Commentary

Rating American players in Europe: More are struggling than excelling

As recently as the summer, there was plenty of optimism for Americans abroad for the 2018-19 season. Many of the younger generation of players, many of whom are now central to the U.S. national team rebuild, had found themselves at impressive clubs. Now as most seasons reach their halfway point, that optimism has changed into concern.

The season is clearly off to a disappointing start. Minutes are harder to come by for some important players, others clearly need a change of scenery. For another few, they find themselves in clubs that are in a downward spiral.

When dealing with this many young players, you don’t want to paint too bleak of a picture. The season is still early and it is only natural that players, particularly younger players, experience rough patches in their development.

But with the November international break now upon us, here is a look at what is good, bad, and a mixed bag for the key members Americans abroad player pool – with a look at who has put themselves into a position to be a big mover heading into 2019.

The Bad

When looking at why the current season has been mostly disappointing for Americans abroad, you have to look mostly at the central defenders – which was seen as a position of strength earlier in the year.

Matt Miazga is now in limbo in his loan from Chelsea to Nantes in Ligue 1 where he has not even been making the bench after a managerial change in October. The New Jersey native could probably set himself up for another loan this winter for a change of scenery.

Cameron Carter-Vickers, 20, is also in a tough situation on his loan from Tottenham to Swansea City where he has only managed to play 214 Championship minutes so far this season. Particularly frustrating for Carter-Vickers is that this is a league where he has proven himself to be effective.

Joining Miazga and Carter-Vickers on the current national team pool is John Brooks who is a regular starter for a Wolfsburg team that started the Bundesliga season strong but has taken a nosedive – winning just once in its last nine. Brooks has not played well in this stretch and he could be facing yet another relegation battle unless there is a turnaround soon.

Erik Palmer-Brown is not on the current U.S. national team roster but he is in the team’s player pool and could be a starter for the upcoming U-23 Olympic qualifying team. After a successful loan from Manchester City to Kortrijk in early 2018, he upgraded to a loan at NAC Breda. Thus far he has played just four of NAC Breda’s 12 games and the club is in last place.

There is bad news for others outside of central defenders. Kenny Saief is now able to play after a wave of injuries from mid-2017 to mid-2018. Unfortunately for the Anderlecht midfielder, he has not looked close to his former self and is mostly coming off the bench for his club lately.

At one point, Emerson Hyndman was looking to be a U.S. national team hopeful but he is now on loan from AFC Bournemouth to Hibernian in Scotland where he has mostly struggled to influence games the way he did in the same league with Rangers, less than two years ago.


Weston McKennie (Photo courtesy of Schalke 04)

The Mixed

There is also a series of Americans who are not having bad years but should hardly be satisfied either. Their current season could go either way.

Weston McKennie and Christian Pulisic have a higher bar for success given their talent and right now, it’s a mixed bag for both. McKennie is an occasional starter for Schalke and now has Champions League experience (including scoring a goal and picking up an important assist). But Schalke has struggled this year with just 10 points through 11 games.

Meanwhile Pulisic started at the beginning of the season but has mostly come off the bench for a Borussia Dortmund team that is now atop the Bundesliga. That’s no small feat but competition with Jaden Sancho for minutes this winter will be tight. Pulisic is playing at a very high level in relation to every other American but he should be judged in relation to other elite 20-year-olds. With that in mind, has he progressed from last year?

After a tough season in 2017/18 for a Hamburg team that was relegated out of the Bundesliga, Bobby Wood was given another shot at Germany’s top flight on loan with Hannover. He has scored just two goals this season but he was especially sharp in his most recent game – a 2-1 win over Wolfsburg. His hold-up play and passing was as good as he’s looked in a long time.

In Denmark, Emmanuel Sabbi started off the season for Hobro as one of the Superliga’s top goalscorers where he found the back of the net five times by Sept. 1. Unfortunately for the U.S. U-23 hopeful, he has not scored since.

Antonee Robinson, 21, continues to start at left back for on loan from Everton to newly promoted Wigan Athletic in the Championship but after a relegation battle last year at Bolton, he is being tested again. Wigan started off the season well but has lost four in a row and one just once in eight games heading into this break.

Ethan Horvath is clearly on the upswing at Club Brugge. He rode the bench earlier this year but has managed to earn starts lately – including in a Champions League shutout win over Monaco.

The Good

DeAndre Yedlin is one of the most impressive Americans so far this year. Even when Newcastle started off the season poorly, Yedlin was among the team’s best players. Lately the Seattle native has continued to play well while also helping Newcastle win. With two wins and a draw in its last three, Newcastle has moved from the basement and into 14th place with Yedlin serving as a positive contributor.

Romain Gall is currently with the U.S. national team for the first time and the French-born American arrived in London after a breakout season in Sweden where he scored 15 goals and added seven assists across all competitions with GIF Sundsvall and later Malmo.

Finally, Jonathan Amon earned his first USMNT call-up this year while breaking through at FC Nordsjaelland. The South Carolina native still has a ways to go in terms of becoming a well-rounded player but he progressed off a positive impression last year while also showing no lingering effects from his leg injuries. It would hardly be surprising to see Amon contribute to both the U-20, U-23, and full national team inside of the next two years.

The Hopeful

The world of Americans abroad is always changing and this season could see the number of American players on first teams grow throughout the season. Here are some to keep an eye on.

Josh Sargent, 18, has yet to make the first team bench for Werder Bremen but he has checked off a lot of boxes already while playing for the reserve team. He looks physically ready and talented enough to make the jump in the near future.

The fact that Tyler Adams will join RB Leipzig after the current MLS season is one of the worst-kept secrets in American soccer. But Adams has been playing so well right now for the Red Bulls toward the end of the season and will have an ally at Leipzig in Jesse Marsch who will know how to utilize him. He should be able to play soon after the Bundesliga winter break.

U.S. U-20 forward Sebastian Soto is scoring goals at a torrid pace for Hannover’s U-19 team where he is one of the top forwards in that region of the U-19 Bundesliga. He’s already trained with the club’s first team and is doing everything he can to build his case for a promotion – either within Hannover or on loan.

U.S. U-20 central defender Chris Richards is at Bayern Munich on loan from FC Dallas. Don’t be surprised if he never returns to Texas as Richards is impressing at the club’s U-19 team. Obviously, Bayern Munich’s first team is extraordinarily tough to break into, but Richards is showcasing himself very well.

Final thoughts

This season is still very much a work in progress for Americans abroad and indeed, many are facing real challenges. Most will fight their way through it successfully. Players like Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers are in tough situations but have already shown to be capable of playing at a high level. The situations for Hyndman and Palmer-Brown are dicier because their floor is not as well established.

There is no question, however, that by the end of this season we will have a clearer picture as to the potential ceilings and floors for many of the current group of American players based abroad.

FURTHER READING: Playing time for U.S. men's national team players in Europe diminishes

10 comments about "Rating American players in Europe: More are struggling than excelling".
  1. Kevin Sims, November 15, 2018 at 9:59 a.m.

    And yet Yedlin was caught snoozing when last called upon late to close out a match for the US. Ugh.

  2. Matt Cardillo, November 15, 2018 at 10:17 a.m.

    Here's more good news. Gone are the times that you could count the kids in Europe on one hand. We used to follow, with great interest, the one or two who made it there. There's so many now that often the names seem new. Moreover, there's so many now that this article forgot to even address Tim Weah's status which probably equates with Josh Sargent's. That's not a rip on Brian's article. Easy to forget how many are out there.

  3. frank schoon, November 15, 2018 at 11:45 a.m.

    Not surprised with this news, but at least give Josh Sargent a chance to develop, he's still young and he just began his playing experience in Europe. The American soccer fan often becomes ecstatic about our young American players going to Europe and attribute the success to the DA program which I think is garbage, for its program ,basically, produces programmed stiffs, and certainly don't produce any CREATIVE, BALL HANDLING, players which is only reflection of those who are involved in teaching in the DA program.
    Wouldn't you like to see or rather read one day that the European soccer clubs are constantly coming over here and stealing our CREATIVE BALL HANDLERS, DRIBBLERS ,PASSERS for somehow we produce these types of players; but instead,alas, all we give them is basically players that can instantly produce foam on their mouths, hard-working, sweat-merchants, mostly defender types for that is part of the game that is easier to teach and learn. Any of the offensive types are more suited for counter attacking soccer due to their running ability, when there is lots of open space; for they are lost due to their technical deficiencies when faced with restricted space .

  4. beautiful game replied, November 15, 2018 at 12:24 p.m.

    Creative ball handlers are plentiful on the USMNT, problem is their lack of execution and efficacy when it counts...fast, physical, creative, but without efficacy what does that bring to the team table.Bloggers don't get it, there's far more to creativity and a big part is mentalality. I.E. LD was creativitive and often excelled, but he never had the consistent efficacy in Europe. 

  5. beautiful game replied, November 15, 2018 at 12:24 p.m.

    Creative ball handlers are plentiful on the USMNT, problem is their lack of execution and efficacy when it counts...fast, physical, creative, but without efficacy what does that bring to the team table.Bloggers don't get it, there's far more to creativity and a big part is mentalality. I.E. LD was creativitive and often excelled, but he never had the consistent efficacy in Europe. 

  6. frank schoon replied, November 15, 2018 at 12:49 p.m.

    BG, "CREATIVE BALLHANDLERS are plentiful" LOL, Pleaze....We don't produce those here. Apparently your definition of creative handlers is obviously worlds apart from mine.....
    LD had better skills than his peers ,all give him that. But  you need also stron character and strong mentality, which he lacks both of, for that is also needed in addition to good ball handling skills to be a GOOD player....

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, November 15, 2018 at 5:09 p.m.

    I am leery of the phrase "creative ball handlers". I would rather talk about great 1v1 players, because I think that automatically relates skills and tactics to game context.

    Also I like to reserve "creative" play to the creation of good goal scoring chances. Again it relates skills and tactics to game context.

    From a coaching standpoint I think "effective" is a much better choice of adjective than creative. I don't care how flashy a player is. I do care how effective a player is. I suspect that a very "effective" ball handler is going to fit your concept of "creative" ball handler every time.

  8. frank schoon replied, November 15, 2018 at 6:15 p.m.

    Bob, that's true, the term creative ballhandler is perhaps a too general of a term. Good 1v1 player can be or is part of that definition. 

  9. David Decker, November 15, 2018 at 3:32 p.m.

    Whatever happened to Marc Pelosi?  He was signed by Liverpool I believe.

  10. frank schoon replied, November 15, 2018 at 4:51 p.m.

    You mean, Nancy!!

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