Weston McKennie has been one big pleasant surprise for Juventus. (Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports)
Weston McKennie, a half-volley score for Juventus worthy of goal of the week in Italy
Gio Reyna, three assists in a game – as a 17-year-old for Borussia Dortmund
Christian Pulisic, the first American to score in an English F.A. Cup final, for Chelsea
Sergino Dest, latches onto a Lionel Messi feed and sets up a Barcelona goal
Tyler Adams, not necessarily an attacking force – although he scored the game-winner for RB Leipzig in the UCL quarterfinals – he has been a consistent ball-winner
These five players have generated the most and biggest headlines but are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of U.S. men’s national team players who are not only competing for some of Europe’s biggest clubs but making an impact.
McKennie and Pulisic are the “old men” of the quintet at 22. McKennie, on loan from Schalke 04, also was named the U.S. Soccer male player of the year, while Reyna was selected young male player of the year.
Dortmund and Leipzig compete in the Bundesliga, Juve in Italy’s Serie A and Chelsea in the English Premier League.
Americans have been performing in Europe for years. Goalkeepers such as Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel and Tim Howard helped pave the way before field players such as Clint Dempsey made their mark.
Now, its a new and talented generation of players who are expected to form the backbone of the USMNT who are expected to form the backbone for the squad’s qualifying run for the 2022 World Cup and perhaps the next decade.
And the success has gone past just playing for clubs. It has been felt the UEFA Champions League, the most prestigious club competition in the world.
A record 10 Americans were named to their clubs’ Champions League rosters.
Through the group stage, eight players made appearances in that tournament. Besides the aforementioned five players, Manchester City goalkeeper Zack Steffen, Club Brugge keeper Ethan Horvath, who came up with some big saves in a win at Zenit St. Petersburg, Bayern Munich defender Chris Richards and Barcelona forward Konrad de la Fuente have seen UCL action.
Midfielder Yunus Musah plays for Sevilla, but he did not see action yet in the tourney, as did Alex Mendez for Ajax.
And, for the first time, seven USMNT players competed on the same Match Day Dec. 5-6.
Richards started the record parade of players, appearing as a substitute Dec. 5.
The next day, Six USMNT teammates followed suit. Pulisic, Reyna, McKennie and Dest were in the Starting XI for their respective clubs, while Adams and de la Fuente came off the bench. While none of the Americans wrote their names on the scoresheet, their teams enjoyed a fruitful week, finishing unbeaten in six games with an impressive 4-0-2 record.
Seven players’ clubs survived the UCL group stage and will play in the knockout round starting in February. That included Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, RB Leipzig, Juventus, Barcelona, Sevilla and Dortmund. None of those clubs will play each other in the quarterfinals.
Other players have begun to distinguish themselves for club and in the limited time for their country.
Forward Nicholas Gioacchini, who tallied twice in his USMNT debut, a 6-2 friendly win over Panama Nov. 16, has become an important part of the Caen attack. Sebastian Soto, who also had a brace in his debut vs. Panama, has been a force for Telstar in the Netherlands’ Eerste Divisie.
Striker Josh Sargent has been a consistent start for Werder Bremen.
Whether these encouraging individual performances and feats will translate into qualifying for Qatar 2022, it remains to be seen (qualifying is scheduled to kick off in September).
One thing appears certain: The list of players making an impact could get even longer in 2021 and beyond.