Americans in the Bundesliga: Ups and downs in the fall

No country has attracted more American players moving abroad in recent years than Germany.

Since Christian Pulisic broke in at Borussia Dortmund at the age of 17 in 2016, German clubs have recruited many of the top players in the U.S. youth ranks.

Six members of the 2019 U.S. U-20 World Cup team were attached to German clubs, though two players have since been transferred to top Dutch clubs: Alex Mendez (Ajax) and Chris Gloster (PSV). Of the other four, only Sebastian Soto has made his first-team debut, though he has only made one brief appearance since Hannover 96 was relegated to the second division. That may change under a new coach in the second half of the season for Soto, who will be a free agent in June.

For now, most of the Americans playing in the top-flight Bundesliga were born and raised there or were established MLS pros when they moved, and only a half dozen or so could be considered first-team regulars.

The first half of the season that ended on Sunday was filled with ups and downs.

Zack Steffen immediately broke into the starting lineup at Fortuna Duesseldorf, on loan from Manchester City, and earned three Team of the Week citations from kicker but Fortuna has languished in the relegation zone. A 2-1 win over Union Berlin on Sunday moved Fortuna out of the bottom two into 16th place. (In the Bundesliga, the bottom two teams go down, while the 16th-place team faces the third-place team from the second division in a playoff.)

Weston McKennie (Schalke 04) and Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen) were both playing regularly until injuries left them on the sidelines. McKennie dislocated his shoulder, which will keep him out of action until February, while Sargent missed the last four games with relegation-threatened Werder Bremen with a hamstring injury first picked up playing for the USA in November.

On the other hand, Tyler Adams was sidelined until the last game of the fall campaign when he started for RB Leipzig in a 3-1 win over Augsburg that clinched the "Herbstmeister" title. The second half of the season shapes up to be a big test for one of the Bundesliga's top young midfielders as Leipzig will be chasing its first Bundesliga title and competing in the knockout phase of the UEFA Champions League.

Other Bundesliga players who played for the USA under new head coach Gregg Berhalter were Berliners John Brooks and Alfredo Morales. Brooks was in and out of the Wolfsburg lineup again with a groin injury while Morales parlayed a strong start to the Bundesliga season at Duesseldorf into a recall to the national team. Another German-American, Tim Chandler, saw increasing playing time in the late fall for Eintracht Frankfurt and will be playing in the Europa League with Brooks in February.

But no player had a better fall than Terrence Boyd, who is tied for fourth in the third division in goal production for Hallescher, which he joined after a half a season with Toronto FC in MLS.

The player to watch this winter is Gio Reyna. He already made the Borussia Dortmund gameday squad once and he looks set to join Pulisic in making his BVB debut before he turns 18. For U-20s like Chris Richards (Bayern Munich II) and Uly Llanez (Wolfsburg U19), call-ups for winter training in January would signal they are being considered for the fast-track to the first team.

Zack Steffen (24), Fortuna Duesseldorf (17 games/17 starts)
Weston McKennie (21), Schalke 04 (13 games/10 starts)
Alfredo Morales (29), Fortuna Duesseldorf (12 games/10 starts, 1 goal, 1 assist)
John Brooks (26), Wolfsburg (11 games/11 starts, 1 assist)
Josh Sargent (19), Werder Bremen (11 games/6 starts, 2 goals, 2 assists)
Tim Chandler (29), Eintracht Frankfurt (8 games/4 starts)
Fabian Johnson (32), Borussia M'gladbach (4 games/2 starts)
Khiry Shelton (26), Paderborn (2 games/0 starts)
Tyler Adams (20), RB Leipzig (1 game/1 start)
Gio Reyna (17), Borussia Dortmund (0 games)

2. Bundesliga
Julian Green (24), Greuther Fuerth (13 games/13 starts, 4 goals)
Bobby Wood (27), Hamburg (6 games/2 starts)
Sebastian Soto (19), Hannover 96 (1 game/0 starts)

3. Liga
Terrence Boyd (28)
, Hallescher (17 games/14 starts, 10 goals, 6 assists)
Chris Richards (19)
, Bayern Munich II (15 games/14 starts, 1 goal)
McKinze Gaines (21), Sonnenhof Grossaspach (11 games/8 starts)

Photo: RHR-Foto/Imago/Icon Sportswire, Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire.

13 comments about "Americans in the Bundesliga: Ups and downs in the fall".
  1. Tom Mara, December 23, 2019 at 8:30 a.m.

    Why do you not include Ian Harkes when you list American players playing overseas?

  2. frank schoon, December 23, 2019 at 9:32 a.m.

    It seems Germany is usually the destination where Americans find themselves. I would rather see them go to Spain ,Holland or even in South America countries that require more technical capability. Sending our American players to Scotland should be outlawed.... Scottish soccer that one at one time produced so many good players have gone off the deep end..... it's not even soccer anymore.

    USSF needs to start thinking in terms of how can we develop our players, lifting them up TECHNICALLY WITH SAVVY, to another level to be able to play in those countries aforementioned. Ofcourse that requires bringing new ideas and accenting in training our youth.

  3. Carlos Sanchez replied, December 23, 2019 at 1:42 p.m.

    Are you saying that USSF has a day in what club or country for that matter an individual player chooses?

  4. frank schoon replied, December 23, 2019 at 3:13 p.m.

    No Carlos . I  think the USSF as an organization needs to study how their training and coaching techniques ,overtime, can be improved to raise our player development, technically, speaking, unless you think you are happy with the current state of affairs of our player development.

    I think German soccer and their style of play and thinking does nothing for our players. When you watch the players who play in or are from Germany playing for our MNT, do you see any distinct difference out there between the players who play in America as compared to the ones who play in Germany? The only difference I notice, is the German aren't technically any better but instead more intenser in what the 'American" type of player is good at....

  5. Chris Madden replied, December 23, 2019 at 4:08 p.m.

    Can an American player significantly improve their technical ability at 17-18 by going to Spain or South America? By that age their touch is pretty much cut in stone which means it is a touch of stone!

  6. Bob Ashpole replied, December 23, 2019 at 4:19 p.m.

    First point, there are no international transfers for 17-year olds.

    Second point, what Frank is saying is that USSF must put more emphasis on technical training so that more of our players are recruited by the better clubs in Spain and Holland.

    The way things are now our players have doors closed to them at clubs that demand technical skills. Those clubs are not going to take a 17-18 year old players and give them remedial technical training.

    The importance of first touch skill cannot be overestimated.

  7. frank schoon replied, December 23, 2019 at 4:31 p.m.

    Exactly, Bob

  8. Paul Berry, December 23, 2019 at 4:25 p.m.

    I think the USSF is already doing that through their alliance with the French FAs coaching program. They have a target of 300,000 new qualified coaches by 2022.

  9. frank schoon replied, December 23, 2019 at 4:34 p.m.

    I would like to know what these coaches are being taugh will lift the US program of development to a higher level. Having more coaches doesn't prove anything. I would much rather heard that what the French FA is teaching the coaches will improve the level of training the current youth are getting in their development....

  10. Sean Guillory, December 23, 2019 at 6:40 p.m.

    I can't believe Frank is criticizing German soccer when they produced players who have recently won a World Cup and play on some of the best clubs in the World.  Last I checked the Dutch have not won anything since 88.  I think it's arrogant to suggest German soccer is not good for our boys to play in.  Considering our best US players are playing there when fairly young I believe we will eventually generate better players.

  11. Bob Ashpole replied, December 24, 2019 at 12:36 a.m.

    Sean, I wonder if you actually understood what Frank said. The problem for us with German soccer is that I would describe US MNT soccer style as being a poor version of Germany. German traditional soccer is too close to what we do to be much of an improvement for developing US players who can play effectively in the small spaces found in the center zone of the field.

    The better clubs in Spain and South America would provide more opportunity to develop players comfortable on the ball in the center. Ideally, you want every player to be effective in small spaces, but that is bread and butter for central players. The biggest roadblock, however, is the lack of emphasis on fundamentals in the pre-teen years. In other words, the focus is too much on developing youth teams to win youth competitions instead of developing players.

  12. frank schoon replied, December 24, 2019 at 9:06 a.m.

    Bob, thanks for explaining in very concise and clear terms that I would otherwise bring in so many other aspects in trying to explain this to Sean. 

  13. R2 Dad replied, December 27, 2019 at 11:48 p.m.

    I believe BM, Dortmund and RB Leipzig train and play with a more technical style than the balance of the Bundesliga. One could probably say the same for Barca/RM/Atheltico Madrid and Ajax/Alkmaar/PSV.
    We are probably in agreement the Premier League/England would be not be a good place to develop young players.

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