European Soccer Is Loaded With American Kids Ready To Tear Shit Up

Illustration for article titled European Soccer Is Loaded With American Kids Ready To Tear Shit Up
Photo: Christophe Ena (AP)

American wonderteen Christian Pulisic will begin his march to the 2019 Ballon d’Or this weekend when Borussia Dortmund open their Bundesliga season against RB Leipzig. It’s hard to believe that Pulisic is still only 19, since he’s already got two stellar seasons at Dortmund under his belt and is the constant subject of transfer rumors linking him to some of the biggest clubs in the world. New boss Lucien Favre is rather fond of young hotshot attackers, and all signs from the preseason point to him pushing Pulisic into a major role this year.


While Pulisic is the best and highest-profile of all the current and future USMNT regulars, he is far from the only young Europe-based American set to make a jump this season. The Premier League might be rather bereft of USMNT players, but several other European leagues—especially the Bundesliga—boast bumper crops of intriguing American dudes worth getting giddy over.

Nineteen-year-old Weston McKennie already played a big role in the center of Schalke’s midfield last season, and he looks more than ready for more coming into this one. He’s come along rapidly for Die Königsblauen, quickly moving from the academy to the first team and into the starting lineup. Last year, McKennie played and scored in his USMNT debut and made 22 league appearances for manager Domenico Tedesco, who really seems to like young midfielders. With Schalke finishing the year second in the league, McKennie will make his Champions League debut this season and should be a stalwart of Schalke’s midfield as they try to reestablish themselves as one of the Bundesliga’s premier clubs. McKennie will be tasked with running a whole bunch in Tedesco’s set-up, which is something he thrives at. Check out how much more he moves than everyone else on the pitch on his way to scoring his first professional goal in a friendly against Fiorentina about a week ago.

McKennie’s combination of work rate, movement, and technical quality should see him eat up more than his fair share of minutes in what could be a true breakout season.

Like McKennie, striker Josh Sargent also looks on pace to earn a prominent place with a good Bundesliga team. Sargent burst onto the scene last year thanks to a string of star-making performances in the U-20 World Cup. So impressive was his showing at that tournament and his overall talent that the kid shot through the national team ranks, going from the U-17 side to the U-20 team all the way up to the senior team in a single calendar year. Also like McKennie, Sargent made and scored in his official USMNT in 2018.

Amidst the torrent of interest Sargent elicited following the U-20 World Cup, Germany’s Werder Bremen wound winning the battle for the gifted forward’s signature. Though he announced his intent to sign with Bremen last September, FIFA’s age restriction rules meant he couldn’t join up with the club until the start of 2018 and couldn’t officially sign a pro contract until February, once he turned 18. Now that he’s met those requirements, he’ll be eligible to play for the senior team starting with their first match of the season on Saturday.


Bremen have a crowded front line, and Sargent will have stiff competition for a spot in the starting lineup alongside team captain, Max Kruse. (Bremen also employ fellow American Aron Jóhannson, and if he can get and stay healthy, he’ll also be in contention for some playing time.) Bremen manager Florian Kohfeldt has expressed confidence in Sargent’s abilities, and he’s played consistently in the preseason. All indicators say that Sargent will get his chances this year, and if things break well, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him become Bremen’s regular starter sooner rather than later.

Over in France, both Chelsea loanee Matt Miazga and 18-year-old Tim Weah have gotten starts for Nantes and Paris Saint-Germain respectively. Both seem to have played poorly, though Nantes seems to still be an all-around rocky situation as new manager Miguel Cardoso gets settled in. This is a crucial year for the 23-year-old Miazga, who moved to Nantes this summer after two good seasons in the Eredivisie with Vitesse. He’s not exactly a young unproven defender anymore, and a big year could convince Chelsea to take him back or at least get him a permanent transfer to Nantes (his loan includes an option to purchase) so he can begin in earnest the process of building a credible, top-level playing career. Conversely, if he can’t hack in Ligue 1, there’s not much hope of him carving out a career in a league that matters.


As for Weah, the son-of-a-G.O.A.T. scored in PSG’s Ligue 1 opener against Caen, which he was clearly (possibly a little too?) pumped about:


Weah’s goal in the opener earned him a spot in the starting lineup this past weekend. There he lined up in the central forward position between wide players Ángel Di María and Neymar—which is nuts for anyone, let alone an 18-year-old American. Weah didn’t do much with the opportunity, though, and the manager yanked him at halftime in favor of Kylian Mbappé, who promptly proceeded to score a brace. Weah obviously won’t keep the World Cup-weary Mbappé out of the starting lineup for long, and when Edinson Cavani comes back, the American will immediately become at best the third in line for minutes at his natural center forward position. Which, again, is an utterly ridiculous, amazing feat for this kid to have pulled off so early in his career. Weah has oodles of talent, is fast and strong and tricky on the ball and brilliant at getting into dangerous positions and scoring, and, behind the one true Wonderteen himself, is probably the most potential-soaked American on the scene. With the faith youngster-loving coach Thomas Tuchel has already placed in him, and PSG’s match-laden schedule this year, Weah will have plenty of chances to step out on the pitch and strut his stuff. It’s going to be so much fun watching Weah grow, and that process starts now.

Elsewhere in the American soccer diaspora, 21-year-old striker Andrija Novakovich scored a very impressive goal for Fortuna Sittard against PSV in the Eredivisie. Novakovich, who is at Fortuna on loan from Reading, also debuted for the USMNT in 2018. If he wants to keep those USMNT caps coming, he needs to have a big year in the famously forward-friendly Eredivisie to legitimize himself as a prospect. Teenage winger Jonathan Amon seems to have broken into the first team at FC Nordsjælland, one of the better teams in Denmark, and he too scored a really nifty goal this weekend, shortly after banging one in in the Europa League.


What’s perhaps most encouraging about the wave of young Americans making tracks at top-flight European clubs is that it’s a trend that’s likely to continue. There are about a million other dudes between 15 and 18 who are plying their trades in the academy systems of some of the biggest clubs in the world: Folarin Balogun at Arsenal, Nick Taitague and Haji Wright at Schalke, Matteo Ritaccio at Liverpool, Chris Richards at Bayern Munich, Giovanni Reyna at Dortmund, Erik Palmer-Brown at Manchester City, to name a few. Obviously, being in the setup of a huge club is miles away from playing for the first team, as Julian Green and Gedion Zelalem could tell you all about. But the number of American players in European systems to increases every year, which means the number of players earning first-team minutes in the world’s best leagues should also continue to increase. This will be a fascinating few years for the USMNT. The national team has four years to tinker before the next World Cup, and they’ll be doing so with very different player pool with a much different pedigree from the failed 2018 group.


Oh shit, I almost forgot one. Jozy Altidore, who is only 28 somehow, was linked to a move to Ligue 1. The future truly is bright.

Staff writer, Deadspin