Christian Pulisic has proven to be a key player for Chelsea. (Photo courtesy of Chelsea)
The prestigious Champions League recently kicked off in Europe, and there are plenty of U.S. players to keep an eye on.
European soccer has always been a big draw for the world’s top footballers; even the very best South Americans such as Neymar and Lionel Messi ply their trade over in Europe. They have the most-watched domestic leagues, the biggest clubs, and the Champions League, the biggest competition for domestic clubs anywhere globally.
Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus participate, along with a group of hopefuls you may not have heard of, such as Malmo and Young Boys. Like the World Cup, it brings the best of the rest together with elite teams to find the ultimate champion of Europe.
Chelsea, which brushed aside fellow Premier League team Manchester City in the final last season, are the current holders. That final was historic for U.S. players. Christian Pulisic played for Chelsea and became the first from our shores to lift the trophy. Manchester City also featured an American player, although reserve keeper Zack Steffen didn’t play. Will we see the same this season? Other than Steffen and Pulisic, who should US soccer fans be looking out for?
Here are the four likely to challenge for the trophy and the rest of the U.S. players in the 2021/22 Champions League Group Stages.
Sergino Dest – Barcelona
Usually, Barcelona would be expecting a solid campaign in the Champions League, but for Sergino Dest, glory might have to wait. Barca has won it four times this century but went out in the round of 16 last season, its worst showing since 2007. Due to the financial crisis engulfing the club, few expect fullback Dest to add to last year’s Copa del Rey triumph. The team is ranked behind 10 sides in the latest Champions League betting with Ladbrokes, behind both Madrid teams. Barcelona didn’t get off to a good start either. The side was beaten, 3-0, by Bayern Munich at home. However, Barcelona is still a global force, and there is every chance it could steady the ship and surprise many.
Weston McKennie – Juventus
McKennie might be a young USMNT hopeful, but he’s already created headlines of the wrong type. ESPN explained how Gregg Berhalter has disciplined him for breaching protocols. However, given that he is playing for Juventus, arguably the best team in Italy, he is sure to get a reprieve. They’ve twice been runners up in the Champions League since 2015, and they’ve already impressed in their group with a 3-0 win against Swedish side Malmo.
Tyler Adams – RB Leipzig
Tyler Adams made history with Leipzig when he scored in the quarterfinals of the 2020 tournament, sending the team to the penultimate stage. That was the first goal scored by a U.S. player at such a late stage of the competition, breaking new ground for American players. Leipzig is a team funded by energy drink giants Red Bull, but the squad will need wings to get them out of the group stages. The team conceded six in its opening game against Manchester City.
Gio Reyna – Borussia Dortmund
Reyna, 18, picked up an injury during World Cup qualifying, which has ruled him out of Borussia Dortmund’s Champions League campaign, but the USMNT’s great hope is expected to be back in action soon. Dortmund lives in the shadow of Bayern Munich when it comes to German football, but the team has an impressive pedigree of its own. The squad was beaten finalists in 2013 and lifted the trophy in 1997. Reyna isn’t the only exciting young player on their books either. Erling Haaland and Jude Bellingham are considered the finest young players in European football, which gives Dortmund a big advantage this season.
The full list of US players still involved in the Champions League also includes Brenden Aaronson (RB Salzburg), John Brooks (Wolfsburg), Owen Otasowie (Brugge), Jordan Pefok Siebatcheu (Young Boys) and Tim Weah (Lille).