Commentary

The USA's Germany Connection: Array of challenges includes quest for Qatar tickets

The 2022-23 Bundesliga season gets underway this weekend and, once the home of a sizable percentage of the U.S. national team player pool, numbers have declined significantly. Still, enough young players are still in Germany’s top-flight that it remains highly relevant in the spectrum of American soccer.

The outflow of American players from the Bundesliga last season was significant.

Chris Richards was sold from Bayern Munich to Crystal Palace

• Tyler Adams was sold from Leipzig to Leeds United

• John Brooks saw his contract with Wolfsburg expire and is still a free agent.

• Malik Tillman was sold from Bayern Munich to Rangers

• Julian Green and Timothy Tillman (the older brother of Malik) were part of a Greuther Furth team that was relegated last season.

• George Bello was also relegated with Arminia Bielefeld.

The only significant American import to the league this summer was Jordan Pefok, who joined Union Berlin after winning the Golden Boot last season Swiss Super League with BSC Young Boys.

There is still plenty of time in the transfer window, but it still shapes up to be a downsized American presence in Germany’s top flight. It does, however, with Pefok, Gio Reyna, Joe Scally and Ricardo Pepi include Americans fighting for a spot on the U.S. roster for Qatar.

Here is a look at the Americans in Germany’s top flight as well as a peek at the increased presence for Americans in the 2. Bundesliga.

Gio Reyna
Borussia Dortmund (midfielder/winger)

Gio Reyna, 19, is the most high-profile American player in the Bundesliga this season and he is also the American with the most questions in terms of where he stands both with his club, Borussia Dortmund, and with the U.S. national team. There is no question over his talent, but Reyna is coming off a lost season in 2021-22 when he played just 441 minutes due to a hamstring injury that he suffered in September followed by two re-injuries that saw his season end early on April 3.

Reyna’s injury continued to keep him off the field into the start of preseason, but he made his first appearance on July 30th when he played the first half of a 1-1 draw with Antalyaspor. He was tentative but his talent was also still on full display.

The questions around Reyna are many. What kind of minutes can we expect from Reyna early in the season? Obviously, it will still take awhile for him to start, but how long? How long will it be before he will be at 100%? What position will he play when he does return? Against Antalyaspor, he sat deeper than usual but is that just to ease him in? Will he return to either his classic No. 10 role or will he play on the wing?

All this relates heavily to the United States national team. Coach Gregg Berhalter knows Reyna very well and will certainly keep a roster spot open for Reyna if there is any chance he can contribute. But what Reyna does the first three months at Dortmund will set the expectations over him in Qatar.

There are also questions about Borussia Dortmund itself. In recent seasons, the club relied heavily on Erling Haaland as he scored a huge percentage of the team’s goals. With Haaland now off to Manchester City, it will be a far different Dortmund team – especially with Reyna still limited as well.

Ricardo Pepi
Augsburg (forward)

Last January, Ricardo Pepi, 19, transferred from FC Dallas to Augsburg for the eye-opening sum of $20 million. Unfortunately for Pepi, the learning curve for him was steep and he never scored in his 475 minutes over 11 appearances. His playing time declined later in the season and his replacements were able to help Augsburg climb out of the relegation zone to remain in the Bundesliga.

Pepi is still looking for his first Bundesliga goal. It seems likely that Pepi will continue to play at the start of 2022-23 even if it will mostly come as sub -– according to the patters used in preseason.

But there are signs things are improving for the El Paso native. Pepi finished this preseason with a goal and an assist. "He improving and is training very well. We'll have a lot of joy with him.” FC Augsburg veteran Andre Hahn, 31, said. "FC Augsburg didn't acquire Pepi to shoot us to the top in his first half year. He was 18 when he arrived, had to acclimate to a foreign land, learn the language — that's not so easy at that age."

Whether or not Pepi makes the United States World Cup team will be a close call and it will also be decided on how other American forwards perform. Top competitors include Jesus Ferreira, Pefok, Daryl Dike, Haji Wright, Brandon Vazquez and Josh Sargent.

Also of note at Augsburg is German-American Maurice Malone, 21, who holds American citizenship and but who represented Germany at the youth levels. Last season Malone was at Heidenheim in the 2.Bundesliga on loan and scored two goals over 20 appearances. He had two goals this preseason for Augsburg.

Another relegation battle should be expected for Augsburg as the Bundesliga is more competitive this season with the return of Schalke and Werder Bremen, which are both big clubs that bounced quickly back to the top-tier after suffering relegation in 2021. Their promotions mean Augsburg is one of the smaller teams in the league.

Jordan Pefok
Union Berlin (forward)

This 2022-23 season will be very revealing for Jordan Pefok. Now 26, Pefok has been an star at lower European levesl but has never made an impact when in a top league. In France, where he grew up, he was top scorer in Ligue 2, but when he was in Ligue 1, he simply couldn’t produce. After two tough seasons in France’s top flight with Rennes and Reims, Pefok moved to Switzerland with Young Boys in 2020. There, he became one of the top forwards in the Super League and last season he was the Golden Boot winner, scoring 27 goals across all competitions.

That success saw him earn a transfer to Union Berlin in the Bundesliga. It will be Pefok’s third attempt at a club in one of Europe’s “Big Five” leagues and it will reveal if Pefok is a player who can succeed in the top leagues.

Pefok is in the mix for a World Cup roster spot. Like with Pepi, it is a competitive group. Unfortunately for Pefok, his last time with the national team in March did not go well after a rough night in Azteca in a 0-0 draw with Mexico. A strong start to the season in the Bundesliga could force Berhalter’s hand for another look in September.

Joe Scally
Borussia Monchengladbach (defender)

Joe Scally, 19, is entering into his second full season with Borussia Monchengladbach after earning significant experience over his 30 Bundesliga appearances in 2021-22.

Based on the preseason, Scally looks set to be a regular once again and he has been playing well. Last season, Scally floated between left back and right back but this season he might settle back into his preferred right back spot.

Last season was a test for Scally and the level of his performances dipped in the second half of the season after a strong start to the season. But that is normal for young players as they adjust to the demands of consistency.

This season will test Scally to avoid a sophomore slump and show continued growth. If he does well, he’ll be in a strong position for his career with two full Bundesliga season by age 20.

As for the national team, Scally is probably on the outside of the “bubble” but is within reach of ticket to Qatar. The question comes with Berhalter’s comfort with Scally on the left side, where there is less depth. On the right side, Scally is behind Sergino Dest, Reggie Cannon, and DeAndre Yedlin – unless he has a great start to the season.

Timothy Chandler
Eintracht Frankfurt (right back)

Now 32, Timothy Chandler is mostly a bench option at Eintracht Frankfurt and the odds of him ever appearing for the U.S. national team again are slim to none. But this season should be fun this year for Chandler as Eintracht Frankfurt is in the Champions League by virtue of winning the Europa League.

Chandler might never have amounted to being the player American fans hoped as his international career opened with a lack of commitment to the U.S. national team. But he has had a nice ride with 201 Bundesliga appearances so far. Chandler would do well to have more than 10 appearances this season.

Kevin Paredes
Wolfsburg (left winger/left back)

Kevin Paredes made a big $7 million transfer from D.C. United to Wolfsburg in January. It was expected that the remainder of the season would be focused on allowed him to adjust to Europe as opposed to playing time. He ended up making two uneventful appearances for 13 minutes.

This season Paredes will needs to find a way to get on the field and the preseason seems to indicated he will be coming off the bench. If he does not take advantage of his opportunities early, he could be looking at a loan to bridge the gap until he’s ready for Wolfsburg.

Internationally, Paredes should be focused on the U.S. U-20 team and helping them prepare for the 2023 U-20 World Cup after the Bundesliga season. Paredes did not take part in qualifying with the U-20 team because Wolfsburg didn’t release him. He should have a better chance of getting involved in future camps and the U-20 World Cup due to a better timeline of the tournament.

Justin Che
Hoffenheim (defender)

In January, Justin Che was loaned from FC Dallas to Hoffenheim for 18 months. The loan included an option to buy. Che, 18, made two appearances for 39 minutes. Reports from Germany indicate that parties are looking for a new club for Che as he does not appear to be in Hoffenheim’s plans.

Pellegrino Matarazzo
VfB Stuttgart (head coach)

Pellegrino Matarazzo is popular among Stuttgart supporters and it’s easy to see why. The head coach from New Jersey was hired in January 2020 when it was in the 2.Bundesliga and helped guide the team to promotion. Then in his first full season, he helped the club to a mid-standings finish.

Last year was a challenge for Matarazzo as the club was hit with injuries and COVID-related absences. Once pegged for relegation, the club survived in the Bundesliga with a dramatic late rally on the final day of the season. Matarazzo earned accolades for the survival effort.

Now it will be up for Matarazzo to show further improvements as it aims to return to being one of Germany’s best clubs. It’s a big task for Matarazzo, but he has responded well, so far.

A look into the 2. Bundesliga

There are far more American players in the 2.Bundesliga than in recent seasons and they have a varying degree of expectations. Teams will play their third game of the season this weekend.

Terrence Boyd is off to a strong start with Kaiserslautern with a goal and an assist from to games. The former U.S. international scored 48 goals from 98 games in the 3.Liga following an ill-fated move to Toronto FC.

Julian Green and Timothy Tillman are both expected to start for Greuther Furth this season, but it would be a surprise if the club is in contention for promotion again this season. Green has been pushing for a U.S. national team return, but that seems a long ways off despite that he has performed well in the 2.Bundesliga before. While Tillman’s brother is now at Rangers and in the U.S. picture, it would be surprising if the elder Tillman receives a call-up anytime soon.

George Bello has struggled since arriving in Germany in January after his transfer from Atlanta United to Arminia Bielefeld. Bello, 20, may or may not be a starter for Arminia Bielefeld this season but the club might struggle to earn a quick promotion back to the starting lineup. On the international front, Bello has been given many opportunities with the national team, but Bello hasn’t taken advantage and the chances of him going to Qatar seem small these days.

Lennard Maloney and FC Heidenheim are off to a strong start in the 2.Bundesliga with six points from two games. Maloney, 22, is a German-American central defender (who was called up by Tab Ramos to two U.S. U-20 camps in 2018) and has subbed into the team’s first two games. At Borussia Dortmund, Maloney rarely played but this season should give us a real glimpse of him as a player.

Ryan Malone is one of the more interesting stories for American abroad. A former Division III player for Springfield College, he moved to Germany and was a career lower-league player. Now 29, Malone is entering his second season as a starter for Hansa Rostock and has earned positive reviews for his play. Few players from Division III make it professionally but Malone is having a very nice run in the midtable of the 2.Bundesliga.

Elsewhere in the 2.Bundesliga, there are young players trying to push from the youth levels and into the first team. The two best examples are Holstein Kiel central defender Nico Carrera and Nurnberg’s Bryang Kayo, who are both with the reserve teams in their respective teams. Kayo scored two goals in the last game for Nurnberg’s U-23 team.

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