By: Raheem Morrison
American full back Bryan Reynolds has finally completed his move to Europe, having moved from FC Dallas to AS Roma. He is due to join Roma for €7.5 million euros with FC Dallas also reserving a 15 per cent cut of any future transfer fee. Reynolds had been on the verge of making the move to Juventus, with a loan to Benevento first, but Roma stepped up with an improved proposal. His move coincides with a recent trend of American talents being snapped up by European teams.
In November, US men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter called up 24 players for matches against Wales and Panama with all the players being based in Europe. The average age of that young and talented group was 21 years, 300 days. Almost four years ago, the US national team failed spectacularly to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and have since been progressively rebuilding in preparation for Qatar ‘22. Berhalter has credited the U.S. youth development system, which includes but is not limited to long-standing independent clubs and the rise of MLS youth academies over the past 10 years preparing players for the rigors of professional football. That, in turn, has resulted in playing time in MLS matches at a younger age, quicker maturation and greater appeal to European clubs.
Americans plying their trade at top European clubs are not unusual. Tim Howard got his big break at Manchester United, Clint Dempsey played for Fulham and Tottenham, Michael Bradley played for AS Roma and Timothy Weah began his career with Paris Saint-Germain. Claudio Reyna, father of Borussia Dortmund’s Giovanni Reyna, is a former U.S. World Cup captain who wore the colors of, among others, Glasgow Rangers and Manchester City. This is, however, the first time so many U.S. players are not only employed by major clubs in the top 5 leagues, but are also on the field playing important roles and from a very early age. In the past, American excitement would peak when their player got playing time in a European league. Now, they are keeping tabs on goals, assists and champions league appearances.
According to data from the CIES Football Observatory, the United States had the fifth-most exported players out of North, Central and South America in 2019, The numbers from CIES tracked the number of players from each country that played abroad that year, with Brazil boasting the most at 1,600. The CIES Observatory is a research group within the International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES). The top destinations for the players exported from the US are England and Germany.
While US soccer legend Landon Donovan had two stints in Germany, many have attributed the generational shift of talents and their desire to move to Germany to Chelsea star Christian Pulisic. He enjoyed success with Borussia Dortmund, but has since moved to the English Premier League and has gained more prominence on the football stage. Of Europe’s top 5 leagues, no other country boasts more Americans, nor USMNT internationals, than the Bundesliga, and several of those stars have secured big money moves away from Germany to other elite European leagues in recent years.
There’s also Tyler Adams at RB Leipzig; Weston McKennie, who moved from Schalke to Juventus this summer; Werder Bremen’s Josh Sargent; Bayern Munich’s Chris Richards, who stepped up from Bayern Munich II; Wolfsburg’s John Brooks; and of course, Pulisic, the most expensive American soccer player ever after his move to Chelsea. Tyler Adams attested to Pulisic’s influence in a recent interview where he claimed that Pulisic paved the way for Americans talents and laid out the blueprint for them to map their future. “His pathway and how he’s developed is special, and it set the pathway for a lot of Americans believing that they are capable of making that move,” said Adams, whose stardom rose when he scored a last-minute winner for Leipzig in a Champions League quarterfinal last season.
The USMNT player pool in Europe is as promising as ever.
First team players in top tier leagues
Zack Steffen (Man City)
Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge)
Sergino Dest (Barca)
John Brooks (Wolfsburg)
Alfredo Morales (Fortuna Dusseldorf)
Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig)
Weston McKennie (Juventus)
Christian Pulisic (Chelsea)
Tyler Boyd (Sivasspor)
Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund)
Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen)
Ulysses LLanez (Wolfsburg)
Mathew Hoppe (Schalke)
Chris Richards (Hoffenheim on loan from Bayern)
Tim Weah (Lille)
Deep dive a bit further and there’s: Matt Miazga (Anderlecht), Tim Ream (Fulham), Geoff Cameron (QPR), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Bournemouth), Antonee Robinson (Fulham), and Duane Holmes (Huddersfield Town) who have been regulars at their respective clubs. Same for Julian Green (Greuther Furth) in 2. Bundesliga and in-form Lynden Gooch at League One’s Sunderland. Niko Hamalainen (Kilmarnock) is also a regular starter in the Scottish Premiership.
Europe aside, the U.S. still boasts a host of reliable international players playing domestically like Jordan Morris, Miles Robinson, and Jozy Altidore amongst others. That is complemented by homegrown players being produced by Major League Soccer academies, such Paxton Pomykal, Sam Vines, Gianluca Busio, James Sands, Mark Mckenzie, Djordje Mihailovic and Jesus Ferreira who recently scored a brace and had a hat trick of assists for the USMNT in a friendly against Trinidad & Tobago. American soccer is experiencing a golden age and with the other CONCACAF countries seemingly lagging, the Americans may not only rule the roost in the region but will be competing with European and South American teams at the next World Cup.
Countries like Jamaica would do well to get their best young talents playing professional domestic football as early as possible, getting national call ups, and exporting their best talents. At the moment, we run the risk of being irrelevant while the Americans finally cash in on their long-term investment in youth development.