The United States has exported numerous soccer players to Europe over the last two decades. MLS may be stronger than it has ever been, but the best leagues in the world are still found on the other side of the Atlantic. It should therefore be a point of pride whenever an American takes to the field in the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A or the Bundesliga.
US internationals have played in all five of those competitions, and many more besides. But there is a clear bias towards one of them: the Bundesliga. Forty-six Americans have played in the Premier League, while six have represented clubs in La Liga and five have plied their trade in Serie A. Over in Germany, 57 have played at least one match in the top tier of the country’s soccer pyramid.
The Bundesliga is out in front when we consider current players too. Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie is the only American in Serie A right now. Sergino Dest at Barcelona and Yunus Musah of Valencia are the only two representatives in La Liga. Four Americans – Chelsea forward Christian Pulisic, Fulham duo Antonee Robinson and Tim Ream, and Newcastle United full-back DeAndre Yedlin are flying the flag in the Premier League, but that is still fewer than the six who are employed by Bundesliga sides.
Why, then, has the Bundesliga proved so appealing to Tyler Adams, Gio Reyna, Timothy Chandler, John Brooks, Chris Richards, Josh Sargent and their predecessors?
The first thing to state is that there is no catch-all reason behind the employment of 57 distinct American individuals by German clubs. Each case is different and certain factors will take on different weightings for different players.
Let’s start with one of the reasons that goes beyond soccer. The US is a country of immigrants but it also has a huge diaspora, and over 100 players who have represented the men’s national team were born overseas. Forty-seven were born in Scotland and 25 in England, with Germany in third place with 23.
John Brooks, David Wagner, Fabian Johnson, Thomas Dooley, Jermaine Jones, and Mike Windischmann are among their number. Brooks, Jones, and Dooley are the sons of American servicemen who were stationed in Germany. It was only natural that those players would spend large chunks of their career in the Bundesliga.
German clubs have also been willing to invest more time, money, and effort into scouting in the US than many of their continental counterparts. They have proved adept at identifying talented prospects and then bringing them over to Europe at a young age.
Werder Bremen signed Josh Sargent when he was 17. Gio Reyna, born in England to former US international midfielder Claudio, was brought to Borussia Dortmund aged 16. Christian Pulisic was the same age when BVB offered him a place in their youth ranks. Further back, Brian McBride, Landon Donovan, and the aforementioned Claudio Reyna were all snapped up by German sides in their formative years. So was Steve Cherundolo, who spent his entire playing career with Hannover 96.
There is now a defined pathway between the US and the Bundesliga. The success of players like Donovan and Pulisic has convinced German clubs that scouting in America is worthwhile, with plenty of gems to be unearthed. The youngsters themselves have role models to look up to; compatriots who made the leap and reaped the rewards.
The Bundesliga is renowned for giving young players a chance, and that is no doubt appealing to American starlets wondering where to go. The likes of Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham – both born and raised in England – have moved to Germany because they feel they will get more opportunities in the Bundesliga than in the Premier League. Youngsters from the US can look at Reyna and Sargent and see a clear pathway into Bundesliga’s first teams.
Pulisic told ESPN a few years back:
I would say the youth systems in Germany are what have impressed me the most. How they grow their youth players into full professionals. I’m right there and I see it every day, I literally went through the system. You’re fighting with other players every day for a pro contract. It’s something that US Soccer can definitely learn from.
There is an administrative factor at play here too. It tends to be much easier for non-EU citizens to get work permits in Germany than in other European countries; were this process more difficult, Bundesliga clubs might not invest as much as they do in scouting in the US.
UK policy usually requires soccer players to have an international experience before being eligible for a work permit, which makes it difficult for Premier League clubs to pluck teenagers from American academies. In Spain and Italy, there are restrictions on the number of non-EU players allowed in clubs’ squads. Recruiting young players from the States is much less complex for Bundesliga teams.
Of the six Americans currently playing for Bundesliga first teams (there are several more in youth setups across Germany), Reyna is the hottest name at present. The teenager has made a fine start to the season at Borussia Dortmund, scoring once and providing four assists for Lucien Favre’s side. BVB and Reyna will hope to challenge for the title this term, with BetMGM offering odds of +500 on them winning it.
Josh Sargent has also been playing regularly at Werder Bremen. Now 20 years old, the forward has scored one goal and registered two assists so far. Elsewhere, Tyler Adams has played both in midfield and as a right-back for RB Leipzig, while John Brooks is as dependable as ever at Wolfsburg and Chris Richards has been given a taste of action at Bayern Munich, the -667 favorites to win the title with BetMGM. Only Eintracht Frankfurt’s Timothy Chandler will be disappointed with a lack of game time so far.
Followers of the US national team have plenty to be excited about right now, particularly when it comes to their young players in Germany.
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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