Never before have more Americans been placed on
rosters for the UEFA Champions League.
Ten players are on squads for the 2020-21 competition that kicks off on Tuesday. Whether they break the record of six Americans who played in the 2004-05 Champions League remains to be seen.
The American contingent is led by four players who could start on Tuesday:
-- Christian Pulisic, who begins his second season at Chelsea and already holds the American record for Champions League appearances with 26 in four seasons with Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea.
-- Tyler Adams, who came off the bench to score the winning goal for RB Leipzig to send it into the semifinals of the 2019-20 competition and has been starting for Leipzig, the current Bundesliga leader, in midfield this season.
-- Gio Reyna, who is tied for second in the Bundesliga in assists with four in four games for Borussia Dortmund.
-- Sergino Dest, who started his first game for Barcelona on Saturday in LaLiga and could keep his place at left back with Jordi Alba still out when Barca opens against Ferencvaros.
The USA 10 also includes Weston McKennie, who moved to Juventus from Schalke 04 in the offseason but did not make the trip to Ukraine for Tuesday's game against Dynamo Kyev because he tested positive for COVID-19 and remained in Turin. He started Juve's first two games and is expected to be get considerable playing time if not start regularly.
Chris Richards made his first start for Bayern Munich on Oct. 4 but was injured in the second half and has since been sidelined with a calf injury. Given Bayern's depth, it's a long shot right now that Richards will see action.
The other four Americans are reserves. Zack Steffen (Manchester City) and Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge) are backup keepers, while Konrad de la Fuente (Barcelona) and Alex Mendez (Ajax) play for their second teams. (Update: Horvath started Brugge’s opener because the No. 1 keeper tested positive for COVID-19.)
Only the two keepers, Steffen and Horvath, are older than 22, underscoring how fast these Americans have developed. Four played for the USA's quarterfinal team at the 2019 Under-20 World Cup, while Reyna is only 17.
The Americans won't enter the 2020-21 Champions League without experience, though. Six have already played in the competition, including Pulisic, Adams and Reyna, who had big games in the 2019-20 season.
Big games in 2019-20. Pulisic went from not even dressing for Chelsea's first game against Lille to being was the best player on the field in the 2-1 win over Lille that clinched passage to the round of 16. In his European debut, Reyna assisted on the winning goal for Borussia Dortmund in its 2-1 win over Paris St. Germain in the first leg of their round-of-16 series in February. Adams had the late winner for Leipzig when it upset Atletico Madrid, 2-1, to advance to the semifinals at the Final 8.
The USA 10 is accompanied by Jesse Marsch, who will return to the Champions League for his second season at Austrian club RB Salzburg. Marsch, who coached in MLS at the Montreal Impact and New York Red Bulls and spent a season as an assistant at Leipzig before moving to Salzburg, said Europeans are changing their view of American players.
Old stereotypes. "The perception in Europe, mostly, is that the American player is willing to run, willing to fight, has good mentality," Marsch told MLS's Extratime Radio on Monday, "but technically they're not very gifted and tactically they're not very aware and their experiences aren't very big. But we're seeing that change. We're seeing more and more of these players develop themselves."
Marsch pointed out how Chelsea manager Frank Lampard underestimated what Pulisic could do. He said Pulisic had learned a lot at Dortmund and eventually changed Lampard's opinion of him.
"Christian had to fight for that, which is the American quality," Marsch added, "but he's a damn good player. Same with Gio Reyna, same with Tyler Adams, same with Weston McKennie. All of these players are now starting to show, born and raised in America, that they're not only big talents, but they're also more refined players that many think."
UEFA Champions League experience:
1. Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), 26 games, 3 goals, 3 assists
2. Weston McKennie (Juventus), 6 games, 1 goal
3. Sergino Dest (Barcelona), 5 games
4. Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), 3 games, 1 goal
4. Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge), 3 games
6. Gio Reyna (Bor. Dortmund), 2 games, 1 assist
- Konrad de la Fuente (Barcelona)
- Alex Mendez (Ajax)
- Chris Richards (Bayern Munich)
- Zack Steffen (Manchester City)