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Americans in Europe

Christian Pulisic Leads Way for Yanks Playing in Europe

The Borussia Dortmund star enjoyed a breakout 2016-17 campaign but he wasn't the only American making noise in Europe. Here, ASN's Brian Sciaretta provides his season recap of the U.S. crop.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
May 25, 2017
8:45 AM

THE EUROPEAN SEASON is nearly over for most of the top Americans abroad. As with any season, there were plenty of highs and lows to go around but overall it sets the stage for 2017-18 to be a very interesting season.

Timothy Chandler and Christian Pulisic are both set to feature in the German Cup Final while Danny Williams and David Wagner will face off in Championship playoff final (I intentionally left out both their names from this analysis because so much hangs in the balance), it's easy to draw most of the conclusions for the 2016-17 season regarding Americans abroad in Europe.

Here's the breakdown.

A star is born?

The big story for the past season is that Christian Pulisic, 18, developed into an impact player with Borussia Dortmund. Despite his youth, he accomplished feats that are rare for American players—most notably, he was a difference-maker in a Champions League knockout stage series against Benfica, scoring a goal and registering an assist.

Right now Pulisic is one of the best players in the world born in 1998 and the United States has never produced any player near the top of his birth year. Needless to say the expectations will be raised for next season. To reach his high ceiling, Pulisic must continue to start most of Dortmund’s games and be one of the most dangerous players on the field.

Pulisic tired a little toward the end of this current season despite drawing a winning penalty last weekend to help Dortmund secure third place in the Bundesliga. He still even has the German Cup final left to put an exclamation point on 2016-17. Next year he should be more physically mature and that will serve him well in the second half of the season.

Launching into 2018

Several players used the 2016-17 season very effectively to set the stage very well for 2017-18. The trio of DeAndre Yedlin, Matt Miazga, and Emerson Hyndman are the best examples. All three are in their early 20s and each successfully answered many questions about their overall abilities.

Yedlin had a good 2015-16 season in the Premier League where he played regularly down the stretch and helped Sunderland avoid relegation. This past season he moved to the second tier but Newcastle isn’t your typical second division team. It is a huge club and the pressure to perform is enormous. Yedlin played under a manager who had won the Champions League.

At times, Yedlin looked like the best right back in the Championship and a player with a bright future. Unlike at Sunderland, where he was a role player, Yedlin was at times a difference-maker for Newcastle. In the end, the team cruised to promotion and Yedlin handled the pressure very well.

Miazga, meanwhile, arrived at Vitesse on loan from Chelsea. He had not played many games over the previous year and was rusty. He fought through long periods on the bench but eventually got his chance to start and he made the most of it, helping Vitesse win the Dutch Cup, its first piece of major silverware. As a result he will likely return to Chelsea for preseason and set himself up for another loan to a more high-profile team in a bigger league.

There is no way you can classify Hyndman’s loan to Rangers as anything other than a huge success. He made a big impact in the midfield for the Scottish club. Yes, he struggled a bit in Old Firm games but he played very little in 2016. So he shook off most of the rust quickly and did well. The Scottish league has declined the past decade in overall quality but Hyndman showed that he is beyond Scotland. Is he ready for the Premier league with his parent club Bournemouth? That is unclear. But he should have plenty of quality suitors if not.

As for the national team, Yedlin, Miazga, and Hyndman look to be ready sooner than later.

The next generation takes shape

The next generation of American players began to take shape over the most recent campaign. Lynden Gooch earned some Premier League minutes with Sunderland—both before and after his injury. Now with Sunderland in the Championship, Gooch should establish himself regularly in the second tier.

Ethan Horvath is not a stranger to first-team soccer after starting at Molde. After his January transfer to Club Brugge, he had to wait for his opportunity, which came at the end of the season. After a few starts, he helped Brugge finish in line to play in Champions League qualifiers to start 2017-18. The 21-year-old is remarkably young to be an established starting goalkeeper and is finding ways to get solid playing time.

United States U-20 central defender Cameron Carter-Vickers, 19, experienced the pros and cons of being a backup central defender for Tottenham this season. The total number of games he played this season plummeted because he was rarely with the reserve team. But he managed to play with the first team in a few cup appearances.

The good news for Carter-Vickers is that he is still in the first-team plans. Mauricio Pochettino recently indicated that the American still has a high ceiling and will play more with the first team in 2017-18. 

Finally, the end of the season brought the first team debut of Josh Perez at Fiorentina and Weston McKennie, 18, at Schalke. Perez became just the third American player of the modern era to play in Serie A last November and McKennie played in Schalke’s season finale last weekend. The Texas native was supposed to be a top player for Tab Ramos and the U.S. U-20 national team but Schalke did not want to release him for the tournament. If there is one player who could rise very quickly up the American depth chart in 2017-18, it's McKennie. It shouldn’t be a surprise at all if he plays regular Bundesliga minutes and makes a case to be part of the 2018 World Cup team.

Solid but with a few asterisks

Some of the most prominent American players abroad had good seasons overall but ended 2016-17 on a sour note.

Bobby Wood and Hamburg survived relegation with a 2-1 win over Wolfsburg. Wood was among HSV’s best players but played through knee pain the final month to the point where he needed to take painkillers. It is no secret that he wants a new contract (either with Hamburg or after a transfer) but how will a knee injury affect that given his injury history? He most likely signs a new deal with Hamburg but will he be at 100% when preseason begins.

John Brooks is typically a good player. Sometimes he can even be world class. The problem for the Berlin-born Brooks is that he is still prone to some shockingly bad performances. American fans will obviously remember the great (against Paraguay at the 2016 Copa America) and the awful (against Costa Rica in November’s World Cup qualifier) but he performed poorly in two of the final three games of Hertha’s Bundesliga season. In the finale he struggled mightily in a 6-2 loss to Bayer Leverkusen.

Timothy Chandler appeared to have everything going his way as recently as February when Eintracht Frankfurt were actually in third place in the Bundesliga. But Eintracht won just one of its final 15 league games this season (dating back to February 5) and Chandler has not played particularly well in that span either. Despite that, the club has made a run to the German Cup final against Dortmund and can still end 2017 on a high note.

Finally, Alfredo Morales also played well in spurts for Ingoldstadt and was among his team’s better players. But the small Bavarian club was not able to avoid relegation and will return to the 2.Bundesliga.

Overall these players are capable of a lot more than how 2016-17 ended and are no doubt happy for the season to be over.

Veteran Maturity and consistency

Four Yanks, all around the age of 30, have established themselves as models of maturity and consistency. They are all highly regarded by the supporters of their respective clubs and all seem to bring a high level of performance without wild swings in form.

It took a win in the season finale for Nottingham Forest to avoid relegation but Eric Lichaj was among the team’s most popular and solid performers all year—so much that he cleaned house in the Supporters Club banquet awards.

Tim Ream and Fulham lost to Reading in the promotional playoffs but it was a huge improvement from the previous season where the London-club was threatened with relegation. Ream was a stalwart in the final two months of the season as the club climbed the standings and earned a spot in the playoffs.

Borussia Monchengladbach’s Fabian Johnson and Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron are national team starters who both were forced to deal with injuries this year. Still, once healthy both were back in their team’s respective starting lineups and performing at a high level. Both deserve a lot of credit for rising to the level where they are so dependable. Johnson even managed to sign a new contract through 2020.

The Concerns

Julian Green finally decided to leave Bayern Munich to get playing time but the move to Stuttgart in January was not productive. He started off well but saw only limited minutes in the final months of the season. Stuttgart won promotion back to the Bundesliga but if Green did not play much in the promotional hunt, how will he fare better in Germany’s top tier?

Terrence Boyd just cannot stay healthy. A transfer from RB Leipzig to Bundesliga cellar-dwellers Darmstadt was smart in that it provided playing time—he even managed to score a game-winning goal in an upset win over Borussia Dortmund. But Boyd injured himself again toward the end of the season. It has been way too long since we saw a Boyd healthy for a long stretch of time.

Aron Johannsson, meanwhile, finally returned from his hip injury this season but rarely played for Werder Bremen. Once a promising player in the Danish and Dutch leagues, where does he go from here? It's hard to see him staying with Werder.

Mix Diskerud was essentially forced out of New York City FC and placed on loan to IFK Goteborg until August. He is starting but has fallen out of the spotlight since making the 2014 World Cup team. It doesn’t help that IFK Goteborg has been poor in 2017, sitting in 10th place in the 16-team Allsvenskan.

Perry Kitchen really appeared to be on the upswing in Scotland with Hearts. He started the season strong and was named the team’s captain. Following a managerial change, Kitchen was benched at times and he fell out of favor with club supporters. This week Hearts named a new captain. Nex year's campaign can’t come soon enough for Kitchen.

Two years ago after the 2015 U-20 World Cup, Rubio Rubin was one of the most highly regarded young American players. He played more than 2,000 minutes with FC Utrecht and even made his full national team debut. After an injury shortened his 2015-16 season, he began the 2016-17 preseason as a starter. But he was quickly surpassed in the team’s depth chart and eventually forced out on a transfer to Danish side Silkesborg, where he played just three times and did little.

Finally, the most disappointing season among Americans goes to Gedion Zelalem who was loaned out to VVV-Venlo in January after a mostly disappointing loan to Rangers last season. Zelalem scored one goal but mostly only played mop-up minutes at the end of season as the club cruised to promotion. He made the United States U-20 World Cup team but suffered a torn ACL in the opening game and will now miss six-to-nine months.

Final thoughts

Overall it was a good season but not a great one for Americans in Europe. Pulisic is very exciting and Yedlin and maybe Williams will give the Americans more of a presence in the Premier League. Next year will be important for a bunch of players who ended the season on questionable terms.

There is genuine excitement over the next generation of players, including McKennie and Carter-Vickers, who have a chance to step up. Even at the youth levels, players like Haji Wright, Mukwelle Akale, Nick Taitague, and others look to be on a path toward first-team action. And next year we may get to talk about Josh Sargent who should be heading over to Germany—reportedly with Werder Bremen, when he turns 18 in February 2018.

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