Rising U.S. stars Johnson, Williams team up for success at Hoffenheim
For the last few years, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim in Germany was a breeding ground for a pair of the top U.S. soccer prospects. Promising U.S. teens Joe Gyau and Charles Renken became a part of the club's youth setup in 2009, with U.S. soccer fans expecting big things, maybe too big, out of the duo before their careers even got started. And while the speedy Gyau remains a Hoffenheim player and on track for eventual stardom (the winger is currently on loan in Germany's second division) and Renken is aiming to get his injury-derailed career on track with the Portland Timbers, Hoffenheim is still a must-follow club for U.S. fans.
Why? Fabian Johnson and Danny Williams. The two U.S. national team staples are fixtures in Hoffenheim's team, and their respective performances over the weekend helped the club to its first victory of the young Bundesliga season. Both scored goals -- with Johnson's highlight-reel effort coming at the expense of Steve Cherundolo of all people -- to help fortify their places in the club's lineup and maintain their cases for regular call-ups by U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Johnson's place at left back is one of the most locked-down spots there is on the national team. With the position being a black hole for the U.S. men for so long, and Johnson repeatedly referred to as one of the best left backs in the Bundesliga by Klinsmann, fans should take the opportunity to find Hoffenheim's matches on TV or online to gain a further appreciation for his attacking prowess down the flank and his defensive quality. With Williams continuing to hone his skills in central midfield after finally getting a chance to start there for the U.S. against Jamaica and showing very well for himself, a continued good showing with his club should lift him up the pecking order in Klinsmann's central midfield. The U.S. coach spoke after the Jamaica game in Columbus, Ohio, about how Williams was in a fight with so many other players -- Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu among them -- for a coveted spot in the center of the U.S. formation, but with Edu yet to play for Stoke City since his transfer from Rangers and Williams continuing to impress, it could be the latter in that starting central role yet again when next month's World Cup qualifiers roll around.
Johnson and Williams were joined on the score sheet this week by Conor O'Brien, a 23-year-old New Yorker whose goal and assist helped Danish club Sonderjyske battle back from a 2-0 deficit to earn a point Friday. Aside from those who figured in the scoring this past week, U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra made his long-awaited debut for Racing Santander after joining the Spanish club on transfer deadline day almost a month ago. On the other end of the spectrum, Tim Ream finds himself in a fight for playing time with Bolton after being relegated to the club's U-21 side for a mid-week match, and Oguchi Onyewu has yet to debut for his new side, remaining an unused substitute for Malaga. Here is how the Americans playing abroad, including those kicking off the group stages of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, fared this past week (season statistics encompass all competitions):