Reality check: Europe is still a numbers game for young Americans

As the rebuilding of the U.S. men's national team begins in earnest this fall with matches against Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Italy and England, there's a lot of excitement about a corps of young players in Europe.

Deadspin heralded their arrival this week with the headline "European Soccer Is Loaded With American Kids Ready To Tear Shit Up."

Certainly, Christian Pulisic's success at Borussia Dortmund has caught the attention of European clubs who have increased their recruitment of young Americans and taken advantage of mostly free young talent willing to forego opportunities at home.

But the reality is that Americans face a tough road ahead if they want to succeed in Europe.

Of the 19 European-based players who played for the USA in 2018, just five began the 2018-19 season on the first team of the first division club that owns their contract. Of the seven European-based players who started in the USA's 1-1 tie with France on the eve of the World Cup, only one -- Weston McKennie at Schalke 04 -- will likely spend the season on the first team of his first division club.

In first-team mix (first division) ...
Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)
Weston McKennie (Schalke 04)
Kenny Saief (Anderlecht)
Tim Weah (Paris St. Germain)
DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United)

Most of the rest were either loaned out or likely to be loaned out without an immediate future at the club that owns their contract or playing for their club's second or under-23 team.

Loaned out (to first division) ...
Matt Miazga (Nantes, loan from Chelsea)
Andrija Novakovich (Fortuna Sittard, loan from Reading)
Erik Palmer-Brown (NAC Breda, loan from Man. City)
Bobby Wood
(Hannover 96, loan from Hamburg)

Loaned out (to second division) ...
Shaq Moore
(Reus, loan from Levante)
Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic, loan from Everton)

Likely to be loaned out ...
Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham)
Luca de la Torre

On second team ...
Matt Olosunde
(Man. United U23)
Keaton Parks
(Benfica B)
Josh Sargent
(Werder Bremen II)

Finally, a few are playing on first teams in the second or third division.

In first-team mix (second division) ...
Julian Green
(Greuther Fuerth)
Eric Lichaj (Hull City)

In first-team mix (third division) ...
Lyndon Gooch

What is different about this group of national team players is how young they are.

McKennie and Pulisic are still 19. Tim Weah, who has already scored two goals in three official games for Paris St. Germain, and Josh Sargent, who has started out at Werder Bremen's Regionalliga team but should get a shot on the first team, are just 18.

Ten or 20 years ago, the top Americans in Europe were mostly seasoned pros who began their careers in MLS (Brian McBride, Clint Dempsey or DaMarcus Beasley) or college stars (Claudio Reyna or Kasey Keller).

The current generation consists mostly of players who went straight to Europe out of high school if they weren't already living there. Just two the 19 European-based players Dave Sarachan used in 2018 ever played college soccer: DeAndre Yedlin (two years at Akron) and Eric Lichaj (one year at North Carolina),

Twelve headed to Europe almost as soon as they were eligible to make the move, at the age of 18 for most, and four were raised there. Of the remaining three players, Matt Miazga and Yedlin moved from MLS clubs for transfer fees while Erik Palmer-Brown left Sporting Kansas City after last season as a free agent.

We are already seeing the pipeline of American talent expand as European clubs hook up with agents and take advantage of the talent being produced by MLS academies.

But it will always be a numbers game with only a fraction of the prospects ever making it.

Some like Rubio Rubin and Russell Canouse have come and gone, leaving Europe in the last year from clubs in Liga MX and MLS, respectively. Rubin, now at Tijuana, is back in the national team picture. Canouse could be soon, given his play in recent weeks for D.C. United.

For every Pulisic at Dortmund there's a Junior Flores, who never made the first team, or for every McKennie at Schalke 04 there's Haji Wright, who dressed once two seasons ago and may never get another chance.

11 comments about "Reality check: Europe is still a numbers game for young Americans".
  1. beautiful game, August 22, 2018 at 9:54 a.m.

    The success ratio for American players overseas is very's probably because they are unable to reach the next level for acceptance. It's only for a talented player who lives & breaths the game to be successful.

  2. frank schoon replied, August 22, 2018 at 12:06 p.m.

    I would just call it an experience that has perhaps  aided their development  and let them come back and play MLS. These types of players who have some talent should go their at the age of 15- 16 but not at 18... it's too late...

  3. humble 1 replied, August 22, 2018 at 6:05 p.m.

    This is true, but, FIFA rules prevent these boys from going abroad until they are 18 (Alphonso Davies case), unless they have a golden passport - aka EURO passport - because there is an except which allows you to move to an academy inside Europe at 16 (Pulisic).

  4. Bob Ashpole, August 22, 2018 at 12:29 p.m.

    The fact that clubs are signing US players who aren't currently first team players, while maybe not what the players wanted, are a good sign for the US generally. It means the clubs are interested in investing in and developing US players with potential. 

    5 out of 19 actually sounds like a good percentage to me. What I see as a downside is that to win a spot, the US player has to be better than, not just as good as, the local players. Clubs are naturally going to favor a local over an insider, at least until the club adopts the US player as one of its own, which has happened in the past. 

  5. Bob Ashpole replied, August 22, 2018 at 12:31 p.m.

    Sorry meant to say "outsider" instead of insider. I need my morning coffee, obviously.

  6. frank schoon replied, August 22, 2018 at 12:45 p.m.

    Is that the Arizona "blend"', Bob

  7. frank schoon replied, August 22, 2018 at 12:52 p.m.

    Ajax is playing a Russian team on TNT today ,at your time probably 1pm...I don't know what it is "Reservation" time...But do enjoy your Cactus blend decaf.
    I think Frenkie de Jong for Ajax

  8. s fatschel, August 22, 2018 at 12:51 p.m.

    I agree 20 percent sounds ok. Some stats from other countries would be helpful and give perspective.

  9. don Lamb, August 22, 2018 at 1:16 p.m.

    Keaton Parks is another who could be integrated into the first team this season at Benfica -- maybe on a similar trajectory as Sargent if all goes well...

  10. humble 1, August 22, 2018 at 6:12 p.m.

    This pivot away from college and even MLS teams is correlated with a trend which started in 2016-17 when USL won D2 status and began competing for high school graduates with college and universities.  Still - it's a tough choice to go abroad and I tip my hat to those that take the plunge - especially if they spurn a college scholarship!  Interesting side note - I have not seen the numbers - dunno if they even exist - but apparently colleges and universities are back filling with foreign candidates - not - kids from MLS academies - because they are under pressure to win - and they look for equal talent to those top candidates - and they feel better picking from abroad.  hmmm.....

  11. Ric Fonseca, August 29, 2018 at 2:35 p.m.

    Well, at least LIGA MX is not the ONLY league/region "taking" Latino players of Mexican heritage away from the possibility of getting called up for any of the USMNTeams, but know what folks, how about maybe, just maybe having colleges and universities make an attempt to get them admitted and getting some sort of career education so they may have something to fall back on after their playing careers are over?  Just a thought, no?

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications