchman Vurnon Anita, but by the end of the season was manager Rafa Benitez's preferred choice at right back.  He finished with just 21 starts in 46 games, though, as a thigh injury suffered in March kept him out of action for almost two months.

Club role: Anita is gone, but Yedlin is competing for the job at right back with Spaniard Javier Manquillo, who was signed from Atletico Madrid in July. Yedlin will miss the Magpies' first game back with a hamstring injury picked up in preseason will keep him out 2-3 weeks. That's dangerously close to when the U.S. squad for the qualifiers against Costa Rica and Honduras will be called in.

5 comments about "European big six: Eye on USMNT stars ahead of new season".
  1. Albert Harris, August 8, 2017 at 9:25 a.m.

    Manquillo was signed from Sunderland. He hasn't played for Atletico since 2014. You guys need some more fact checkers.

  2. Will G, August 8, 2017 at 10:30 a.m.

    Manquillo was an Atletico player on loan to Sunderland - so to say he was signed from Atletico is factually correct.

  3. Eve Montgomery, August 8, 2017 at 10:38 a.m.

    The first sentence reads like cacaphony in my ear with its hyperbole. There are as many MLS-based players who are just as critical to the team's success. Why be insulting with your introductory sentence? So unnecessary in making the point here.

  4. John Soares, August 8, 2017 at 1:15 p.m.

    My aren't we getting picky:) The article IS about the big six "in" Europe. OK Paul, tomorrow I expect an article about the giant seven in the USA and maybe Mexico.

  5. I w Nowozeniuk, August 8, 2017 at 7:22 p.m.

    Big 6? Pulisic should not be mentioned in the same breath.

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